Architects & Archetypes: Understanding the Roles of Architects and Engineers

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Collaboration determines the success of any construction project. Dozens of different teams, specialists and tradesmen can be involved, each with their own concerns and responsibilities. It can sometimes be unclear who does what, who is responsible for what, and who should be involved at which point.

Today, we’re going to unfold these complicated connections, focusing on the roles of architect and engineer. We’ll also investigate cutting-edge methods to make projects go smoother, maximize profit margins, and minimize schedule changes by facilitating productive collaboration between architects, engineers and other stakeholders earlier in the process. 


Who Does What? 

You may be familiar with the notion of people being either more left- or right-brain dominant. If so, you have a good grasp on the fundamental difference between the characteristics and responsibilities of architects as opposed to engineers. Left brain dominance is associated with thinking, analytical processing, math, logic, and science, while right brain dominance is more feeling, creative, artistic, and free flowing. Of course, no one is entirely one or the other, and exceptions exist, but architects tend to be more right-brained while engineers are more likely to be left-brained.  


Right-Brain: The Architect’s Vision 

Most projects begin when an architect meets with a client, striving to understand their needs, goals and ideas. The architect then grows this into a grand, artistic vision which addresses those needs while elegantly integrating form and function in a surprising, impressive, memorable way. This vision is typically expressed in the form of a full set of architectural drawings comprised of floor plans, roof plans, elevations, sections, and perspective drawings.  

This, of course, requires a good amount of left brain work as well. He or she must design within local codes and municipal limits, be aware of safety regulations and remain current on both technical innovations and city laws.  

Once the architect has dreamed up a stunning and potentially groundbreaking building, it all exists on paper. But that doesn’t mean it’s constructible. That’s where engineers come in. Ideally, architects provide the following for an engineer’s review: 

  • Blueprints 
  • Floor-to-floor heights 
  • Slab edge locations 
  • Cavity depths  
  • Ceiling interstitial spaces 
  • Parapet locations and heights 
  • Unique architectural features 
  • Design areas subject to changes 


Left-Brain: The Engineer’s Reality 

Engineers tend to be the left-brained type, using math, science, logic, and visualization to fully understand the constructability and feasibility of an architect’s design. Using the architect’s preliminary drawings and the information listed above, an engineer designs a structure to support the building’s live, dead and environmental loads.  

The engineer ensures the design is safe, meets building codes and specifies not only the structural materials and members, but details such as electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing systems. On larger projects, each of these might have their own engineer assigned. Just as the architect provided information to the engineer, the engineer in turn provides the architect with crucial information: 

  • Structural implications of proposed openings and floor spans  
  • Size and locations of columns
  • Locations and types of expansion joints
  • Locations of shear walls or other seismic resistance mechanisms
  • Possibilities for improving efficiency


Whole Brain: Collaboration 

Until now, construction has mostly been a linear process: Plans move from a client meeting and resulting architect vision to an engineer review and construction itself. Today, though, technology is making it possible to streamline this in unprecedented ways. It can be hard to visualize all the places where a pipe might accidentally intersect a structural member or how columns might block the flow of hallway traffic when you’re working on paper or correlating various plans and drawings.  

These coordination issues or “clashes” as they’re known, are now easier to predict than ever. The old way meant changes or unforeseen problems resulting in major problems in a project’s budget and timeline. Today, with the advanced software platforms and technology available, it’s possible to fully visualize a project before breaking ground – eliminating clashes before they become expensive problems. 


The RBS Advantage 

One of the biggest advantages for architects working with Robertson building projects is proprietary estimating software program, RBS. In the initial design and concept stages, architects can use the platform to present multiple design and pricing options to the entire team. With easy access to a wide variety of designs that incorporate all the necessary parameters and accessories, collaboration becomes much easier and architects, engineers, and the entire team can have the confidence of knowing the final design has maximum efficiency built right in. 


When Architects & Engineers are Required 

There are legal guidelines in place which dictate which projects need an architect’s involvement and sign-off versus those which can simply be reviewed and stamped by an engineer. Each province has its own Provincial Architectural Association with different requirements to practice. 

Small, simple projects may not require the involvement of an architect or engineer. While many of the rules, laws and codes differ from state to state and municipality to municipality, the primary considerations are the classification of the building, its height and area. According to Part 9 of the Building Code, commercial project drafting work does not have to be completed by a professional. It is often performed by qualified technicians under the direction of the project engineer or architect. The structural design, on the other hand, will likely require direct involvement by an engineer. Check with your local permit office to be sure, but this gives a general of idea of what is required: 

Requires Engineer Stamp 

Single-story gas stations 

Mechanic shops  

Car washes  

Small quick-service restaurants  

Small single-story retail and office space 

Requires Architect Stamp 

Buildings over one story tall 

Large or multi-story retail space 

Large restaurants and offices 

Big box stores, malls, etc. 

Other instances in which an architect is certainly a wise choice is when repurposing a building designed for another use or when municipalities enforce more stringent design styles and materials. 


Choose Wisely 

Regardless of the size, scope and complexity of the project, the most important decision is choosing the right partner for you. Don’t let the sole decision-making factor be price. Your partner should be infinitely curious about your needs, goals, and concerns. They should be as enthusiastic and driven to realize your vision as you are. And they should be able to design and build within your budget.  

If you have questions or concerns about finding the right architect, engineer or firm, get in touch with a Robertson representative near you. We have decades of experience working alongside architects and engineers with a wide spectrum of expertise and can help identify those who are most likely to best meet your unique needs.