Architects often rank highly on surveys regarding the respect people have for a profession. There’s a reason a seasoned grifter like George Costanza always claimed he wanted to be one. But generally speaking, most people seem to have no idea what an architect does. Other pop culture examples don’t help much. Mike Brady never brought his work home. Ted Mosby was a failed architect who had to fall back on teaching. Not a lot of other architects in popular culture as models. If you take away Frank Lloyd Wright, most people can’t name three architects so it’s hard to understand what we actually do.
Been Here Before…
So what do we do? We’re the professional who’s been here before. We go through 5-6 years of schooling, a three year internship, and a licensing test. This allows us to guide people from initial idea through construction. We find our clients fall into three categories. The first is the neophyte is someone who’s never done a construction job or never hired an architect before. The second is a construction professional who knows their limitations. Just as we might not be great an nailing lumber together, laying blockwork, or installing drywall, these people know that we have a unique skill worth engaging. The last bucket are people who bring us on only because they’re required to by the law. These people are not always excited by the extra expense to bring us in, but we can provide a lot of protection for people even in this unwilling group.
For the neophyte client, we can be worth our weight in lumber (seems to be on a trajectory to be worth way more than gold this year.) If someone has never used an architect before, the first step is to determine what it is they need? Do they have a solid idea of what they want and just need some guidance or a loose idea that will need a lot of help to realize? Can they read plans or will they need three dimensional renderings? Is their idea simple or completely illegal or impractical and can we guide it in a positive direction? The initial consult can be very important for figuring out the scope of services required and the boundaries of our interactions. In general, the earlier these people bring us onboard, the more value we can provide.
Construction professionals are a little easier as they often have some idea of exactly what they want or need. Some contractors are really good at putting things together. However, they can struggle to figure out how things will look when they’re done. Coming up with the ideas and expressing the final look are key skills we provide in that situation. Sometimes it’s a client who has a lot of experience in residential construction, but none in commercial. In this case, people generally know what they need and what we can do for them.
The last bucket of clients can be the most challenging to help, but also, sometimes, the most rewarding. There are certain types of jobs that require an architect. Which projects these are can vary a lot by local statute. Generally speaking, they’re projects that require some attention to life safety or structural codes. Sometimes, these clients find us after running into trouble with the permitting authorities, which is the worst time to bring us in. At that point, we’re often performing triage and trying to keep the project moving and it’s too late in the process to reconsider the design. If they can get ahold of us earlier, even if they know exactly what they want to do, we can provide a lot more value as we guide that project through the design process.
Architects – Renaissance People
Our formal training varies quite a lot, but often schools focus a lot of spaces, forms, and materialism. In practice, this means that the early stages of design where figuring out the size, quantities, and qualities of the space is where our formal training can be useful. Our experience can come to bear quickly though in guiding our clients away from overly complicated or expensive solutions. As a building comes together, we become a lot like general practitioners in medicine. Similar to how your main doctor may refer you to a specialist for certain things, Architects will help connect you to the specialists you will need. This might include various types of engineers or subcontractors. We might point a client to the portion of the code book that is going to be a problem later on. This might even mean negotiating with permit authorities to find the best compromise solution. But, no matter what, our goal is to provide the best value for your final building that is possible.