Intrigued by amazingly designed buildings or magnificent ancient structures?
Or are you interested in learning how buildings are designed and passionate about designing and/or drawing?
If yes, then you can consider architecture as a suitable career option. But before venturing to build a career in this field, you must have a proper idea of what the job of an architect is all about.
In this article, we explain to you everything you need to know about being an architect. We start by explaining the basic job functions, and move on to further details about different phases involved, softwares used and specializations.
So, let’s get started, shall we?
Who is an Architect?
Table of Contents
- Who is an Architect?
- Making a Building Plan – Factors to Consider
- Diversity in the Profession
- An Architect’s Workplace
- Phases of Building Design
- Softwares Used by The Architect
- Architect Specializations
A very basic definition of an architect would be a professional who is trained in the science and art of designing any building. The word design here refers to not only the look or aesthetic style but the plan or model of the building’s structure.
A plan is drawn or a model made according to the functional needs of the people using them. Other important factors considered in the process are safety and value for money.
Importantly, to be regarded as an architect in the US, you must have a license in the state of your practice. Similarly, other countries have their own national or state registration councils or boards where architects need to register themselves for practice.
Making a Building Plan – Factors to Consider
Now, let’s take a look at some of the finer points that architects need to take into account while drawing a plan for a building:
Architects need to think about the purpose that the particular building will serve. This will help to decide on a tentative count of rooms within the building and also the room size. For instance, while school buildings will require many rooms of medium size, an office will need many small-sized rooms.
A building has to be made in such a way that it can be used efficiently by anyone walking through the doors. While considering this factor, the activities that would take place in the building must also be taken into account.
The number of people who will be using the building at a point of time is a very crucial factor to consider. Based on this, the desired capacity of the building will be determined and the plan will be easier to make.
Safety and Security
As we mentioned earlier, safety considerations are crucial in making a plan. The design of the building must be safe and also such that it can facilitate easy escape during an emergency.
Diversity in the Profession
At this moment, you might form a picture in your mind of an architect holding a T-square and a drawing board. But in reality, the job of every architect is not exactly the same and is not limited to making a plan alone.
Also, what we described in the earlier section were the basic job functions of an architect. But the industry today is a lot more diverse. There are several niches in which you can specialize as an architect, which we will deal with later on in the article. The job title and responsibilities will vary according to the industry experience and the requirement or focus point of that respective niche.
An Architect’s Workplace
As an architect, you can choose to work in firms or can practice your profession either independently or by starting your own firm.
After completing your graduate studies in architecture in the USA, you are required to pass an internship of 3-5 years as part of a design team at any firm. Interns who design building plans have to work on a computer for around 8 hours a day at bigger firms. Those at smaller firms might get the opportunity for some creative work at times.
According to a recent publication by AIA in the USA, as much as 71% of architects work in firms with employee strength of 2 to 50. Whereas, the study revealed that 26% of architects choose to work as sole practitioners.
This is surely an important point to consider if you aspire to become an architect. Whether you choose to work in a small group or a community atmosphere depends on your personal preferences.
Phases of Building Design
Now that you know about an architect’s basic job functions and workplace, let us move on to the different phases involved in the work. Generally, there are five standard phases of designing a building that an architect follows.
Schematic Design of a Project
At the start of a new project, the architect has consultations with the land owner to ascertain the goals and specific requirements for the project. Based on these inputs, the architect develops study sketches, important documents and other essential media files. In this way, a schematic design of the project is created which forms the basis of the designing and construction of the project.
All these records are developed to illustrate concepts of the design and depict how will be applied for the project at hand. Included with these records are spatial relationships, form and scale which are reviewed by the owner.
After the schematic designing of the project, the initial design documents are detailed further. The phase involves laying out the plumbing, mechanical, structural, electrical and architectural details of the building(s). Such details are added according to the requirements of the owner and help to enhance the utility of the project.
Typically referred to by its abbreviation DD the phase often results in specifying the design elements of the structure. These elements include the position of doors and windows and the type of material to be used.
Producing Construction Documents
After the architect and the owner jointly approve documents developed during DD, the architect moves on to create drawings with more details. Specifications for construction of the building(s) and the materials needed are all mentioned in the drawings.
The resultant document is hence referred to as the construction document for the project. Once satisfactorily created,it is sent by the architect to the contractors for bidding or pricing, if that is included in the contract.
Bid or Negotiation
What follows next is the phase where the cost involved in the project is decided. Firstly, the bid documents are prepared to be sent to potential contractors for the pricing. After their distribution among all contractors, the architect and the owner wait for the bids to come.
