Tools of the Trade

It is my belief that the role of the contemporary architect is that of a master communicator – an evolution of the origins of the role as master builder.  While the ultimate goal of an architect’s work is tangible and physical, an architect’s job is essentially to translate between different audiences.

We take data and desires from the client and reorganize them into formats (lists, charts, sketches, drawings) that enable decisions about a building’s look and function.  After we have a solid idea of what the client wants, we communicate that to the consultants (engineers, landscape architects, etc) on a project.  Finally, we create construction documents that building officials can approve, and contractors can work from.

There are many different “tools” architects use when communicating between these groups.  While the digital world constantly develops new architectural tools, some old methods are hard to beat.  This blog highlights just a few of the ways we communicate with clients.  Forthcoming blogs will talk about communication tools specific to other audiences.

  1. Programs / Charts
    To begin a design project, an architect must first understand a couple things from the client: what spaces a building needs and where they are needed. A client may never have thought about their workflow in this way, so an architect may talk through such spaces and their placements by making an adjacency matrix or a bubble diagram, pictured below. This information is so much easier understood with graphic tools like these, instead of text descriptions.

  2. Sketches
    Hand sketching, frequently on trace paper, is often an architect’s fastest way to generate, reuse, and manipulate ideas.
  3. Mock-Ups
    Clients sometimes need help envisioning how a space will function.  If a drawing is too abstract, then a full-scale mock-up might be the tool of choice.  Mock-ups can be fully constructed with the exact materials specified, or with cheap materials like the styrofoam mocking-up the medical equipment in the image below.  Then clients can walk through the space and make sure it meets their liking.
  4. Pinterest
    It’s no surprise Pinterest was created by an architecture student.  Gathering images, whether from Pinterest, magazines or elsewhere, is a great way to home in on a client’s aesthetic preferences.
  5. Models
    Physical models used to be how an architect communicated three-dimensionally with a client or the general public.  For some firms, laser cutters and 3-D printers now make that process exponentially faster.  However, digital models can convey essentially the same information and then the same model can be used to generate construction documents. Below is a massing model SOA created during clinic’s schematic design phase.
  6. Material Samples
    I can’t imagine choosing a carpet, paint or countertop material without material samples.  A material’s library is an extremely helpful tool for architects, interior designers and clients when it comes time to select a palette of materials.  And if making a decision from a small swatch is too difficult, we order larger samples.  SOA has an extensive material library, pictured below.
  7. Timelines
    A Gantt Chart is a great method for showing the tasks of a project, and how long each will take.  Architects sometimes make them for explaining a design project’s timeline and contractors consistently use them.  This “Making a PB&J Sandwich” Gantt chart gives you a good idea of how they work.



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