what do you do?

How often has someone asked you what do you do?

Recently someone asked me “what do I do as an architect.” There is no simple answer to that. Maybe you don’t know what we do. Trying to describe what an architect does is a bit like trying to describe where the beach ends and the ocean begins. Yes, we design, more specifically buildings and environments, but there’s no easy way to draw the line (pun intended) of what we do and don’t do. In fact for me, everyday is different. That’s one of the things I like best.

Now, before you ask “what did you tell the person who asked the question recently, I simply stated I design buildings, but it had more to do with creativity than drafting. (The person was beginning to tell me about their father being a draftsman many years ago and I wasn’t sure how to say I wasn’t a draftsman). Nevertheless, they changed the subject without acknowledging my answer so I guess it didn’t matter. To me I’d rather talk about what I am (as an architect) rather than what I do. However, people generally don’t want to hear about my philosophical and esoteric musings. They just want a simple answer. I suppose we’re not good at that.

I did continue thinking about my answer and I decided it may be easier to take a snapshot of some current projects and tasks to give a glimpse into what an architect does. It’s not an exhaustive answer, but at least it’s real. These are things I did in the past few weeks. Here goes…

1.       Sketch design concepts for current renovation project

2.        Review building code against design layout

3.        Confirm city’s storm water management ordinance and check for exemptions

4.        Calculate basic storm water pre and post conditions to confirm exemption

5.        Contact building code official to discuss project details

6.        Continue to develop construction drawings

7.        Coordinate the kitchen equipment layout with the Owner’s requirements

8.        Communicate design concept with the mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineer.

9.        “Red line” notes and sketches on draft construction drawing set

10.     Update floor plans to match updated kitchen layout.

11.     Visit the site to take additional photos to send to consultants

12.     Update general contractor of design progress

13.     Add signage concepts over façade photo for owner’s consideration and approval

14.     Pick up prints from copy store

15.     Sketch alternate site plan layouts

16.     Figure out a place to place and shield the dumpster

17.     Talk to owner and consultants on telephone…often

18.     Email…everyone important information (communicate frequently)

19.     Sketch details for integrating storefront into steel sub-framing

20.     Contact utility companies to confirm new service requirements

21.     Coordinate photo shoot with photographer

22.     Adjust furniture layout in dining area, adjust take-out bar

23.     Write proposal for new family room addition

24.     Follow up with project leads to confirm if clients are interested

25.     Research roof paver details on internet

26.     Attend opening night of recently completed bar I designed…(leave early because it was too loud)

27.     Update to do list of all active projects and potential projects

28.     Review contractor’s application for payment

29.     Attend project meeting for project under construction, write meeting minutes of decisions made

30.     Meet with client for project consultation and sketch ideas for new addition

31.     Review shop drawings for structural steel, doors and hand railings

32.     Prepare site plan for planning commission approval

33.     Doodle in my sketch book as a means of relaxing

34.     Read technical article in trade magazine

35.     Update company financial “books” in preparation of paying quarterly taxes

What did you do today?

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what do you do?

6 thoughts on “what do you do?

  1. Sean in NY says:

    Lee, I can lament with your extended list. As someone also in the profession, I’d love to hear your abbreviated version. I find it terribly hard to verbalize EVERYTHING in such a concise manner. Short of saying something arrogant such as “I make dreams come true,” or simply spinning around and pointing at the built-world around me, it more-often-than-not seems like an exercise in futility. How do I convey a truer sense of what architects do w/o over-selling it and coming off as arrogant, or under-selling and reinforcing the same “draftsmen/etc” stereotype?

    1. Sean, thanks for chiming in. There is no easy way to answer the question. The trite platitudes so often espoused to what architects do cannot capture how we affect the built environment. Too often people simply thing we make drawings, yet we’re thought of as arrogant when we correct them. I try one person at a time to inject a simple but profound answer. However as in most conversations, the person only hears what they want. I think the only answer is for someone to see it for themselves. Visit a profound or just a fun place and give kudos to the one who designed it.

  2. Ted Rusnak says:

    If you were, or I, to get a dollar or two for every time we’ve been asked that question would we not now be retired and living comfortably?

    If one were to ask me the most frustrating aspect of being an Architect your / their question would be high on the list.
    We know the broad scope of what we offer but to convey a reasonable answer, well, that depends on when they stop listening.

    As always, you offer thoughtful subjects.

  3. Wm Finnerty says:

    great stuff lee, when i’m asked that question my mind usually goes blank so i’ve come up with the stock answer of “i keep the project moving forward”.

    at a casual gathering a couple years ago with friends a new aquaintance asked me what was the favorite part of my job and without hesitation or sarcasm i said ……. “getting the job!” happy to say they are a new client now.

    btw, couldn’t help but notice you did not do any invoicing the past couple of weeks?

    1. great response thanks. yes i did do invoicing, but after looking at the list i figured i’d better quit listing tasks. one of my favorite parts is getting the job too.

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