Architects Do Not* Design Buildings


This article discusses and presents a new idea of thinking and practice towards the changing profession of architecture and the role of the architect in today and future societies.


The Millennial era is innovative. It is a time where questions are asked, thoughts are challenged and going against the status-quo is encouraged – not to mention the ‘digital revolution.’ This notion is moving into the architecture profession. The role of the architect is being confronted, and rightly so, after the Great Recession of 2008 which saw the demand for the ‘traditional architect’ diminish. Although this was a difficult time for the construction industry, which is inevitably still recovering, to be the optimist, the 2008 crash was a turning point in our profession, that has allowed for new, innovative opportunities to emerge.


In his book, “The Disruptive Design Practice Handbook, Architecture 3.0,” Cliff Moser (2014) describes the evolution of the ‘architect’ numerically. Architect1.0, existing pre 1900, was the master builder who gained their title through experience. Architect2.0 was a result of the Industrial Revolution, when the role of a craftsman became a profession and an ‘architect’ became a specialised practitioner (Moser, 2014). Both these descriptions represent the ‘architect’ that is assumed today, being a professional that works with clients to resolve problems based on ‘design to build’ solutions. 


“…the profession of architecture was based on creating solutions that resulted in buildings.”

(Moser, 2014)



This practice is still relevant. However, the literal design of building can be considered a ‘sub-practice,’ of an architect rather that its over-riding subject. What is important to consider is the process. This leaves us in a position of opportunity as we stand at the beginning of a new era. In 2014, Moser asked the question:


“What type of profession and practice will replace the old model?”



The answer?


The exact ‘role’ of the architect today is unclear. But this is ok – in fact, shouldn’t this be celebrated as a profession that doesn’t have a definitive definition? Allowing the profession the opportunity to expand, evolve and create new ways of practice that adapt to the present structure of our societies and contribute to an inclusive discussion of practice, rather than the traditional closed profession that it once was (Fisher, 2000). Without definition, the skills and knowledge of an architect can be utilised in situations much larger than the traditional practice of designing solutions that result in buildings. Number 20 of ‘101 Things I Learned in Architecture School,’ by Matthew Frederick states:


“Engineers tend to be concerned with physical things in and of themselves. Architects are more directly concerned with the human interface with physical things.”  

(Frederick, 2007)


While number 29 explains:


“Being process-oriented, not product-driven, is the most important and difficult skill for a designer to develop.”

(Frederick, 2007)


It can be said that both these ideas provide meaning to the basis and purpose of the practice of an architect – meaning that the process of engagement between humans, the built environment and change in our societies are much more important than the final physical outcome. As a result, we can therefore suggest that:


Architecture is site specific; the skillset of an architect is not. Architects do not only design buildings. They...


 …are connectors.

Architects are at the centre of a social network.


…understand design.

Understanding a design problem as being fundamental to the design process, before chasing after solutions.


…push professional boundaries.

The skills of an architect can expand into and integrate with other professions that do not necessarily revolve around design.


…are curators.

Using collaborative networking to drive solutions. At the centre, architects coordinate a team of people and brings together the best people for the job at hand.

“the conductor of a symphony” (Frederick, 2007)

** relative to “…understand they can’t do everything.”


…have a sub-practice of designing for buildings.

Architects have an understanding and knowledge of how a building is designed and constructed but is not (in many cases) at the fundamental core of their work.



Times change, ideas change, values and beliefs change and lived experience is continuously changing. Architects value and actively listen to these factors, being adaptive to change and having the skills to respond accordingly.


…understand that they can’t do everything.

“An architect is a generalist, not a specialist – the conductor of a symphony, not a virtuoso who plays every instrument perfectly.” (Frederick, 2007)




With collaboration, networking and an understanding of context of our designs within the built and unbuilt environment at the core of our practice. “We argue that now we should build a profession that focuses on design for solutions – work that you can do without designing buildings – with a sub-practice of design for buildings” (Moser, 2014).  



Author’s Note: As a student nearing the end of architecture school, it would be inappropriate for me to assume these ideas are concrete to the profession this early on in my career. However, what is important for me – and all other architecture students – to understand, is that the profession and the process of the profession is changing. It is no longer that of the traditional ‘master-builder,’ it is a practice that teaches a unique skill set and how to think differently, arguably becoming the ‘liberal arts degree for using design techniques for solutions’ (Moser, 2014). With this idea, not necessarily being specific to architecture and construction fields, architecture is teaching us is how to be adaptive, reactive and innovative in problem-solving. This is a valuable and unique opportunity as a profession for us to make a difference to our societies. Yes, we understand the process of designing a building or something physical in our built environments, but what we learn through the process of becoming an architect is much greater than being a professional that only designs buildings.


This article is unfinished, nor will it ever be. Understanding these ideas and having the resulting confidence that we are in a new era of the profession where it is ok to utilise skills and adapt them in other areas, is a starting point for the interesting, and unknown path that this new movement in the practice of architecture is taking us. This article will undoubtedly require a series of revisions that reflect ‘real-life’ experience and how these ideas are practiced beyond architecture school.


Architecture is site specific; the skillset of an architect is not – we can broadcast our valuable and unique influence anywhere in the world – time will tell the true value of this new ideology of the role of the architect.  


To be continued…


Coming Soon! – Part 2 to this article - ‘The Value of an Architect’ – discusses the value and need for an architect in this new professional movement.


Kevin L. Burr Ed.D. & Chad B. Jones M. S. (2010) The Role of the Architect: Changes of the Past, Practices of the Present, and Indications of the Future, International Journal of Construction Education and Research, 6:2, 122-138, DOI: 10.1080/15578771.2010.482878

Cesal, E. (2010). Down Detour Road – An Architect in Search of Practice. London: The MIT Press. 

Fisher, T. (2000). In the Scheme of Things. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Frederick, M. (2007). 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. London: The MIT Press.

Moser, C. (2014). The Disruptive Design Practice Handbook Architecture 3.0. London: Routledge.

Schneider, Tatjana & Parvin, Alastair & Brown, Sam. (2011). Architecture Schools should be dissolved! * Unless they.... 10.13140/RG.2.1.4381.7842.

Zondag (2018). Questioning the role of the architect in society. [online] Community Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019].


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