What does an Architect really do?

September 30, 2014 Posted by Stefanie Good - No Comments

What Does An Architect Really Do?

Who doesn’t love HGTV? All those shows where beautiful home transformations seem to take place practically overnight. I mean, who doesn’t want to have their entire house redesigned, renovated, and completed in an entire weekend?

While these shows are certainly entertaining to watch and a lot of the work is beautifully done, as architects and interior designers, we can state that there is no possible way all this work is done in a mere 48 hours.

It’s a common misconception. We have dealt with such issues ourselves. Some clients believe all that’s involved is furnishing us with ideas of what they’re looking for and that we can crank out a full set of design drawings by the next day. After all, it’s 2014, we simply just press a couple buttons on the computer and we’re done, right? In reality (no, not like ‘reality’ TV), the process from initial design ideas to a completed project is far more complex and our involvement does not simply extend to drawing pretty pictures.

Instead, here’s what we actually do…


Whether you have an existing building and want to modify it, or you’re starting from scratch, we determine what exactly your project needs are and how we can incorporate them into the space provided. Sometimes, it’s a lot like trying to stuff an elephant into the trunk of a MINI-Cooper. Often, we can do it, but it requires a lot more work than you might think. And, we have to do all of this while conforming to the zoning laws set forth by the town/city in which the project’s located.


While most residential clients have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for. Sometimes their ideas simply don’t work with what they have. We strive to give them everything they want, but occasionally, it cannot be done, whether it’s site constraints, or goes against our better judgment. After all, you’re hiring us for our capabilities. If we think it’s a bad idea, we will tell you so. However, we will also provide you with a second or third option with your ideas that have been slightly modified to fit the project, as well as an explanation from us as to WHY we think this idea is better. After all, we’re trained to not only understand HOW to build your project, but also the function and flow of a space.


This is another all-important one that many people forget is a service architects offer. We work with the same towns over and over. We have a business relationship with many of the people on the boards at these meetings. And they know us. We will advocate for your project at these meetings. We’ll explain our design, how it works for that particular site, and how it will enhance the surrounding structures. Many people assume that if they want to build something, that, because they own the property, they can build whatever they want. That is not always the case. There can be building height restrictions, setback restrictions, square footage restrictions, etc. You can certainly look this information up for yourself in the Zoning Bylaws for your town, but the lovely wordsmiths who write these documents often use ambiguous—sometimes confusing—language that can be interpreted in several different ways.


These are a great tool for expressing to clients what their project may look like. We’re visual ourselves, so we understand if you can’t interpret a 2D drawing on a sheet of paper. Our skills allow us to create detailed 3D renderings and walk-throughs. Depending on the complexity of your project or what we’re modeling, these cannot be accomplished in a single day.


This stage is only undertaken when both client and architect are satisfied with the design drawings and, if applicable, the town/zoning boards have approved it. These drawings are far more detailed and are instructions to the contractor on how to build your project. We provide floor plans, elevations, sections, details, and framing. These come with an architect’s stamp and signature and allow for you to file for a building permit with your town/city.


This service is one where many people don’t seem to think an architect is necessary. While we are always available for contractors/owners to call us with questions regarding the project, this phase allows for us to make periodic site visits to ensure the drawings are being followed. It is quite common for contractors to deviate from the plans in the field in order to make something easier or cheaper to build. While changes in field are not unheard of, it’s important to include your architect in these changes. We can check to make sure that the change is a feasible one and amend our drawings to include this particular change. If we find out during a site visit (which happens far more often than we would like), it can occasionally cause problems and frustration for all involved. We recently had such a thing happen and it required the contractor to rip out and rebuild a staircase that did not comply with the building code nor with our drawings. This also entailed several more site visits to ensure that the contractor followed our specifications. This delays the completion of a project and leads to further frustration for all parties.


Hopefully, those of you considering hiring an architect can better understand the process. All those home reality shows don’t often reveal or acknowledge all the behind the scenes work that takes place. Architects are commonly underrated and ignored, our fees considered too expensive or not worth the money. However, we not only help our clients design their dream home, but we navigate and aid in any potential pitfalls. Therefore, we strongly encourage those seeking an architect to include us in your budget, because our experience and skills are invaluable in the long run.