What is an architect and why might you need one?

An architect is a design professional with special education and experience in the design and construction supervision of buildings for residential or commercial occupation. An architect does a great deal more than just draw floor plans, but many people don’t understand the full scope of their work. We’ll answer five questions about architects so that you can become more familiar with their work and why you might need one.

What is an architect?

An architect is a licensed professional who not only designs the layout of building, but also specifies, in detail, what materials will be used and how a building will be assembled. In essence, architecture is an art form that is combined with engineering, joining the concepts of both form (the appearance of the building) and function (how the space will be used). In essence, they wear both a creative and a technical hat.

What do architects do?

In the function of both a creative and technical professional architects perform a variety of functions such as, but not limited to:

  • Plan building design and material specifications
  • Make sure that all local building and life safety codes are met in the building’s design.
  • Apply for variances when special considerations need to be made for the client’s construction needs.
  • Develop a set of construction plans that are presented to builders in order to collect bids on the construction of a building.
  • Approve material changes and construction techniques.
  • Supervise construction to make sure that their design specifications are being met.
  • Give final approval for the building to be turned over to their client.

What sort of education do architects have?

Architects are required to obtain a professional degree (Master’s Degree) in architecture from a degree program that is accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB). Within an accredited program, an architect studies art, math, drafting and design, and environmental studies. In addition, they also learn structural, electrical, mechanical and environmental engineering.

After receiving an accredited degree, architects must also participate in an Internship Development Program (IDP) with an already licensed architect within the state they hope to obtain their license. The number of hours required in an IDP varies from state to state, but most take about 3 years to complete. Following their education and internship, architects must pass all divisions of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) before licensure.

What professional qualifications do architects have to demonstrate?

Architects are rigorously tested over a number of different subject areas and they are required to pass on the ARE in order to be licensed. The test includes the application of knowledge and skills in the following areas:

  • Construction Documents & Services – project management and professional practice knowledge and skills, including the preparation of contract documents and contract administration.
  • Programming, Planning & Practice – environmental, social, and economic issues; codes and regulations; project and practice management.
  • Site Planning & Design – site planning and design including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management.
  • Building Design & Construction Systems – building design and construction, including environmental, social, and economic issues, and project and practice management
  • Structural Systems – incorporation of general structural and lateral force principles in the design and construction of buildings.
  • Building Systems – selection, and integration of mechanical, electrical, and specialty systems in building design and construction
  • Schematic Design – schematic design of buildings and interior space planning.

You can be assured that a licensed architect has the understanding and knowledge necessary to build a safe structure that will suit not only your aesthetic, but also your functional needs.

Why would you need an architect?

In some situations, a building, even residential, cannot be built without the approval of a licensed architect. In those cases, many builders, but not all, have an architect on staff to make sure that they are able to meet those requirements. In the event that you are unsure about certain code requirements, an architect is your best bet for understanding or obtaining a variance in relation to that code. If there are some particular engineering, environmental or space issues that need to be resolved during planning, an architect can provide the proper guidance to make sure those needs are met as well.


Though architects are not required for all residential building projects, they are the best professionals to consult where any issues or challenges arise with your home design, planning and structure. Architects have the combination of education and experience to either assist you in the design or provide the proper construction documents for building your home. In essence, if you have an issue that involves your building design or construction, consult an architect before it becomes a mess rather than after.