10 Unglamorous Things Architects Do (Apparently)

architectI arrived at my desk this morning to find a printed article neatly placed over my keyboard, titled “10 Unglamorous Things Architects Do” by John Gresko. In order to better understand what it is like to work for an architect, it would help you (the reader) to understand what architects do all day. And, quite honestly, although I have been here for 3 weeks, I still have a lot to learn about architects too!

The first few lines set the tone of the article – “An acquaintance recently asked me about the kinds of things I did on a day-to-day basis at work, anticipating a response loaded with enviable activities. She was wrong.” He explains that every once in a while the profession comes with prestige – ground breaking ceremonies, topping-out parties and award ceremonies – but most of the time, it is very unglamorous and full of the following activities:

  1. Pick Up Red Marks – As a Journalism major, I know the importance of the red pen (editing is a MUST in that field). Well, the red pen is here to haunt me again while working for an architect. Red Marks, or Redlines, are the words used in an architectural office to reference the red ink that is typically used to mark up corrections that need to be made on architectural drawings. Architects are obligated to make the changes marked in red. Gresko suggests crossing them out in green when completed. He calls this process “laborious, sometimes educational, sometimes life saving, and sometimes downright insulting.” Although the task may be daunting, it is a necessary process for any creative medium because, well, mistakes are expensive.
  2. Redesign – “I created this masterpiece without any redesigns,” said NO architect EVER. A key part of being in a creative field is enhancing your work over and over and over again. Redesign would preferably happen in the Design Development Phase. Gresko writes “if you’re lucky, you get to refine the design the day before you go out to bid. If you’re even luckier, you get to redesign during construction. If you’re the luckiest, you get to redesign after construction.” I have noticed that some of our current projects have already gone through redesign phases. It just makes sense to get the design perfect on paper before bringing it to life.
  3. Specify Door Hardware & Create Door and Frame Schedules – This is definitely the most specific thing that Gresko lists. “No offense to the many talented professional door and hardware specialists in the world (especially the one helping me right now on my project), but this is one task to me that is not glamorous. More thought than people know goes into creating a functioning door. As a layperson navigating through a building, it’s hard to notice the nuances. Doors have to meet codes in regards to fire ratings, accessibility, be within manufacturer’s third-party labeling constraints, be easy to swing, be durable, and sometimes they actually get to look nice too.” I never really thought about the design and engineering that goes into a door, until I tried putting a cat door attachment on my sliding glass door. Kudos to you, “door people.” Also, I never realized the nearly endless possibilities of door design until I created a Pinterest for the firm. We have a board dedicated just to doors – and it is my favorite board!
  4. Convert File Types – Seems easy enough, right? Well yeah it is easy, but seriously unglamorous. Gresko writes “We get requests all the time for different file types, sometimes within our own company. I don’t think people realize how time consuming and depressingly mundane it is. If you want to assert your authority over someone and make it really sting, delegate this task to them. You’ll have that person updating their resume that night.” Most of the files created and saved on my desktop are Photoshop files (for marketing materials). I am an InDesign person, so I basically had to teach myself how to use Photoshop. It indeed was time consuming and extremely frustrating. But once I got it down, I had a weird sense of pride. Go me!
  5. Answer RFIs – RFI stands for Request For Information. These documents are used during the Construction Phase by the Contractor or CM to ask the architect questions and seek interpretations of the contract documents. RFIs are needed for reasons such as: substitution/construction modification, construction deficiency, and clarification or additional information. Gresko explains that the unglamorous part about RFIs is the fact that they have a time limit, and can sometimes come unannounced. “These are sometimes necessary questions and sometimes used as collateral in an unspoken cold war of paperwork… and definitely not glamorous.”
  6. Review Submittals – “Buildings are constructed from submittals,” Gresko writes. “They are intended to demonstrate the contractors understanding of the design intent. They can number in the thousands, are time-sensitive, and carry lots of risk. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to review them accurately and quickly. Nerve wrecking, yes. Glamorous, not so much.” A submittal is a shop drawing, schedule, catalog cut, sample, or report required by the contract documents for the contractor to furnish, review, and approve and for the design team to review. Basically the most important documents in architecture.
  7. Do Our Time Sheets – Pretty self-explanatory. Gresko takes it a bit further: “There are all sorts of unbillable tasks architects have to go through: time sheets, expense reports…” We keep track of our hours at our firm on a time sheet that gets printed out twice a month. It’s kind of nice – I don’t have to worry about forgetting to clock in or out.
  8. Manage Logs – If I have learned one thing in my three weeks of working for an architect, it is that there is a LOT of paperwork – and they keep everything filed! Gresko writes, “There are logs for all kinds of things: open design issues, open code issues, open coordination issues, internal and external QAQC logs, change request logs, RFIs, submittals, construction deficiencies, and NFL weekly confidence pools. This is about as much fun as attending pre-meetings.” Most creative types have a hard time being organized, but I think architects are (and have to be) the exception to that rule.
  9. Make Punch Lists – “It’s fun to be on site during construction. But it’s really fun to walk around the project and create a list of everything that every tradesman has done wrong… not. When you finish your list, it becomes a log. Double whammy. When you find someone’s work to be deficient, make sure to keep your hard hat on.” Gresko hit the nail on the head with that somewhat sarcastic description!
  10. Create Renderings – Architectural Rendering is the art of creating two-dimensional images or animations showing the attributes of a proposed architectural design. “Renderings look great,” Gresko says. “But getting to that final image is kind of like watching sausages get made. First, grind together input from way too many sources, take a guess at way too many things, and stay up late waiting for some server to unfreeze in some unknown location. Great renderings almost always come at a cost of lost sleep, added doses of junk calories, and lost opportunities to pick up precious red marks.” This is something I hope I can learn more about. I am currently getting a Graphic Design degree, and while not really the same as an Architecture degree, they have similarities!

While all of these tasks are deemed “unglamorous” by the author, I still find them fascinating, nonetheless. I like structure and organization. I love making lists. I think I have always been destined to be unglamorous, in some sort of way.

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