The Value of an Architect

There’s so much to write that I figured I should focus on the classic topic of the value of the architectural profession. There’s plenty of excellent AIA material on this (link) so here it is my own words. In my experience, it boils down to one key, but all-encompassing aspect: realizing difficult or seemingly impossible levels of GOOD.

DISCLAIMER: upon finishing this post, I’ve realized it sounds pretty academic. So if you’re not up for that, you can just jump to the end, where I summarize.

Architects have the unique task of synthesizing multiple practical, cultural and technological inputs. I’m not saying this doesn’t exist in other professions, but almost without exception when I meet someone who really thinks this way they will tell me “I thought about being an architect” or something like that. So architects are generally geared to think this way, that is, both generally and specifically.

Analysis is the breaking down of parts. Synthesis is the reintegration of those parts to suit to some unique purpose. This is essentially what the architect does. They analyze parts  (the project site, context, budget, construction technologies and other related technologies, the clients’ aspirations and functional needs, budget, space requirements, the client’s vision and mission and so on) and put them together in a way that is specifically suited to the time and place of a particular project. The magic, however, happens in the synthesis. Anyone can analyze something and come up with a solution. Some can do it better than others. Architects should be able to do it best when it comes to the built environment. Synthesis is not the result of a strict scientific process, but rather the combination of logical faculty and artistic intuition. The synthesized solution should be inspiring, poetic, and should resonate with the client’s vision.

This process of breaking down, understanding, and reconstructing is not the creation of something entirely new. Truly new things are pretty rare. Instead, synthesis makes a local form of new.

It has been said that God created ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. Architects don’t do this. Neither does anyone else. We reassemble existing parts to make something locally new, something that challenges convention and creates incremental improvement. You could call it Re-Creation, not dissimilar from recreation, which means play. So architects play, in a very constructive way. The value of an architect is to push a project, place or structure beyond what is currently perceived as status quo, and to constructively play in such a way as to bring forth something useful and productive to society. Possibly and hopefully even transformative to the cultural context of the project. When people interact with good architecture, it can be transformative. The play of natural light, the sequence of movement through a building, choreographed contact with or privacy from others, and interactions with materials, parts and pieces…these are just some of the things architect consider as they design, and they are aspects of architecture that can positively influence people’s quality of life.


Hiring an architect takes trust. Trust that they understand what you want and why you want it. Trust that they are technically proficient and artistically able to realize what the client desires. The value of an architect boils down to this: they are able to elevate even the simplest vision into something achievable, functional and beautiful. When an architect does this, it is good for all involved. It’s good for human experience, for communities, for property values, for a sense of civility and cultural achievement, and after all, beauty feeds the soul. When the architect designs something that achieves a certain sense of beauty, it can really lift a community. I have been part of projects and seen case studies of projects that achieve this level of goodness, and it is what absolutely motivates me as an architect.

The AIA and other good sources will tell you that the value of an architect is to protect the interest of their clients, to protect public health and welfare, and to provide expert design. Yes this is true. In fact, it is a critical summary of what we do. The point here is that the best architects do this and more. I’m not chasing money or reknown. I’m chasing good.  Lots of architects have actually left the profession or become apathetic because a large part of it is chasing money or recognition. Many of them have gone to non-profits working in poor countries doing charity design and construction. But what America needs is architects who are willing to work for the good of their communities. That statement comes just in time for election day

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