Why it’s important to consider what is an architect’s job

Architects are more than designers and it's essential for architects to embrace this. Here's why...

I’ve previously written about why architecture is more than design. My original article on Medium, Architects, Not Just a Matter of Good Design and has been one of my most popular. I later added a couple of paragraphs and tidied it for The Architecture Bulletin. It focuses on the importance of recognising that architects do more than design because of the value of that story to clients and potential clients. In this post I’m interested in the story architects tell themselves, why it’s important to consider and why they should identify as more than a designer.

I’ve recently been teaching in a Masters of Architecture degree course. It surprised me that more than three years into their studies many students are yet to appreciate that an architect’s job involves substantially more than design. While it’s an understandable misapprehension, it’s nevertheless startling. Many pursue architecture for the love of designing, yet there’s so much more that involved in the job.

The most prescient reason for an architect to consider their job is more than designer is to ensure that they don’t sideline other important skills they require. Whilst it’s arguably possible to be employed exclusively as a designer, it’s unlikely that’s all that you’ll need to do. Even as a designer your job is to be a collaborator, communicator and interpreter, with the design team, the client, consent authorities, consultants, stakeholders and so on. They’re interactions with people that present opportunities to advance the design, or attenuate the design. Before starting to design and during, an architect’s job might be to be a researcher, historian and critic, in service of the design and the project. Without getting too bogged in an exhaustive list and detail an architect’s job, in addition to designer, might also be manager, business person, technician, advocate, marketer, politician, leader and so on. It’s important for architects to acknowledge that these might be their job too.

The contention is that the aforementioned skills and/or roles are merely in service of the architect’s job as designer. My question is, should we rethink this job description? Encouraging architects instead to embrace those other aspects as equal elements in their job, working on them and building them into strengths central to their job description. Reframing the story they tell themselves, that they’re only designers. Highlighting even that they bring greater value to their work than simply design. Embracing the possibilities this thinking generates and exploiting it to generate different and better work through more comprehensive skills and services.

Let’s consider the implication of limiting an architect’s worth to design. When a project fails to meet expectations it would be rare that the problem lay exclusively in poor design skills. The question is, was it then the architects job to overcome? A project might be impacted by design time limitations imposed by various events, or by the impact of other inputs imposed either by clients, councils, consultants or codes, or a myriad of other reasons. When problems arise the architect can either absolve themselves of responsibility, accepting that they’re unable to prevent a recurrence in future projects, or they can accept they may need to identify and build the skills to necessary circumvent problems that might impact their projects. Architects, rather than focussing on design, might then tell themselves a story that their job includes the skills required to avoid future problems impacting their designs and work on getting better at them.

Why is it important to consider what is an architect’s job? In summary, an architect identifying all roles and skills of their job might the find ways to become a better architect, by strategically working on those necessary skills and roles. More importantly, by talking about the job of architecture as more than design, an architect might better represent the value that they bring to a project in service of their clients.

Image by Alexey Derevtsov on Pexels [cropped]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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