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What does an architect do all day?

Have you ever wondered what an architect does all day?

Whenever I tell someone about my job, I get that question a lot: What do you do all day? I think that many believe that I look at blueprints, sip coffee, and make beautiful hand drawings.

Welllll...the coffee part is true.

In actuality, an architect does a lot of different tasks throughout the day; it also varies from person to person and your role in the office. I am most familiar with mid-size firms (10-35 employees), so I can explain what a typical day looks like for this setting.

For a typical “Emerging Professional” (the fancy term used to describe us new or early in the career), our day consists of the following:

  • Check in with a principal or a project manager on the projects you are working.

This is a crucial task. Every project is comprised of multiple people working toward multiple goals - this helps tmake sure you and the project's team are up to speed on what everyone is doing and what you are expected to do.

  • Make calls to various consultants.

If you are a mid-size firm or smaller, chances are you hire an outside engineer for your projects. Architectural projects almost never go out as just an architectural set of drawings - you probably need a structural engineer, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, plumbing engineer, civil engineer, and a landscape architect. Communicating and coordinating with these professionals is key to creating a cohesive, complete set of drawings.

  • Draw!

But not those beautiful hand-drawn renderings that show up when you Google "architect." We use computer programs to create 2D and 3D drawing sets. So what, exactly, are we drawing? All the nitty-gritty parts to a building. Like, how your window connects to the sill, which connects to the wall. Or figuring out how much space you need for that ridiculously large printer so that when you open it to scan a file, the scanner top doesn’t smack the upper cabinet. This is not to say we never hand draw - we do, but it's usually a sketch to demonstrate an idea for the client.

  • Construction Administration

This phase of a project is the last box you check; it's when you receive the paper copy of what is going in your freshly bid-out project. During this phase we are regularly communicating with the construction manager to make sure the project is on-time and in-budget, addressing any problems or answering any questions they may have to the smallest detail.

  • Go to meetings

This one should be pretty self-explanatory, but a lot of things happen here. Sometimes we are sitting down with the client, asking them how they use a specific room or what their current frustrations are with a space. Do they need ten mailboxes or fifty? Would a second sink be helpful? How do they move around the space? Other times we are meeting with those consultants that I mentioned earlier to have a proactive approach to any foreseeable problem with the site, building, or system. Sometimes getting all of them together is the best way to get everyone on the same page.

  • Go to more meetings....on site

A project isn't complete until the structure is finished and an architect has done a final walk through - before we can even get there, regularly scheduled site visits are required. This is to make sure that the construction is moving along as it should, answer any questions on site, and document the progress with photographs.

  • Email

This seems pretty obvious; the most important thing to know about emailing is that it is a physical copy to fall back on. Did the client change their mind about the paint color? Did the contractor confirm when the structure was being placed? Questions and responses are meticulously logged to assure that everyone is on the right page and the drawings are correct.

  • Talk

It sounds counterproductive, but we talk A LOT (and not just the small stuff around the water cooler). Don’t want to spend hours researching how brick ledges are detailed? Ask your co-worker. Need to toss some ideas on the most recent design solutions? Ask your co-worker. Sometimes they are also there to listen to you yell when your computer crashes. or if you just need to remember how to spell “asphalt." My point is, each person in the office is likely more knowledgeable about certain things and can be a wealth of knowledge when you need it (personally, I have a lot of experience in animal hospitals). Use the tools - and people - you have around you.

As you can see, a lot goes into an architect's day. No matter what the project is, we are continually coordinating with the client, our consultants, and the construction manager to present the best possible design and building that we can.

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