Finally, the evaluation of the bids takes place where the owner takes the help of the architect. A winning bid is selected, and the building contract is awarded to the corresponding contractor.
Administrating The Construction
During this phase, the architect helps the contractor to build the structure(s) as specified in the construction documents that the owner approved. In the process, questions arising on site might require developing architectural sketches.
Such a sketch issued after the release of CDs offer further clarification for finishing the project in the right way. As such, the architect helps to bring perfection to the work of a contractor throughout the construction period.
Softwares Used by The Architect
Tools for building design and measurement are required for studying as well as practicing architecture. Earlier, architects primarily applied drafting boards in their work or made hand-sketches.
Though a few of them continue to use hand-drawing for work, this technique has almost been phased out now. The emergence of different design software has made architectural designing much more efficient and also greatly convenient.
Forming a design drawing or sketch is still regarded as an integral part of the early designing process. Thanks to the software available now, you can easily create a design drawing with remarkable accuracy and a realistic appearance. For producing construction designs, the technique has been replaced by Computer-Aided Design(CAD) software.
So, let us take a look at some of the common computer programs used by any architect today:
This software is among the most commonly used Building Information Management (BIM) programs in architecture. Revit equips users to create an entirely three-dimensional model of any building. Followed by this, the software “cuts” the model into sections and makes a plan through the model for being displayed as 2D plans as well as sections. Thus, they can be placed on separate pages and then converted to PDF documents for printing.
A very useful feature of BIM software is that once you change even a small part of the model, it is updated in all the drawings automatically. As such, it saves a lot of time compared to 2D drawing software, where every drawing needs to be manually updated after any design change.
As the name suggests, this 3D modeling software works is the closest digital version of traditional hand-sketching that we have at present. Although a 3D software, it is much simpler to operate than other such programs. Using this, you can create a wide variety of forms as well as textures. Moreover, you just need a bit of practice to create highly detailed models very fast.
Though originally made for engineers, this software is the industry leader among all the 2D drawing programs available. Architects can create elevations, building plans and sections through the software.
However, 2D drawing is not as popular a mode of creating building drawings as it used to be. It has been phased out by the other more convenient softwares available now. For instance, Building Information Management (BIM) software is a much more common choice for creating building designs.
This well-known photo editing software is not used for producing the traditional building drawings, but is still a very powerful architectural tool. Adobe photoshop finds use in the initial designing phases for creating graphically appealing plans, 3D views and sections of a building. With these kinds of presentations, the planning companies and clients get a chance to watch how the building may look when it is built.
This is a much advanced program which uses a building’s 3D model either created by itself or another program such as Rhino. Interestingly, a very realistic view of the building can be formed through this software by applying lighting and materials. This method is known as rendering. This software also uses Photoshop to put details and create further refinements to the picture.
Indesign is another software which is used in the initial designing phases. Though generally used for creating books, this software is also utilized by the architecture industry to create design presentations and packages.
Importantly, the program lets users link documents from other Adobe applications such as Photoshop and Illustrator to it. As such, many architects who make layouts on Photoshop use Indesign to manage all the pages for new projects or architectural portfolios.
As we mentioned earlier, the field of architecture is immensely diverse and offers various “hats” of specialization to professionals. Any architect can wear all the hats at different phases of his or her career. In case of larger firms, each topic can be assigned either to one individual or an entire team of professionals.
Besides, a few of the roles might be that of a consultant working on behalf of the main design office. Say for instance, a Spec Writer who is not from a particular office can be contracted for preparing the specifications of a building rather than an inhouse employee.
In this section, we look at various job specializations that the industry offers to any professional at present.
Generally, you will find larger firms including separate specializations for technical and design architects. Majority of architects tend to develop preferences for one or the other with the evolution of their career. Simply put, the difference between the two specializations lies in the building design phases where their work is involved.
A Technical Architect generally works through the phases of preparation of construction documents and in the construction administration period. In contrast, the design architect, as we will see later, works in the initial stages of any building design project.
In effect, technical architects often create drawings of how the building will be put together rather than defining the overall look of a project. For example, resolution of the details of drainage on any flat roof and making detailed drawings for the same would be technical in nature.
These professionals are also simply referred to as designers. Interestingly, they are the ones who start any project and work through the phases of schematic design and design development.
