I will be the first to admit that I previously struggled to understand the role that an Architect has in the process of construction. When I first started becoming interested in pursuing the profession at the ripe old age of 13, I knew that my skills drawing, designing, and constructing things would lend heavily to becoming a successful architect. Even shortly after enrolling in college and attending my first couple of architectural classes I realized that I don't really understand the entirety of what Architects do.
In Latin, the term architectus means "master builder". One could assume that the architect would be laying bricks, framing walls, and hanging doors. To some degree, the first architects did, both designing and being responsible for building the structure. In today's world, this type of project would be known as Design/Build, where the same entity is responsible for the entire process of design and delivery of a building. The early architect was expected to both understand the theories of successful design, and couple those skills with a practical real world construction experience. Today, there are often misconceptions about Architects and their responsibilities, skills, and capabilities. I find that many people like to fit architects into a box with criteria established by popular culture. Remember Art Vandelay?
It is often believed that the profession of architecture is wholly about design. More specifically, the design related to the form, shape, and decoration of the building. In many cases, people desire buildings that are thought provoking, edgy, classic, or conformance with some other design driven criteria. If we were to ask the public, who may be unfamiliar with the process of construction, this artistic quality is how most people would describe the profession; and for good reason. Many people think of architecture, and thus architects, and remember the iconic buildings and functional pieces of art which are commonly revered as the product of architecture. And they would be right! This narrow perspective in regard to architecture has resulted in many people believing that their project is unworthy of architectural input and involvement. In fact, on numerous occasions, I have heard people proclaim that architects are unnecessary to various projects, or worse that architects exist only to design temples to themselves. In fact, the perception of architecture has been so surrounded by this design orientated point of view, many peoples first reaction to their building needs is to call a general contractor, or pursue their project intentionally excluding the perceived unnecessary architect.
The architecture industry has done a poor job of educating people into the full encompassing involvement architects should have on nearly all construction projects, and the add value provided by retaining the expertise of a "Master Builder" in all construction projects. So what is the added value brought to projects by Architects? Beyond that of the design as discussed above, Architects are tasked with developing the technical documents for construction such as the drawings and specifications. They also offer proposal phase and construction administration services to owners, to act as the owner's liaison to the General Contractor during the bidding and construction processes.
Architects conduct these various tasks considering and implementing compliance with accessibility requirements, local and national building codes, all while being cognizant of life-safety issues and the human element's relationship to the structure. And don't forget design! Architects are often tasked with being innovative both to new construction, materials, and technology, and implementing design which respects our natural resources, integrates with the environment, and is visionary to the needs of future generations.
Architects can even help to reduce the cost of construction by assisting the owner to implement a competitive design, bid, build method of delivery. An understanding of budget, scheduling, and other technical project requirements can be considered and implemented prior to breaking ground, which ultimately could help the final project outcome. Essentially, having a plan. A "measure twice, cut once" perspective.
Over time, the "master builder" concept has been separated and the responsibility for the design is often segregated from the construction. Even when the Design/Build method of project delivery is imposed, it is typically a team created by a General Contractor and an Architect working under a single contract. Even though the architectural design and construction activities are separate they are still both very important to the final outcome and success of each construction project. In any regard, architects continue to contribute value to projects, both in terms of artistic and architectural quality as well as technically.