What does an Architect Do?

What Does an Architect Do

In this post we cover the frequently asked question “what does an architect do?”, where we will look at:

  • What an architect does on a typical day
  • What is the architect role
  • How they structure their work
  • The different types of architect
  • Where architects work

What does an architect do on a typical day?

As mentioned here, an architect can have many roles during a construction project that can range from a site surveyor to concept developer, a planning adviser to a detailed designer; a team manager to a dispute mediator, the list could on.

Simply put, an architect can find themselves in any given position that is required to push the building project forward, whether they specialise in it or not.

This at times can seem intimidating, but is also what makes it such an interesting profession to work in. You must be able to adapt.

Architects tend to plan and structure their services around work stages that set out the key areas of a construction project from beginning to end. These outline the duties and tasks required to successfully complete the project.

Although each architect and / or practice are not legally obliged to follow any set method of working, many structure their projects into work stages similar to the below:

In the UK RIBA (The Royal British Institute of Architects) provide the below guidelines:

  • Stage 0 – Strategic Definition
  • Stage 1 – Preparation and Brief
  • Stage 2 – Concept Design
  • Stage 3 – Developed Design
  • Stage 4 – Technical Design
  • Stage 5 – Construction
  • Stage 6 – Handover and Close Out
  • Stage 7 – In use

And in the USA the design phases and responsibilities of an architect are set out by AIA and include:

  • 01 – Programming Strategy
  • 02 – Schematic / Concept Design
  • 03 – Design Development and Refinement
  • 04 – Preparation of the Construction Documents
  • 05 – Tender Bid, Negotiation and Appointment
  • 06 – Construction Administration
  • 07 – Project Close Out

As you can see the work stages are very similar to one another, as are the works stages set out by the RAIC for Canadian architects. This is because no matter what country you are based in, to successfully procure a building the processes remain same, but differ in the methods required to complete them.

This not only helps to organise a project in terms of its planning, but also helps in explaining how it develops to clients, who often can have a blinkered view of the time it takes to procure a building.

This method of working has become a sort of unofficial industry standard in most countries, but is important to note that it is not a professional requirement. As some architects will have their own bespoke methods of working and presenting their appointment.

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What does an architect do on a project

When appointed for the first time by a client, an architect can be commissioned for and during any stage of a projects development and / or construction. Though most will prefer to start from the projects inception and follow it through to completion.

Each work stage relates to a different part of the projects development and it is therefore unlikely that a new project will start mid stage, unless already started and inherited via another architect or practice.

As a project progresses through the work stages the tasks and duties associated to them change accordingly and thus so does the architect’s services and outputs. These are described below.

Strategic Definition / Programming Strategy

The architect will arrange an initial meeting with the prospective client to discuss the key requirements of their project. This may be free of charge, based on an hourly /fixed rate, or priced by the cost of travel, and is sometimes reimbursed once they are formally appointed.

Items discussed will include:

  • The overall objective.
  • The client’s requirements and desires.
  • The site and landscape.
  • Timescales.
  • Budget.
  • And in some cases help to select a suitable site.

Next the architect will carry out a site appraisal and analysis to assess the proposals context, its users and advise on the practicality of the project.

Generally speaking the scope of a new project is commonly determined by the available budget, and so this will be frequently discussed and analysed from the outset.

In some instances at this stage it may also be beneficial to consult with other professionals with regards to the feasibility of the project.

The architect will then look to organise and/or advise on how to arrange a site survey of the existing buildings and landscape on the site. This will create an accurate record and form a solid foundation to base the proposed drawings off of.

Preparation and Brief / Design Development (DD)

Moving onto the development of the proposal, the architect will prepare and formulate a site feasibility report assessing:

  • Access
  • Site origination
  • Views
  • Context
  • Constraints
  • Visual impact

Influenced by this, the report will usually be accompanied by outline sketch design and concept development. This will be the client’s first opportunity to see inside the architects mind.

The client will then be advised on the need for additional services by other consultants and/or specialists, these can include an:

  • Engineer
  • Quantity surveyor
  • Landscape architect
  • Mechanical and electrical consultant
  • Sustainable energy consulate

Once an outline design has been agreed and if required, a pre-application planning submission can be made to the local authority comprising of a set of basic drawings and documents stating design intent. This will ascertain whether planning permission is firstly required and bring to light any site specific issues that may need to be taken into account with regards to planning policy.

This work stage may conclude with an early cost estimation report for the proposed construction. This is best carried out via a licensed quantity surveyor who can offer expert advice on construction costs.

For complicated and contentious projects, it is wise to refer to a planning consultant, who will be able to advise the client and the architect on the local and national planning policies that may affect the project. They will also offer guidance on how to prepare the planning documents, often proving to be an invaluable member of the team.

Storm Cottage by  Fearon Hay Architects , Photography by Patrick Reynolds

Developed Design

Here the scheme will be developed in line with any changes the client may have had following on from the initial design presentation during the above stage.

