When clients come up to me the number one question I get asked is “how much for a three bedroom house?”. Of which I always answer “it depends”. Some engage further, others insist on the one figure while others let it go. Yes the cost of a project matters but it’s always hard to estimate without looking at the complexity of it.
Every project has many moving parts and an architects job is commonly design oriented so that question requires the architect to design, quantify and build your project in their heads on the spot. And when you don’t answer the above satisfactorily the next question is “so what do you architects really do, aren’t you like engineers?”😡💪🏾. Nothing against our fellow AEC family but NO!
Architects are first designers before any other thing. Eventually some gain interest in project management, construction or interior design and expand their expertise. But first we are designers, we observe spaces around us and how humans use and interact in these spaces. We watch the movement of people in their environments and try to figure out the reasons why they choose to move like this. After we use this information to tailor a built space that caters to it. Sometimes it’s at human scale, homes, furniture, while other times it is at city scale, skyscrapers or street parks.
When given a building project, I have to start with the physical attributes of a site. Sun orientation, the slope of the site, vegetation and so on, refer to . To really make this design make sense , there are moments when I have to bring in an environmental specialist if I suspect that the building might have a big environmental impact. Like industries and laboratory facilities. Actually I wish the town councils would require an architect for all car garages and car washes, am sad to see the deposit of engine oil in the water system. I might need a geotechnical engineer to study the soil type or a hydro for water drainage. Some of these are required by the city/town councils before a project is approved.
After I have to look at the social aspect of the design, mind you I haven’t even drawn a single thing because the project needs to prove feasible before I put in design man hours. How will the project affect the community it will be built in. What about the users of the building, is it for living, work or play. What about the traditional culture of the region, will the project be accepted or offend people. Now here I am diving into social sciences, reading about how doctors, nurses and medical personnel interact so that I can design their common rooms in the hospitals. You see a building like a hospital is not only about the number of beds, actual humans work there everyday and night, you have to consider them otherwise the design fails.
Now with all this information, we get to the good stuff, the actual design. Most architects are looking forward to this stage because your creativity can finally start flowing. You are done with the bureaucracy and the fun begins. There are many sketches that you go through as an architect before you can show a client a draft. I usually start with the site layout using the physical and social attributes mentioned above, including building codes and guidelines. I eventually enter individual rooms and work simultaneously with the exterior look of the building.
All architects are different, some prefer to concentrate on the function over the beauty of the building others it’s the opposite, they will put the most uncomfortable spaces just to achieve a particular look . But I find most architects. especially the good ones, try to find a balance. I mean what stops a well functioning building from being pleasant to the eye. Though the design of the building should be a reflection of the clients taste in most cases it’s actually that of the architect, therefore seasoned developers tend to look for an architect who lines up with there taste. When referring to buildings in the architects world, when we ask whose building is this we actually mean the architect who designed it not the owner.
Am not even close to done, after the design has been finalized, the architect goes through the process of drawing up production drawings for council approval, engage a structural engineer for the structural drawings and detailed drawings for the contractor . After a back and forth with the council, the drawings are approved and next is a bills of quantities (BOQS) from a quantity surveyor(QS). BOQS are detailed computation of the cost of construction, that’s too say the materials and labour. The better detailed an architect drawings are, the more detailed the QS BOQS can be .
When it’s time for construction, architects have to put on the project management hat and supervise the build. They provide monthly site reports and should show up on site at least once a week. If there any changes to be made then the architect can catch them and edit in good time. It’s always painful when a client decides to get another project manager especially one who is not an architect. To see their design being managed by someone else and worse when they don’t follow their vision well enough, it hurts.
Ethically a project manager can’t make changes on the design without the consent of a client who should consult his architect but many times, a client will only engage an architect only till design and is surprised that the end product looks nothing like the images that excited them in the architects office. If its possible always use the architect who designed to project manage or at least use another architect who can read drawings and appreciate another designer’s vision.
Architects also give after build services such as maintenance and expansion. Not many architects offer this service but I think it’s important to follow-up a finished project to get feedback and learn for future projects.
Now that you know basically what architects do, next time you meet your niece who you gave pocket money at some point don’t say “how much for a ka sketch of a 3 bedroom house” 😡.