Beyond Design: What Do Architects Do?

What an architect will do when you’re building and designing a home

Beyond the fact that architects design things, many people aren’t very familiar with what architects do. Yes, design is an enormously important part of being an architect, but the reality is that an architect’s job requires much more.

When it comes to designing and building a home, there are many things that an architect will do for your project.

Code compliance and legal questions

From following local building codes to understanding easements or covenants that apply to a specific site, an architect will ensure that your design can be legally built. Building height, bulk plane and lot coverage requirements all play important roles in what can or cannot be built on a site. This might also include a conservation easement that restricts the size or placement of a home on the lot or preserving certain elements of a historic home. Each project is different, and it’s the architect’s job to thoroughly research the site to understand what needs to be done from a legal standpoint.

Future planning design considerations

The beauty of a custom home is that it’s designed just for you. Even if your intent is to build your forever home, an architect will keep resale value in mind when designing your home. Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean resale value will take precedence in the design, simply that your architect will advise you on ways to create your dream home, while still maximizing your investment.

Aging-in-place is another design element your architect can help you with. Even if you’re not sure if this will be your forever home, now is the time to think about aging-in-place elements. In homes with stairs this could mean including an elevator, or simply roughing in where an elevator could easily be installed. Zero-step entry showers have a great cool factor and if wide enough, can be wheel chair accessible. If aging-in-place features are important to you, be sure to let your architect know from the start.

Budget management

Contrary to popular myth, no architect wants to design a home you can’t afford to build. Be upfront with the architect from the start, and they can help you stay on budget. Architects understand approximately how much construction costs in areas they typically work and can do the research when working in a new area. If you select the architect and builder team early in the process, they can help keep the project within budget.

Design build

Some architects offer clients a design build process, even though they aren’t a design build firm. This means the architect works with the chosen builder to create a seamless process that makes the most of your budget and gives you the best design and construction possible.

Value engineering (making changes to the home to achieve cost savings) is an important part of the design build process, and it’s always more effective when the builder and architect collaborate to find the best solutions. Depending on the size and complexity of a project, this might include the architect making site visits or attending regularly scheduled team meetings once construction is underway. Either way, the architect should remain available throughout the building process to answer any questions that may arise.

Project management and leadership

An architect leads the charge to coordinate with all subconsultants to put together construction documents. This can include the structural engineer, MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing), landscape design, interior design and many others. The construction documents are then submitted to the city for approval and are ultimately what builders use to construct the home. Good quality construction documents can streamline the approval process and make a builder’s job easier, which in turn can save time and money during construction.

Client advocate

Designing and building a custom home can take anywhere from one to three years, and an architect will be a passionate advocate throughout the process of completing a project. design review boards, homeowners’ associations and the city and county where you’re building will all have questions and need to give approvals on the project. It’s your architect’s job to understand all the requirements for your home and go through the approval processes with each entity.

Paul Mahony, AIA, CGP, is a senior partner at KGA Studio Architects. More information is available at

Categories: Real Estate