“I once considered becoming an architect” said three different people to me this week.
There is something about architecture that keeps people interested when you tell them you do it for a living. People don’t then ask what it is that you actually do, they apparently already know. Instead, they tell you stories of their trendy treehouse, their neighbour’s kitchen colour scheme catastrophe or the way no houses these days seem to have doors on toilets (all actual stories). Little do they know that if I had a dollar for every time I designed a treehouse, I’d have zero dollars.
Don’t get me wrong, there is some truth to the stereotype. They do sometimes pick colours and we do occasionally decide on how private and soundproof the thunderbox will be. To let you in on a secret though, you don’t need to pay an architect to pick the colour of your dunny door.
A house design is a series of unending decisions, large and small, which a good architect or building designer will determine based on a balance between many different factors. For example, an individual window size and type could be selected based on a balance between available lighting, ventilation, heat gain/solar access desired, constructability, views, aesthetics, cost, building regulations and neighbours, among other things. The value of an architect is in creating an overall concept which has the best balance between your most important requirements. They won’t make all of the decisions for you, but will fill all of the gaps you may not have considered based on their understanding of the project and experience. The acoustically and aromatically sealed depositary door is only one of thousands of tiny decisions that need to be made along the way.
On the off chance someone did ever ask me “What does an Architect actually do?” I’d say that they are experts at combining design, sustainability, engineering, economics, accessibility, leisure, law and managing bureaucracy. If an architect is successful, you may not even know they were there.