What does an Architect do exactly?

Architect is a profession that thanks to pop culture, Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother, Sam Carmichael in Mamma Mia, and numerous other fiction characters, most people have heard of.  It is a career romanticized with images of old fashion drawing tables and straight edges with fancy pens and pencils and beautiful hand drawn plans. Most people have a vague notion that they design buildings and draw up plans; while not wrong, there is a lot more attached to this profession than just drawings.

The word "architect" comes from the Greek word architekton meaning chief (archi-) carpenter or builder (tekton).  Architects not only design buildings but we are also a bit of ‘jack of all tradesmen (women)’, in that we know a bit of all the other trades so we can navigate the intersecting worlds and trades that come together to design and build a structure.

We often work closely with many professions including, engineers, planners, interior designers, and landscape architects.  We spend most of our time coordinating with others and a smaller amount actually drawing and designing.

I once found myself chatting with someone in a Dublin pub who asked what I did for a living.  When I told her I was an architect, she replied, “Oh, the one with the whip”. This confused me and took me a moment to figure out that she must have been thinking of an archaeologist and didn’t really understand what an architect or archaeologist was. Not knowing if she was joking, I didn’t correct her.  So if you think architects design buildings and are not offshoots of Indiana Jones (is anyone?), you’re on the right track.

When it comes to domestic design and one-off houses, architects compete with a lot of other building professionals who offer similar services.  Your local engineer may say they will design your home for you, but they will rarely volunteer to be the sole designer of a building beyond the domestic sector.

An architect is someone who has been trained in ergonomics, design strategy, materiality and building physics.  The training is extensive, taking at least 5 years of college and at least 7 years to become a registered Architect.  Basically, an architect will sit down with a client and discuss the objectives, requirements, and budget of a project (or at least should). From there they can provide a variety of design services depending on the client requirements and the architect you are dealing with.

“Architect” is a protected title, like “Doctor” or “Solicitor”, so it is illegal to call yourself an architect unless you are registered with the RIAI (Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland) under Section 18 (1) of the Building Control Act 2007. So be wary of someone offering “architectural services” without a registered Architect on staff, as they are probably trained in some form of architectural design, but may not be a registered Architect.

While every project is different is as different as every Architect, there are some standard steps to the the architectural process.

First Step - Initial Design and Feasibility

At the beginning of any project, an architect can conduct something called a feasibility study. This is a study of the basic elements like site selection, chances of getting planning permission, preparing cost analysis of the project and speciality tasks such as an environmental impact study.

The most important thing to do at the beginning of a project is to write a brief. A brief is a written document which states everything that the final building should achieve and is an important tool as a project progresses to ensure the original goals aren’t forgotten.

[Initial design sketches]

After these items are completed, the design work can begin. If the project involves any existing buildings, such as a fit-out, the buildings will be surveyed, and your architect can begin to produce early sketch schemes. This is a collaborative process between the architect and client, where the architect will give the client a few design options to see what they like and understand their vision. Once the client is happy with a particular design then it will be worked up into a more developed design.

As a client, it is important to remember that this is the stage to figure out and work out what you want from your project. Making design changes at this stage is relatively straight forward but changing things once you have started the build will quickly get expensive.

Developed Design + Planning

This is where things really start to get real.  Once the client has chosen a concept design that they like and are happy to proceed with, the architect will start the production of a ‘developed design’. This is a more detailed level of design work where all decisions required to progress to planning and construction are finalised.

[Developed Design Drawings]

Depending on the project, once the final ‘developed design’ is agreed with the client the architect will either start the production of material for a planning application or proceed directly to construction drawings.

[Planning Drawings]

The non-design stuff

When it comes to on-site works, the architect typically does not manage construction (although some do). What they do is administer the building contract between the client and contractor, this is basically acting as the middleman to ensure the project is delivered as agreed and OK’ing money to be paid out to the contractor. They also complete onsite quality inspections, as seen below in the stock image of people in hardhats looking at drawings

Architects can also be hired to cover a number of administrative roles:

  • Design Certifier and Assigned Certifier

  • Project Supervisor Design Process (PSDP) – A client is responsible H&S on their project and must hire a PSDP and a Project Supervisor Construction Stage (PSCS)

  • Project Management

  • Conservation (A specialisation within the architectural field)

  • Existing Building Condition Survey

  • Interior Design (Beo Glas staffs an Interior Designer and a registered Architect)

  • Sustainability (Beo Glas is good at this one)

  • Urban Design

  • Dispute Resolution Services

Keep in mind that each of these roles are also speciality professions; while an architect can advise generally on these roles, for complex projects it is best to consult a specialist to ensure the best design possible.  Particularly with conservation issues. We always recommend hiring an interior designer to work along with your architect to create the best building possible.

The RIA has a guide to what an architect typically does and top tips / useful questions to ask when starting a project.  This can be consulted for more information.


Before you start your project, it is important to know what you want from your architect. All architects are different, some sit behind a desk all day and are a great person to ring with nagging questions. Some love to be outside and will happily walk around a muddy construction sites or empty field with you in the pouring rain. Some will do sketch after sketch and will never get near a building site, while others will put your contractor to shame with what they know about building. As with interior designers, every architect is as different as each project.

The key is knowing what you want from your project and architect and whichever architect you choose, they should be the person who helps you to figure out what you want and how best to build it.  An Architect should always listen to your wants and needs while offering viable design solutions specific to your project.

Remember, it is you who will be living in this house for years to come, not your Architect, it is important that you have the house you dream of, after all it is your home.

Good Luck!

Beo Glas

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