So, What Do Architects Do?

By: Jeremy C. Jeffers, AIA, NCARB

As stated in Wikipedia, “An architect is a person who plans, designs, and reviews the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means to provide services in connection with the design of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings, that have as their principal purpose human occupancy or use.”

This definition is a nice start but could be rejected by the boundaries imposed by the word “buildings.” Since the mid-1970’s, the practice of architecture has changed significantly. Previously limited to the simple design of buildings, the practice has evolved to include a wide range of influences affecting both the built and natural environment. Architects today believe a sustainable future is possible and achievable through the design process and a different approach to problem solving.

The following is a list of what architects do, although incomplete and certainly not in any priority:

  • Design buildings, interior and exterior spaces, environments, urban spaces, landscapes, and ships, and coordinate and design for energy efficiency, resiliency, sustainability. They research materials and environmental systems, teach, design neighborhoods and entire cities, and create drawings and make intricate scale models.
  • Provide facility and systems assessments, forensic and professional witness services.
  • Provide vision for problem solving and the future.
  • Design for aesthetics, safety and accessibility, functionality, costs considerations, and efficiency, including maintenance and building and site development life-cycle costs.
  • Develop contract documents that include drawings, specifications, procurement requirements, and contract requirements.
  • Facilitate compliance with local, regional and national codes.
  • Assemble the design team of other experts (building envelops or acoustics), interior designers, landscape architects, engineers (mechanical, plumbing, electrical, fire protection, structural, life safety and others as needed).
  • Solve social, cultural, community, and public infrastructure problems.
  • Consider the health, safety, and well-being of the public and the environment. Remain sensitive to the natural environment and natural resources, including energy, raw materials, sustainability, and resiliency.
  • Respect history and cultural pasts and legacies. Appreciate the lasting impacts of reuse of the existing built environments in lieu of demolition and disposal.
  • Strive to minimize humanity’s carbon footprint.
  • Manage building projects, from conceptual ideas to completion, including budgets, material selections, and warranties.
  • Assist communities with proactive planning and reactive disaster response.

Jackie Craven is the author of two books on home decor and sustainable design and a collection of art-themed poetry. She holds a Doctor of Arts in Writing, and, has over 21 years of experience writing about architecture and the arts. She authored an article, “What is an Architect?” In this article Craven states, “A licensed architect is the only designer who can rightfully be called ‘an architect.’ As a professional, the architect is ethically bound by codes of conduct and should be trusted to abide by all rules and regulations associated with a building project. Throughout their careers, architects participate in continuing education and professional development, similar to medical doctors and licensed attorneys.” She also notes, “An architect is a licensed professional who organizes space. The art world may define ‘space’ differently than the scientific world (where does space begin?), but the architecture profession has always been a combination of art and science.”

What do architects do? While it is true that they design aesthetically pleasing buildings, today’s architect provides services which impact far beyond the building envelope.

Jeremy C. Jeffers, AIA, NCARB
Jeremy is currently the president of AIA Idaho Chapter. He owns his own practice as a sole proprietor and claims to be retired.


Still curious about what architects do?
Check out TopicA‘s article Six Frequently Asked Questions About Architects.