Design architects may have different ways of working, but their service most of the time starts with analyzing the site for the project. They may also identify the site and perform an overall survey of its current condition by clicking photos and preparing informational documents.
What follows is the development of the plans as per the program and the constraints. This is often started with simple hand-sketches and then evolves into developing 2D and 3D models using the software we talked about earlier.
Generally, there are quite a few levels of design architects accepted in the industry, according to their experience in the field. The first level is that of a junior designer, and such professionals generally have 3-5 years of experience.
The next level, that of an intermediate designer, who has around 6-9 years of experience, while a Senior Designer has spent more than ten years in the field. A point to note here would be that these are not job titles.
This specialization deals with carrying out the daily duties and responsibilities concerned with each project. Project Managers arrange the work in the order to be followed and apply their skill and knowledge of the field to lead a team and solve problem areas in a project.
Most importantly, they are in charge of a project and prepare plans, organize the work and designate the staff for the project.
Developing the project plan begins with considering the schedules for working on it. It proceeds with organizing relationships between the different parties in the project, planning the utilization of the resources and also perhaps the fee for the project. Besides, the manager also has to monitor the progress and the conclusion of any project.
Their other responsibilities include motivating the team members, advocating an idea or strategy, preparing documentation, and communicating with project owners. All in all, project managers play a crucial role in the successful execution of each and every project and are hence assets for any firm.
There may be a separate interior designer or a team of such designers depending upon the size of any project. For instance, for designing a residence for a single family, one architect will undertake the interior designing work. But for a commercial project of a large scale, an interior design firm of many professionals is often contracted.
In the US, there is a separate body for licensing interior designing professionals called the National Council for Interior Designing Qualification. Several architects transition to the field of interior design and work for a firm specializing in interiors. There are also some who work in the interior design department of an architecture firm.
The NCIDQ and such organizations in other countries have laid down some standard responsibilities for interior designers. Firstly, such professionals conduct research into and analyse any client’s objective and requirements. Preliminarily space plans and some 2D and 3D design sketches are then prepared. Finally, the plans and concepts are assessed against parameters of safety, functionality, aesthetic appearance, and all other public health, sustainability and welfare guidelines.
Besides these core responsibilities, interior designers also select and specify furnitures and make layouts for their positioning. Furthermore, they also decide on the materials and finishes needed to construct different parts of the interior space.
Spec (Specifications) Writer
Professionals dealing in this specialization create written documents describing the types of building materials available and their use in a project. Spec writers see to it that the several components of a building fit together and work in the right way. The quality standards to be maintained are also described in the documents prepared. These documents are fairly lengthy and make thick books when compiled together.
Some instances of specifications for a project are the paint to be used for painting outdoors made of steel and the steel quality to be used for framing a wall. As such, preparing project specifications requires extensive research on building materials plus editing large documents.
Those of you who enjoy reading as well as writing any technical manual would find this specialization interesting! Notably, spec writing requires at least mid-level industry experience. Drawing is not at all required in this specialization, which is why you can be great at it even if you aren’t that artistic.
In the USA, The American Planning Association regulates the profession of urban design. This specialization deals with the appearance, function and arrangement of the suburbs, cities and towns in a country. It is generally considered as being separate from an architect’s responsibilities.
Ultimately, this specialization is both an outcome and a process of creating such localities where people reside, interact with each other and with the physical atmosphere. Professionals require extensive experience and proven expertise for transitioning to this field. Interestingly, skilled urban design professionals can be part of large scale town building projects.
Sustainability Expert/ Consultant
Sustainability is acquiring more importance in building design with each passing day and as such holds great potential for new generation architects.
The objective of sustainable designing is to decrease the impact of any building on the environment and the natural resources. Such designing methods facilitate healthier lifestyles and hence are important for all-round development of localities, towns and cities.
You can deal in the specialization as part of a large office or even as a consultant. The US Green Building Council (USGBC) in the USA is a non-profit organization with the goal of promoting sustainable building construction and design. It is this organization that developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design(LEED), a rating system for operation, design, maintenance and construction of green buildings.
Hence, to become a sustainability consultant, an architect should at first earn accreditation from LEED.
With this, we come to the end of our discussion on the job of an architect. We hope you’ve gained enough insight to decide if this is the field for you.
Like many other industries today, the architecture industry also offers a vast range of career options. As such, it is impossible to cover all the job roles and specializations in the field.
But knowing the information we’ve included for you will be a great start towards moving into this field. Accordingly, you can even chalk out a tentative career path for yourself.
So, go on and start working on it. Adios!