What Does an Architect Do?

While it is true that architects plan and design buildings, a trained architect is a lateral-thinking problem-solver capable of much more. A trained architect learns to design environments that are interesting and comfortable to occupy and, safe and accessible to all, in accordance with regulations, codes and law. Architects are expected to design spaces and places that serve a clear purpose within a budget. All of this requires substantial rigor. There is also an implicit expectation that architects should be able to create environments that lift the human spirit. In the words of Roman architect Vitruvius, a well-designed building has Firmness, Commodity and Delight.

To incoming students, I describe the education they are about to receive as a structured liberal arts degree. In each term of the cohort-based program, a student learns how to design and make environments, while also learning how-to-learn about the people, places, programs, and purposes of a buildings and human environments. Every term offers an opportunity to learn about something that requires a design, while sharpening the skills needed to shape and design human environments. Students of architecture build skills in a broad spectrum of visual communication tools and methods, design technologies, and design information management, along with a capacity to advocate and verbally communicate the technical and engineering solutions required of a proposed design. They also learn how to objectively consider multiple solutions to a problem, through examples from the present and past, that may provide a basis to iteratively explore new solutions for unique scenarios and ideas.

The educational model of architecture school generates a wide spectrum of career trajectories and many students of architecture go on to great success in many creative and problem-solving fields. Some graduates become the classic architect who orchestrates and directs projects (e.g. principals and firm owners). Some graduates become technical specialists within the field (e.g. energy, structural, and construction technology experts). Some graduates develop refined skills that can be sold in many fields (e.g. visual communication, and design software development). Some graduates operate design-build firms while others become developers and use their knowledge and other people’s money to hire architects. And some very creative, lateral-thinking graduates leverage their communication and problem-solving skills and, capacity to learn about people, places, and problems, to pursue alterative careers (e.g.- inventors and film makers).

An architectural education offers tremendous advantage in a rapidly changing world, that some argue, will demand a person be prepared to change careers three or more times in their life.


Chair Statement by 
George Proctor AIA, Professor Chair