What is an architect?

What do architects do?
If you are sick, you go to a doctor.
If you need legal advice, you go to a lawyer.
If you need building and design advice, you go to an architect … what can you expect when you do so?

An architect has 6 years of training in an area of knowledge where the range of skills is diverse and exacting (the equivalent of doctors and more than lawyers).
An architect has 5 years of design education and training, 5 years of history of architecture education and training.
The law does not allow you to do what an architect does without competence as recognized by the architects’ council.

The architect’s role is complex as the product is delivered by a contractor: to this end an architect is versed in procedures of calling tenders and in building contracts, regarded as normal in the industry. The architect plays a role of contract administrator, doing inspections and construction monitoring with a professional team as required, and also ensures that contractual liability is in place.

The architect takes responsibility for the whole of this process, protecting their client with professional indemnity insurance against acts of error and omission and unprofessional conduct (the architect is bound to codes of conduct and of ethics).
The architect takes on responsibility and obligations to give effect to the expressed need to build, and make proposals to meet the need and see
the project through to fruition.

Add value
The architect is trained and experienced to add value to buildings. This can mean anything from incorporating the requirements for buildings to be energy efficient to making the places in which we live and work and play and pray function as beautifully and beneficially as possible.

Good buildings are more than just structures: they have a spirit, they are unique and contemporary, and they express our values, our attitudes and
our place in this particular place at this particular time (South Africa, in 2015).

The legendary 20th-century architect Le Corbusier wrote: “You employ stone, wood, and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces: that is construction. Ingenuity is at work. But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good. I am happy and I say: this is beautiful. That is architecture.” Will Bruder, the American architect, describes architecture as a blend of Poetry and Pragmatism.

Of course, buildings have to be considered in economic terms, and enclose space for a purpose: art is free and irrational, architecture is confined to be rational, and responding to a need. “An artist can make a wheel that is square, but an architect is forced to create a wheel that is round because of his responsibility.” (Rondanini, 1981. Vol.3:50).

Architecture is governed by prescriptive norms, codes and legislation, which function to protect the architect, the client and the public, and are interpreted into built forms by the architect to ensure that the buildings are structurally sound and safe to use.
All these skills duties and responsibilities combine to make the role of the architect one of great value to the built environment.

[Author: Ian Alexander, Architect and Chairperson of Pretoria Institute for Architecture, Practice Committee]

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