What Does an Architect Do … and Do I Need One?

Everybody has an idea of what an architect does but most people aren’t sure if they really need one for their new home or home renovation project. The answer, of course, is it depends. You are going to see that answer a lot in these blog posts.

Since I’m located in California, my answers are based on what’s required or typical in California but the answers will apply, in general, in most places. In California, only architects and engineers are considered licensed design professionals and only a licensed architect may use the term architect, architectural designer or other similar terms but unlicensed designers and engineers may offer design services for homes.

So the short answer is, that unless your home project is very complex, very large or located at a higher elevation, you don’t “need” an architect to comply with state law and most local ordinances. If you are doing a commercial or multi-family project, you probably will need an architect or an engineer who specializes in building design, but we are talking about houses right now.

Just because you don’t need one doesn’t mean you don’t want an architect to help you with your project or that an architect won’t bring good value. Architects, especially those who specialize in home design, bring a depth and breadth of knowledge and skills to your project that aren’t tpically found in building designers, draftspersons or civil engineers who do plans for new homes and home remodeling projects. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and there are very talented non-architect designers out there, they just might be harder to find.

A talented architect can help you evaluate your site or existing home and suggest ways to arrange the spaces on your site to take advantage of all the benefits of that site and minimize the less than desirable features. Architects generally have an eye for how to arrange spaces in ways that function well and are aesthetically pleasing. We are good puzzle solvers and can see ways to fit things together that may not be immediately obvious to others. We are familiar with all the bits and pieces that go into a building project from how to handle the structure and how to heat and cool the spaces to what kinds of materials and fixtures are readily available, cost effective and may work best for the climate and client’s goals. We generally know what’s possible and what’s practical. We are both technically proficient and aware of the many ways to put a project together. We can also suggest builders and specialists who will be a good fit for the project. I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Not every project “needs” an architect but almost every project could benefit from an architect’s input even if it’s just a quick consultation to take a look at a preliminary design to see if there are opportunities being missed or problems areas that could be improved.

A new home or remodel project is likely to be one of the biggest investments you will make and you want to make sure that you do it right. The more costly, unique, or complex the project, the more likely that you’ll want to involve an architect to see it through but consider talking to an architect even if your project is more modest.

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