architect design drafting

Do you need an Architect? Probably. You might be surprised at how useful we can be.


Architecture has been called the last naive profession – we really believe that good design can change the world.  But here’s a secret: designs can’t make a difference unless they get used.  An architect needs YOU to collaborate in finding a design problem, solving it and making it a reality.

Architecture is a big field and encompasses the design of everything from sky scrapers to living rooms but for all that its surprisingly misunderstood as a profession.  An architect spends their workday coordinating myriad details between drawings sets and spreadsheet schedules, fielding calls from contractors and engineering consultants, wrestling with the city government to clarify building code regulations, climbing around in unsavory building basements, proofreading like crazy and even doing a spot of marriage counseling from time to time.

Designers ARE  lucky in that many design tasks are best handled by pulling out a pen and sketching but  there’s much less time spent musing over a drawing pad than popular fiction would have you believe.

architect in movies

Three Reasons to Work With an Architect

They’ve done it before

Most people build or remodel once in a lifetime.  Whether your planned project is a house or restaurant, building from scratch or just tweaking a few areas the chances are this is your first attempt as a project of this magnitude and the number of details and decisions (large and small) that are coming your way are sure to be nearly overwhelming.  An architect with experience in your design problem will be able to foresee complexity and potential problems, offer solutions you hadn’t considered and bring the weight of years of experience to bear.  Having someone on board who has been down the path before can be in invaluable resource.

If they don’t KNOW … they know how to find out

Architects are endless researchers and constant learners.  They spend time poring over building code for obscure recommendations, studying the requirements for a new client’s building by learning all about the requirements of another person’s job and tend to spend spare time getting distracted from conversations with friends by interesting details to memorize while walking down the street.  The profession is blessed with a mandate to life-long learning and an education based on problem solving.

They’re thinking big … and small

An architect is trained to consider design on multiple levels – from how the building will relate to the sidewalk, the block and the neighborhood, to the way a stair tread is detailed.  Balancing those details is intrinsic to the job and being able to pass those responsibilities off to someone else means you can focus on whatever aspects interest you most while being assured that all the scales are handled.   A good architect will also advise you on the most energy-efficient, cost-effective and long term solutions, designing with the future in mind as well as the present.

What Your Architect Can Do

Architects can do more for you than help pick and execute a “style” of building and keep an eye on the contractor.  A good designer can be an invaluable aid to the entire process from concept to construction, offering a voice of experience on everything from site orientation, to interior layout to product selection.   The State of Illinois defines the practice of architecture as;

“professional services, such as consultation, environmental analysis, feasibility studies, programming, planning, aesthetic and structural design, technical submissions consisting of drawings and specifications and other documents required in the construction process,administration of construction contracts, project representation, and construction management, in connection with the construction of any private or public building, building structure, building project, or addition to or alteration or restoration thereof.”

In practical terms that means a designer will help you scope out problems you weren’t even aware of … and then help solve them.

How Your Architect is licensed

Bringing an architect into your team means including a highly trained professional who has a lot of documented experience to bring to the table.  Just as with doctors and lawyers, becoming an architect is a lengthy process controlled by a licensing jurisdiction (in the US, each state administers architectural licenses).     For an Architect in Illinois licensing requires:

Education: a degree from an accredited professional program.  This might be from a five-year undergraduate program or be a masters degree requiring 2-3 years of additional education.

Experience: specifically, practicing under the supervision and guidance of other licensed professionals.  In many ways this serves as an apprenticeship where a designer can observe the techniques and learn the methods of others.  It has been formalized into the IDP or Intern Development Program supervised by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) which requires 5,600 recorded hours with set minimums in various experience areas ranging from Site and Building Analysis, to Codes and Regulations, to Service.

Exams: note the plural! The suite of SEVEN tests known as the Architectural Registration Exams (ARE) takes over 30 hours to complete (leave aside studying) and requires candidates to be familiar with subject matter ranging from Construction Documents & Services to Structures to Site Planning. And in California, on top of all of this, an oral exam with three stuffy architects firing off 30 random questions about a fictitious project you only had 30 minutes to get familiar with.

Once all of the above is complete, a designer can apply to their state board for their architectural license (to be renewed regularly and maintained with continuing education credits) and also become licensed in other states as well.  Considering the arduous nature of the process its less surprising (if no less funny) that awards to “Young Architects” are regularly given people in their forties.

So, although a dictionary will define this as “a person who designs buildings and in many cases also supervises their construction,” among designers the term can technically only be applied to people who hold an Architectural license.  This has resulted in some funny public scuffles, as when the British Architects Registration Board demanded that several of their national publications stop referring to Renzo Piano and Daniel Libeskind as architects since they weren’t registered in England.  They later retracted the request with a quote from ARB professional standards manager Simon Howard, to whit:  it is “OK to call Piano an Italian architect“.

So there you have it.  If you thought you might need an architect … you probably do.  (No false modesty here!)  Hiring one (or a team) will bring you guidance, feedback, support and control.  Have you worked with an architect before?  Tell us about your experience in the comments!