A lot of people ask me what an architect actually does.
The most common is ‘do you design the pillars?’ It is like asking the surgeon if he administers anaesthesia to the patient. While the anaesthetist is a very important part of the operation, he is not the orchestrator of the operation.
What we as architects, do is design the project, its spaces and its everyday functioning. All our research, detailing, planning and management is to achieve a good building for the user and the client.
A client approaches us with a plot of land and his vision/ concept/ idea/ requirements – depending on the extent of his knowledge and interest. We understand the client and his intention and his aesthetic sense and design the project to suit his needs and his sense of beauty. The permutations and combinations in this arrangement can vary. Sometimes the client already has a structure on site. Sometimes he has a very specific look in mind. Sometimes he does not even have a plot, only an idea. In all of these situations, it is ideal to have an understanding of each other’s artistic sense. I mention both, the architect and the client’s aesthetic since there is no point in approaching an architect whose preferred direction is modern when the client wants classical. It would be a continuous tug-of-war between style and demand.
The architect works on the layout and the looks of the project. He shows you alternatives, understands the functioning and purpose of your structure and creates out of a few words, images and thoughts an entire building. He is the one who, with a good layout, can ensure that your elderly parents dont have to climb steps everyday or with a bad layout, can make you walk for those five extra minutes to your toilet everyday for the rest of your life. If you don’t give this stage its due importance and time, the everyday working of your building will be complicated and will cost you more in maintenance, time, labour than the initial time loss.
The architect then starts work on the spatial dimension of the building. He starts showing you his vision for the project. He starts preparing for the execution of the project, along with the design of the structure. He can give you a rule of thumb costing, a shortlist of contractors and consultants, materials and various other tid-bits required for the process of co-ordination for the execution of the project. He gets the layouts, the drawings of elevations, sections, the view in place so that the entire team of consultants and contractors, understands the vision. Please understand that he is explaining to a team who cannot see into his head and asking them to build something entirely in the architect’s mind. He explains the project through drawings and images and models. He translates the imagination into drawings. It is very crucial to understand that a bad team can lead to delays in work, bad site work, disinterest and a general lack of finishing in the project. These are problems, which can be seen at such a late stage that it is usually too late to correct them. A good team saves on time, money and immense trouble and gives peace of mind even during the execution of the project.
The site work commences with contractors and drawings in place. The role of an architect in this stage is to ensure that the drawings and detailing reach site on time and the work executed is as per his design and the correct finishing. Often there are changes in the design due to unforseen circumstances on site and the architect has to be involved to ensure that the changes are taken care of smoothly. The site, with proper supervision, can continuously progess to the stage of completion without much rework and changes.
The end of any project involves finishing and great amount of detailing. A badly finished building will reflect on the client and the architect immediately and a poorly detailed building will cause a lot of headache to both at a later stage.
When the client involves an architect in a project, he hands over the project to the architect to ensure that he gets a good structure. It sometimes becomes difficult to maintain an understanding between the client and the architect throughout the project and the client, the architect and the project suffer. It is necessary to do so till the end of the project and afterwards too, to ensure that the client does not make loss on his investment or suffer due to bad design or execution and the architect does not lose his good-will.
An architect acts like a jack-of-all-trades. He is responsible for the conceptualisation of the project, the working design of the project, the execution of the project, the detailing, handling of the contractors and the clients and the site, managing time. An architect’s reputation is based on the client’s word of mouth and he rarely forgets it. He has to indulge in creativity and practicality, has to have people skills and management skills, think about social and environmental impacts of his designs, has to be updated with the latest trends in the market and maintain design integrity. It is a difficult job, since not many professions require such a large variety in talents, but an architect who truly enjoys his profession very rarely gets disinterested in life. The joy of seeing a structure fulfil its intended use and give its users joy to be within the structure, is the ultimate aim of the architect.