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What does an architect do? - TNK Green

What does an architect do?

What does an architect do?


An architect in its simplest definition is a qualified person who designs, plans and supervises the construction of a building. The word architect is routed in the Greek word ‘arkhi’ meaning chief and ‘tekton’ meaning builder. Architects have probably been around for as long as people were building shelters but the true flourish of the profession can be traced back to the Mesopotamian, Greek and Egyptian empires erecting some of the most exquisite landmarks of their time. The first recorded use of the word in English dates back to 1563 in Samuel Johnson’s ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’.


The Role of the Architect

As a Chief or Master Builder an Architect are trained in construction techniques, material properties, special planning, social behavior and so much more. Construction is a complex, stressful and messy process and the architect (if appointed as principal agent)is responsible for steering the ship and ensuring that things run smoothly till completion.

This requires an architect to wear various hats daily, from Artist to inventor, engineer, manager and almost everything in between. We bring dreams and ideas into reality as something you can touch and interact with. Places that should provide shelter and safety and therefore it is a regulated industry to ensure safety standards and protect public safety.

An Architect is a registered professional like a medical doctor or engineer and can’t legally practice without having registered with, and pass the exam of their country of residence. In South Africa, SACAP (The South African Council for the Architectural Profession) regulates the industry, regularly publishes our Code of Conduct, prescribes service fees, and enforces compliance with the law.

An approved set of plans from the council is an official legal document and the designer can be held liable for their work for 10 years.


The Design Process

Generally speaking, once a potential client contacts us regarding a proposed project, we ask for more information and a site visit. Designing services rarely have a one-design-fits-all approach since every site will have its limitations, restrictions, orientation and environmental and geological conditions that need to be considered while designing.

In South Africa, the design process is broken into 6 distinctive stages.

Stage 1: Inception – This is the start of any project. Generally, it includes a meeting with the client, discussing the needs and requirements and may include a site visit and analysis that will guide the project during development.

Stage 2: Concept and Viability – This phase includes a lot of research. Getting all the rights, restrictions and limitations and analysing the viability of the project. For instance: A client wants to build a bed and breakfast but on further inspection, it becomes clear that the site is not zoned for this use and can only be used for a single-family residence. In such a case you’ll either start a rezoning process to change the rights on this land parcel or change the strategy and concept to fall within the local municipal zoning rights.

Stage 3: Design Development – Once all the research has been done and all parties know that the project is viable the design process can start. This is when the architect will start spatial planning, sketching a plan layout, designing the look and feel of the elevations, and resolving basic structural problems. Once all the parties involved are happy and the architect has complied with all the standards as set out by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) Council Plans will be drafted and submitted to the local authority for approval.

Stage 4: Documentation and Procurement – During this stage the basic layout will be developed further into construction details and assembly drawings. This documentation can then be broken down into a Bill of Quantities that will be used to create the construction contract and construction companies can be approached to tender on the project. Once the tender has been awarded, a construction schedule will be discussed and agreed upon that will form the base of the project schedule guiding the construction process.

Stage 5: Construction – Once approved plans have been received from the council the site will be handed over to the appointed construction company and ground-works can commence. Depending on the design complexity, material specifications and other construction details this process can take from several months to years to complete.

Stage 6: Close Out – This is the final phase of the construction process. Final inspections are done, compliance certificates are compiled in a document, building inspectors are invited to do inspections and final payments are settled. Once your building has been inspected and everything seems to be in order the council will issue an occupancy certificate and the client can take possession of the building. It is important to note that if you don’t have approved plans and an occupation certificate and anything should happen to the building like fire, flooding or even a collapse, you will not be covered by insurance and might open the owner up to legal action.


Design Styles

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy in design. All architects receive the same training and all use the same range of products but like artists, every design studio has its distinctive style and design aesthetic. This is why it is important to do a bit of research and look at the firm you’re approaching portfolio to ensure that you like their design aesthetic.

As an example, you won’t be very happy if you buy a classical Rembrandt painting and receive a modern Rothko instead. Talk to your architect to find out exactly what they believe and what they prefer to design. There are many registered Architects available to suit most client’s tastes but don’t force an architect to design a building in a style they don’t like or might be unfamiliar with and expect the final results to line up with your expectations.


Influence on Society

So what is the role of architects in society at large? Architects create the spaces we inhabit, shaping society and how we interact with the world and people around us. The built environment creates the very fabric of our cities. Our cities dictate how we live, work, play and dream. The architect therefore has an obligation to society to dream up new solutions to current problems and can dictate and direct the growth of our economy, culture and communities.

As creative problem solvers, architects are uniquely skilled to take a complex problem, strip it down to its most basic components, identify workable strategies and then synthesise it all to create a human-centric building solution that can best suit its function while bettering the lives of those that live or work in them.

Today architects across the globe are instrumental in solving some of our current problems like the housing crisis, Energy and food insecurity, water shortages, biodiversity loss and a changing climate.


Future of Architecture and Challenges

The construction Industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Either by the production process to create building materials or the ineffective management of resources to transportation emissions the industry is responsible for approximately 37% of global CO2 emissions. There is a drive and a growing need to adapt but the industry at large is slow to change.

From contractors that are unfamiliar with new construction materials and techniques to lagging legal frameworks like building standards for new materials, inhibiting its mass adoption in the industry. The multiple complex industries that make up the Construction sector also make it difficult to rapidly adapt and change the ‘modes operandi’.

We all know that the industry needs to change if countries are to reach their decarbonization targets while still expected to produce housing as the global population keeps growing. There is therefore a serious drive by universities, think tanks, developing companies and dedicated entrepreneurs who are currently developing and researching new sustainable products and more efficient construction methods and practices.

Implementation and widespread adoption of these materials may take up to ten years to become mainstream enough to entice consumers and developers to adopt these new materials and construction techniques but things are changing.



In a regulated industry like doctors, lawyers and nurses, architects should be respected for their years of training and practical experience and listened to when they give advice. Without their knowledge and expertise, the world would be a much less safe environment to live in. You won’t build a bridge without the help of an engineer, so why would you disregard the advice of your architect? We don’t just draw pretty pictures; we create the very fabric of society.

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