Every month a group of international architects and designers converge on the internet to write about a single topic and publish from their own individual point of view. This is Architalks.



As an architect, like any profession, there are some specific tools that we use; technology that enables us to create buildings on paper that ultimately are constructed in life. In years WAY past architects would use large drafting boards to create architectural drawings on sheets of vellum with triangles, parallel bars, pencils and pens. Nowadays we have replaced those relics with the mouse and keyboard. Just as the calculator replaced the abacus, BIM has replaced the drafting board. But is that all it takes to be an architect? Do you just need a shiny computer and an expensive set of software to create beautiful works of architecture? Or is there something more fundamental and less tangible, something etherial and more difficult to define; dare I say does it take talent and a dedicated mind to create architecture? If the world was hit with a massive EMP blast that destroyed every electronic device, every computer, every keyboard and rendered every bit of software useless, could you still meet with a client, discern their core building needs and create a beautiful design, and translate that idea into the built environment? The optimist in me wants to believe most of us could. The realist in me knows that many of us, especially under the age of 40, could not. Author’s note: I am under the age of 40 but was fortunate enough to be trained in the “old ways”.

The reality is that the architect’s most valuable tool, his/her most prized possession, the one thing that allows him/her to succeed and create truly unique structures, is the mind. To put it more succinctly – to be an architect is to possess the ability to translate an idea into physical reality by any means or medium necessary. Pen, pencil, paper, keyboard, mouse, computer, whatever. These are all similar means to an end. The real mechanics of architecture occur outside of our physical reality. The “building” has usually been constructed long before the architect sharpens a pencil or depresses the power button.

If you watch popular television you would think that the contractor is the real craftsman and that the architect just crafts the pretty picture. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be far off. Many architects today, due to their education, have lost the craft of architecture. What does a 2×4 look like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? You think I’m being funny….I’m not. Go lick a 2×4. Be careful of splinters. We’ve lost the necessary familiarity with the building materials we draft on paper day in and day out. And this is essential to feeding our mind, our most important tool, with the information it needs to do the job properly.

Case in point: at my last firm I was project manager over large education project. Like most educational buildings today it was designed with 8″ masonry walls. Being “the new guy” I came into the project late and was expected to take it from schematic to CDs in a few weeks because….well….deadlines. So, as any good project manager would do I printed a set of drawings as they were and began to run through them with my trusty red pen. No sooner did I get to the dimensioned floor plans that I noticed something odd. Can you guess what it was? Dimensions not adding up to either 4″ or 8″ increments. *rolls eyes* Architect note: all masonry buildings should end in either 4″ or 8″ increments. Why? Because masonry coursing is in 8″ increments, therefore if you have an odd dimension such as 5′ it should end with 4″ (8 * 8 = 64 = 5′-4″) and if you have an even dimension such as 4′ it should end with 8″ (8 * 6 = 56 = 4′-8″). How do I know this? WHY ON EARTH WOULD I KNOW THIS? Because I’m an architect and I have to understand the materials that I am designing with in order to do my job well.

This is a fundamental knowledge that we have abandoned to the contractor. We make the “pretty picture” and the contractor “makes it work”. We can do both. We SHOULD be doing both. Design and Architecture are about more than the pretty picture. It’s about how it works, how well it works and how adaptable it will be in the future. So, by all means, make it pretty. But make it work.

Now go check out these other brilliant people and see what kind of tools they are….I mean, uh…..never mind.

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
The Tools That Help Make #AREsketches

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
One Essential Tool

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Architools – Mind Over Matter

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Why An Architect’s Voice Is Their Most Important Tool

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
it’s ok, i have a [pen]

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Tools for Learning

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Something Old and Something New

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Helpful tools found within an Architecture blog

Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Sharpen Your Tools

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
Super Tool

Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
Construction: An Architect’s Learning Tool

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
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Lisa Saldivar