The Second Studio (formerly The Midnight Charette) is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by Architects David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features different creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions.
A variety of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes are interviews, while others are tips for fellow designers, reviews of buildings and other projects, or casual explorations of everyday life and design. The Second Studio is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.
This week David and Marina address the question, "What Does an Architect Do?". The two cover the responsibilities and tasks an architect undertakes during a typical building process from research to the initial design phases, design development, construction documentation, contractor selection, and construction. Enjoy!
Highlights & Timestamps
Why the question, “What is does an Architect do?” is important and some of the common misconceptions. (02:11)
I do think for the lay person, they think that architects are good or should be good at math because they associate that with engineering. An engineer is of course the one who designs the structure, they do the calculations to make sure the structure is of sound integrity, that the building's not going to fall down, that it can resist certain wind forces, seismic loads, and live load and all the other things. That's what they do. We architects do not do that. We have a very good general sense of structures and what's going to be required structurally when we design things, so we were not in the stratosphere of being unrealistic, but we do not calculate things. We do not use mathematics in that sense, because it's a very dangerous. That’s not our education, that's not our expertise. (05:57)
What an architect does at the beginning of the project. The architect as a researcher, interviewer, and organizer. (13:38)
We're trying to design something that is always in response to something else and if you just jump into design without looking at the context or doing research or analysis, then is the result going to be relevant to who or where you're trying to design the project? Everything is very hyper specific. Therefore the response cannot come out of nowhere. There is already too much information embedded within the project seed to be ignored. That's where the design should start. It should start from the seeds and looking at them and understanding them. (14:20)
What an architect does after researching during pre-design and concept design. (13:38)
Clients are sometimes very excited about the project to get started and they want to start seeing design. So they don't really understand the importance of taking the time to analyze and research prior to start creating. Sometimes they think they need certain things or they want certain things, but it's the job of the architect to dig deep, to see really what those mean and what is the most crucial information—information that is sometimes even hiding below the surface of the information that the client will share. (21:06)
A lot of times client will say, “I already know my budget. I already know my schedule already know this, this, and this and I just need you, architect, to do this portion of work.” But, the architect does not approach any project this way, they approach it as, “Whatever is required of me to design the best thing, then that’s what I’m going to do.” So very often, clients will come to an architect with this idea of how the relationship will go or and idea of the architects tasks and responsibilities and the architect, the first thing that will they do is blow that up and say, “Let's take like 10 steps backwards because it could be that we need to actually shift to this other direction and that'll be much more productive and successful. (27:51)
The architect generates ideas and how ideas are used in the design process with the client. Architect as an ideator, executor, critic, and listener. (30:05)
To be an architect means you're designing things for strangers and you only have that much amount of time to get know them very personally and very deeply to come up with something that is going to mean a lot to them in their daily life and daily use. It’s an immense challenge to succeed in doing that, because of all of the impossibilities that just comes to mind when I tell you that. It’s like speed dating, but with pretty expensive outcome at the end.
I think the human aspect of hiring an architect is something that also people don't often think about. When I tell my family, “I’m an architect” they don't think about me talking to clients and trying to get to know them and asking them the most rudimentary questions in order for me to shed some light on how I should design their kitchen. What does it mean to them? You would think that I've designed 30 kitchens already, why can’t I easily design another one? But it's not just the amount, it's who you're doing it for. It requires having a good people skills, being a good listener, being a good communicator, being a confidant, even sometimes becoming a friend with the client. Something that's crucial to making the process successful is that human exchange as part of the creative process, that is super important. (37:09)
What the architect does during schematic design and design development. (40:08)
There is something about ensuring that a project is moving forward in terms of schedule, hitting deadlines and not getting delayed, yes, but also the spirit and the emotion of a project. To some people that might sound kind of wishy-washy, but when you're creating something that is that expensive and takes that long, and there are many problems to solve constantly, and you're working with someone who let's say has not done this before, that part of what the architect does—moving it forward and keeping the ship afloat—might be… it's definitely one of the top three most important things that an architect does. That's also why we hear architects often say, “I'm very proud to state that I never abandoned a project.” Now, from an outsider's perspective it's like, “Well, I fucking hope not! That's crazy. Why are you even saying that? Why are you bringing up something so negative?” Architects say that because it takes a lot to stay with a 12-month, 18-month, two-years, whatever-length project all the way through when there are a lot of issues that are constantly coming up and on top of that, making sure the client stays informed, but also not overwhelmed. (48:12)
What the architect does during construction documentation. Architect as a communicator, team captain, and visualizer. (54:07)
What the architect does during agency approvals, permitting, and contractor selection. (01:09:26)
I think there's this notion of, if you're a good architect and you produce a good set of construction drawings and documents—and that’s what's going to be used in the field by the builder to know the design intent and what to build—then why do we need an architect during construction? I think people might visualize construction drawings as sort of like a Tinker Toy instruction set […], but the sheer complexity and the number of weird corners and things that exist in any given decent-sized project means that you need the architect—the person who created the drawings—to stay on board [during construction]. (01:14:55)
What does the architect do during construction? Requests for information, shop drawings, site visits, approvals, and etc. (01:16:38)
This gets back to visualization, right? Because when you are on site, during the heat of construction, the battle of construction, and the architect points out an issue and says, “That's a problem for design reasons because things are not going to align”, it’s very easy for people who don't have that ability to visualize the final outcome to say, “Oh, it’s no big deal. Out of all this crazy mess going on, it's fine. It’s not a big deal.” But it is a big deal because you're paying a lot of money to have a design and to have an architect. So one of the things that we do is we make sure that the thing that you are paying for, you're going to get. And that requires going onsite once a week, twice a week, and pointing out stuff and saying, “Fix this, fix that.”
A lot of times you look at buildings or final architecture, and there are weird moments in it. There are a lot of reasons as to why that weird scenario might have occurred and one of them, fairly often, is that something happened during construction and someone didn’t catch it, or frankly, people got lazy because it was six months in or ten months in the process and they thought, “Let's just move on. I don't care about this thing anymore.” And now, in the end, you look at this weird condition and you wish you had spent an extra two days resolving it. So visualization, catching things, and being a rigorous are other aspects of what architects do. (01:31:06)
Another good way to think about what we do during construction especially is that we're an advisor to the client. We're like your friend that has a lot of expertise who knows the project the best and we're going to help you. (01:34:29)
[As an architect] whatever is required of me to design something that's awesome and to make sure that it gets realized. That’s what I do. And that automatically means a whole bunch of different things, because you're working backwards from the end. “I want to execute this thing perfectly. I want to design it perfectly. What does that require?” Whatever the answer is—if it's necessary or going to help the design, then that's what we do. (01:35:58)