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What do architects do?

Mention the word doctor or dentist or carpenter or plumber, and most people have good idea what those people do. I find that most people, even those in related fields, have only a vague idea what architects actually do. And often this is based on outdated stereotypes–ie the arrogant but brilliant creative genius of Howard Roark (in The Fountainhead), Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry. So here is my elevator speech of what architects do: We design buildings, or sometimes a collection of buildings (in a precinct) and occasionally entire towns or cities. Architects play a major role in designing the built environment.

The process of designing is a little mysterious. We look at the following:
a building’s context
site constraints/opportunities
the history of the site
wind/sun/shade/vegetation
traffic,pedestrian movement
zoning bylaws and building codes
the owner’s wishes and aspirations
the building users needs and wants
etc, etc

And then, we incorporate input from a number of consultants such as:
structural/mechanical/electrical/geotechnical etc engineers
contractors and suppliers
sometimes arbourists, or biologists, or heritage or other specialists, depending on what specialized knowledge is needed

And then, somehow, almost magically, we synthesize this into a design. Occasionally this is done as a quick one-timer, but more likely it is part of a long, at times fun, at times frustrating, occasionally agonizing, iterative process of trying out dozens of options to arrive at an optimal solution. There are few people who can do this successfully, and it requires a certain trust in the process, and a comfort with being in the ambiguous grey zone of not quite knowing what the best answer is just yet.

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