These will then be compiled into the relevant drawings and documents suitable for a planning application submission.

The application forms will be prepared and a formal submission made to the local authority.

The Architect will then monitor the progress of the application throughout the statutory planning assessment time and regularly report its progress and any matters that may need addressing back to the client.

Once a successful grant of permission has been obtained, the architect will start to advise the client on how to appoint an engineer and the other project specific consultants and specialists required.

During this time the architect will consult with the above additions to the project team and provide the relevant information them.

Following this, they will consult with local building regulations inspector and compile the drawings suitable for the building regulation application, illustrating to building control how the Building Regulations work.

Technical Design / Tender Bid, Negotiation and Appointment

This focuses on the architectural package of detailed construction information, which includes detailed drawings and specifications that show how the building will go together.

These will be compiled and sent to potential contractors to tender against and then used to construct the building once a selection is made.

The architect will assist the client in identify and evaluating the tenderer quotation returns, looking at any anomalies and checking for missing pieces of information.

It is important that the architect remains impartial during this procedure and therefore seen to be running a fair tender process for each tendering contractor. For this reason they should not advise the client on who is the most suitable but will offer an unbiased opinion, often based on cost and quality of workmanship.

The client and architect will then need to meet the chosen contractor/s, at this point the list should be narrowed down to just one or two. This is important as the client is likely to be working with this person/company for a large amount of time and investing a lot on money in their work.

Ultimately the client needs to be able to get on with them and trust that they will be a good fit for the project, and when questions and/or changes occur they will remain approachable and eager to help.

Once chosen, the architect will prepare the contract documents and drawings, which unless amendments have been made during the tender process, will be the same documents the chosen contractor has priced against.

The client will be advised on the type of construction contract that is to be used and each parties associated responsibilities.

Construction and Close Out

Dependant on the type of chosen construction contract (there are many) and the size and scope of the project, the architect will offer to administrate the construction contract. The client may also choose to use another construction professional such as a project manager or quantity surveyor.

Their duties will include:

  • Site inspections
  • Dealing with general queries
  • Dealing with amendments and the impacts they may have.
  • Instructing additional work
  • Monitor the projects progress
  • Monitoring the quality of the works
  • Monitor the projects costs
  • Value works
  • Certify payments when they become due to the builder
  • When the project is ready to be handed over they will inspect and value the works and issue a certificate.

The role of the contract administer is to act honestly and reasonably, acting as the impartial party to the construction process. Should the client choose to not have one and a problem arises, it is their word and opinion against the contractors, and so it is important that a good relationship is maintained. Otherwise it can be difficult to resolve such issues fairly.


What types of architect are there?

As explained above there are many roles that an architect needs to master, which has led to specific specialisations in certain fields. There are also many more general levels of architects and assistants / students that are required to form a practice or studio, and different practice structures require different types of architects.

  • Design architect – Are architects who specialise in the concept and design development of a project and are responsible for ensuring the projects aesthetic and theoretical qualities are realised. This role is probably the closest to the public’s perception of an architect.
  • Technical architect – are architects who specialise in the inner workings of a buildings, and are responsible for how it works and how the piece come together
  • Project manager – This position is responsible for overseeing the progress and development of a projects procurement. They ensure that the right people are working on the right items and that deadlines are met.
  • BIM manager – BIM stands for Building Information Modelling, which brings the whole building package into a 3d coordinated package. This relatively new position is most common in larger practices, but see’s the individual responsible for the coordination and smooth running of the projects BIM tasks.
  • Specification writer – A specification is essentially the ingredients of the recipe for how a buildings come together, and every building big or small requires one. A specification writer is simply responsible for this side of the project.
  • Architectural assistants – Architectural assistants are most commonly student architects who are making their way through architectural education on their to being a qualified architect. On your outs industry no matter how many they may be, until you have passed your final exams, this is title you come under.
  • Architect – We describe this here, but essentially an architect is a qualified professional for the procurement of the built environment.
  • Senior architects – A senior architect is an architect who has worked and gained an extended level of experience since their qualification.
  • Associate architects – Associate architects often hold an extra level of responsibility, handling and overseeing key projects within the practice, they are often the public face of a project.
  • Partners – these are shareholders within a practice and typically found in larger practices. They share the responsibility and liability of the practice
  • Directors – Directors are often the business owners and sit at the head of the table to the partners (if there are any), this is ultimately where the liability lies.
  • Sole practitioners – The sole practitioner is an architect who is self-employed but does not have any members of staff, they are solo.

Where does an architect work?

An architect can work almost anywhere, and for this reason their location of work is normally defined by the structure and the type of practice they own or work for.

For example:

A sole practitioner may work from home, rent desk space, have their own small office; they can literally do and go where they please.

Whereas a small practice that employs up to 15 or so people, will have their own studio space (owned or rented) where its employees will be expected to work each day.

Large scale practices are more open to a flexible level of working, where they may offer their employees the option of working from home one or two days a week.

If you have any questions, then please post them in the comm nets section below


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