Tag Archives: design management

Are you an architect if you don’t draw? Is a design manager still an architect?

7597713652_c246737d9c_oAre you an architect? Do you draw?  In the sense I’m referring to that question today, it is usually meant to include modelling as well, and usually means more than just mark up or do a quick napkin sketch. Are you still an architect if your day job doesn’t involve drawing? What does an architect actually do day to day if they don’t draw? Today, the tasks that an architect do can be so broad, that many architects don’t even seem to understand what other architects they work with actually do. If we don’t understand what our colleagues are actually doing, then is it any surprise that many of our clients don’t really understand (or value) all the tasks that go into creating a building project.

I’ll start by saying, technically, I’m not an architect (although I do still draw depending on workload and projects). The reason I’m not an architect is very much a technicality, and whilst its not about drawing, I think it is relevant to the way in which the profession seems confused about itself and what architects actually do. I studied architecture for 6 years, have worked in the industry for 15 and I have even sat for and passed the Board of Architecture exams. However, I don’t pay the annual registration fee to the board, so that means I’m not an architect. (That’s my choice though, as I work as an interior designer – the relationship between designers and architects being a story for perhaps another post sometime). In Australia, anyone who not passed the exam and registered is not supposed to call themselves an architect, but a graduate of architecture, even if they have been practicing for 30 years.  It’s not this kind of semantics or industry protection that I’m really wanting to talk about today (though personally I don’t think architects really benefit from the protection if the term), it’s the tasks we actually do to deliver our projects. And can often apply just as much to other building design disciplines such as interior design and engineering too.

For any architect (or graduate of architecture) or interior designer that works in an office of more than a few people,  you won’t do everything yourself. Some people will undertake business development and bring in the work, some will have face to face client roles, some will draw, some will use BIM, some will know all the graphic software, some will write specifications, some will be good at the overarching idea, some will be focussing on construction and technical detailing, and someone needs to ensure that the subconsultants are briefed, the team is delivering on time and the team size and mix is the right one.  Most of us do a mix of these things, very few of us are good at all of them. The whole point of working in a team (to me anyway) is to benefit from these different mixes of skills.

Given that delivering a building project is therefore very much a team sport of many different positions, it therefore surprises me then when I hear comments like “as architects is job is mostly drawing” or “what are you actually doing on the project – you are not drawing or writing the spec?”  That fact that the later was made by an architect who was managing more than 20 architects (and happened to be involved with the board or architects), is to me, quite disturbing. Do architects really not understand and value what their team mates are up to on the job, thinking that only certain parts of the project are actually important to the architecture?

I guess that partially it is related to the increasing complexity of large construction projects. When I first graduated a bit over 10 years ago, we didn’t have sustainability consultants, access consultants or BIM managers – every project our consultant teams seem to grow ever larger. (Recently I saw a consultant team list which included a wind consultant – a new one to me).  Managing all of these people, briefing them and coordinating their work is a big job on its own. You can then add the work often involved in meeting client stakeholder management and reporting processes, quality assurance processes and code compliance checking (which whilst we have consultants is still so much the responsibility of the designer be they architect, interior designer or engineer). Between all these tasks n a larger project you easily have a full time role, commonly referred to as design manager.

It is really important that this is understood as a different role to the project manager – whilst one person may do both, just because there is a project manager doesn’t mean you don’t need someone undertaking the tasks of design manger. In fact, sometimes it can become even more critical to  ensure that these tasks are actually undertaken and don’t fall through the cracks when the independent project manager consultant is the lead consultant. They won’t generally do your  co-ordination checks for you. Whilst a project manager ifs often at arms length from the actual design and documentation, and may have very different qualifications and skills to the architect – to me, the true design manager needs to understand what is being designed – they need to be an architect (or a designer or engineer depending on the project/design team being managed). However, there seem to be a lot of architects and designers who don’t understand that this role is very much a valuable and necessary one (whatever it is called), and, if the project team is structured well, not just another layer of management.

If I told an architect who sat at the computer all day writing specifications that they weren’t an architect because they couldn’t manage a 20 person team to deliver a multi million dollar project they would scoff at me. Same thing if I told the autoCAD technical detailer she wasn’t an architect because she didn’t use BIM (and had no interest in learning or even understanding why you would use it). But many these kinds of team members seem to think its ok to put down the work of those managing the projects (or even those brining in the work) as not being real architects because they don’t draw.

One of the funny things to me in all of this, is that in Australia, the registration exams actually focus on these management and practice management tasks – not on design, drawing, technical detailing or specifications. This knowledge is taken as assumed (through your studies and your log book of experience) – neither the written exam or the interview deal with these topics. So maybe it’s the opposite – real architects don’t draw? (But of course in my world they are all expected to use BIM!)

Image Credits: Mennonite Church USA Archives via Flickr