What Does An Architect Do?

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Posted By Matthew Von Dohre

Peoples perspective of what Architects do

What does an architect do you ask? Most people think architects draw floor plans for building and while this is true it is only one of the many things that architects typically do.

The job of an architect is to transform people’s dreams, imaginations, programmatic requirements, and budgets into designs that are both a functional and cost-effective building solution that protects the health, safety, and welfare of the people who use these buildings. 

Developing those dreams

The development process of transforming this information into a functional building can be a long process involving many phases or milestones in the creation of the documentation that will later be permitted and used by a contractor’s team to build the building project.

The design process for a project typically involves four phases that architects refer to as the concept development phase, schematic design phase, design development phase, and construction documentation phase.

During these phases is where the creation of drawings that represent the design of the building, details on how to construct the building and written specifications describing the components that are to be used in the building are created.

This collection of documents is referred to in the industry as the construction documents and are used in conjunction with one another when building a building.

Reviewing local building codes

Additionally during the early phases the design process the architect is reviewing state and local building codes that are adopted in the city or town where the building is to be built since these can have a significant effect on the design and functionality of a building.

Some might ask why we need these state and local building codes which brings us back to the building solution must protect the health, safety and welfare of the people who use the building and these codes provide a minimum standard or guideline that a building must be built to.

Contractor review

Once the building has been designed it will go thru more processes with the contractor’s team and the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction).

The architect typically works on the owner’s behalf to review the project with the contractor’s team so that they can fully understand the project and be able to provide the owner with a bid, or price to build the building based on the information in the construction documents.

Value Engineering

While the contractor’s team is reviewing the project they may come up with ways to reduce the cost of constructing the building that will have to be reviewed with the owner and architect in a process known as value engineering.

If any of the cost-reducing items are accepted by the owner or architect the architect may have to revise the building construction documents before construction can start.

Permitting a project

During the review process with the contractor, a building project may also be submitted to the AHJ, which is usually the local building department, where they will review the project for conformity to all locally adopted building codes.

The AHJ will either approve the project for construction or ask that certain aspects be revised and resubmitted back to the AHJ before approval to build the building can be granted.

Once the AHJ approves the project and all associated fees are paid to the AHJ they will issue a building permit for the construction of the building project.

Additionally, depending on the size and scale of any value engineering items the project may have to go back to the AHJ for a review of the changes.

Construction administration phase

Once the owner has an agreed upon a price with the contractor and the AHJ has granted a building permit the project then enters into what is referred to as the construction administration (CA) phase.

The CA phase is typically a separate contract with the building project owner from the design and construction document phases.

The architect is hired by the owner to review the building project with the contractor while they are constructing the building to make sure it is built in accordance with the construction documents produced by the architect and follows all locally adopted building codes.

During construction

During the construction of the project, the building will go thru many inspections by the AHJ to verify that the various portions of the building and systems have been built in accordance with the building codes.

If any items are found by the AHJ to be built incorrectly or missing from the project the architect will work with the contractor to resolve how to correct these items before the building may be able to move forward.

Once the items have been corrected the AHJ will then have to reverify that the corrected work now meets the building codes and what was permitted by the AHJ.

Payment reviews for completed work

Another job of the architect during the CA phase involves helping the owner make payments to the contractor by reviewing the amount of work that has been completed at set intervals of the project construction.The payment requests are made by the contractor to the owner, reviewed by the architect and authorized by the bank for payment based on the approval of the architect for the completed portion of a building project.

The architect during these reviews is responsible for ensuring that the project has been completed to the level that has been requested for payment and that the remaining portion of the funds for a project is enough to complete the project.

If the contractor is requesting payment for more then what has been completed then the architect can reduce the amount of the requested payment after meeting with the contractor.

Nearing substantial completion

As the building project gets closer to completion the architect will continue to review the progress with the contractor and once it is near completion it will enter a phase referred to as substantial completion.

At the substantial completion phase, the building is almost complete and the architect will do what is referred to as a building punch where they walk thru the building to compile lists of any items that need to be finished or fixed before the building can be given it final sign off for completion of the project. 

Final documentation phase

A final documentation phase known as the as-built phase may take place at the project completion to compile all of the documentation from the contractor of changes made during the construction phase.

The owner starts to move in

The final phases of the project may include a temporary certificate of occupancy (TCO) so the building owner may start to move into the project.

This is followed by a certificate of occupancy (CO) where the AHJ has given their final approval that the completed building has been built in accordance with the building codes. 

The architect will also verify that the project has been completed in accordance with the construction documentation and building codes then can provide the final authorization to the owner and bank for the final payment to the contractor.

Project closeout

The architect will continue the closeout of a project by compiling all of the documentation that was produced from the start of the project.

Some of the documents made be archived in digital format and others may be saved in hard copy or physically printed documents that must be kept in a climate-controlled environment.

The documentation must be saved for the duration of time that is indicated by the statute of limitations set by the state in which the project was built.

To answer your question and final thoughts

Yes, an architect does design and draw the floor plans for a building project and as you may now understand an architect is also involved in many other aspects of a project.

The amount of time an architect can spend for a single project can range from several months to many years for the complete design and construction of a large building project.

I hope this has been an insightful overview of what architects do. To learn more about how much architects make, stop by our post on How Much Do Architects Make?

Thank you for stopping by and I good luck out there.

Matthew Von Dohre, RA, RID, NCARB  

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