What is an Architect?

An architect is a person trained to plan and design buildings, and oversee their construction. To practice architecture means to provide services in connection with the design and construction of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings, that have as their principal purpose human occupancy or use. 

Etymologically, architect derives from the Latin architectus, which derives from the Greek arkhitekton (arkhi-, chief + tekton, builder), i.e., chief builder.

Professionally, an architect’s decisions affect public safety, and thus an architect must undergo specialized training consisting of advanced education and a practicum (or internship) for practical experience to earn a license to practice architecture. Practical, technical, and academic requirements for becoming an architect vary by jurisdiction (see below).

The terms architect and architecture are also used in the disciplines of landscape architecture, naval architecture and often information technology (for example a network architect orsoftware architect). In most jurisdictions, the professional and commercial uses of the terms “architect” and “landscape architect” are legally protected.

What is an Architect Origins Professional title distinctions


Main article: History of Architecture

Throughout ancient and medieval history, most architectural design and construction was carried out by artisans—such as stone masons and carpenters, rising to the role of master builder. Until modern times there was no clear distinction between architect and engineer. In Europe, the titles architect and engineer were primarily geographical variations that referred to the same person, often used interchangeably.

It is suggested that various developments in technology and mathematics allowed the development of the professional ‘gentleman’ architect, separate from the hands-on craftsman. Paper was not used in Europe for drawing until the 1400s, but became increasingly available after 1500. Pencils were used more often for drawing by 1600. The availability of both allowed pre-construction drawings to be made by professionals. Concurrently, the introduction of linear perspective and innovations such as the use of different projections to describe a three-dimensional building in two dimensions, together with an increased understanding of dimensional accuracy, helped building designers communicate their ideas. However, the development was gradual. Until the 1700s buildings continued to be designed and set-out by craftsmen, with the exception of high status projects.

The modern practice of architecture

In most developed countries, only qualified persons with appropriate licensure, certification, or registration with a relevant body, often governmental may legally practice architecture. Such licensure usually requires an accredited university degree, successful completion of exams, and a training period. The use of terms and titles, including derivatives such as architectural designer, and the representation of oneself as an architect is restricted to licensed individuals by law.

To practice architecture implies the ability to practice independently of supervision. The term building design professional (or Design professional), by contrast, is a much broader term that includes professionals who practice independently under an alternate profession—such as engineering professionals, or those who assist in the practice architecture under the supervision of a licensed architect, such as architectural technologists and intern architects. In many places, independent, non-licensed individuals may perform design services outside the professional restrictions, such design houses and other smaller structures.

Professional title distinctions

According to the American Institute of Architects, titles and job descriptions within American architectural offices might be as follows:

  • Senior Principal / Partner: Typically an owner or majority shareholder of the firm; may be the founder; titles may include managing director, president, chief executive officer, or managing principal/partner.
  • Mid-level Principal / Partner: Principal or partner; titles may include executive or senior vice president or director.
  • Junior Principal / Partner: Recently made a partner or principal of the firm; title may include vice president or associate director.
  • Department head / Senior Manager: Senior management architect or non-registered graduate; responsible for major department(s) or functions; reports to a principal or partner.
  • Project Manager: Licensed architect, or non-registered graduate with more than 10 years of experience; has overall project management responsibility for a variety of projects or project teams, including client contact, scheduling, and budgeting.
  • Senior Architect / Designer: Licensed architect, or non-registered graduate with more than 10 years of experience; has a design or technical focus and is responsible for significant project activities.
  • Architect / Designer III: Licensed architect or non-registered graduate with 8–10 years of experience; responsible for significant aspects of projects.
  • Architect / Designer II: Licensed architect or non-registered graduate with 6–8 years of experience, responsible for daily design or technical development of projects.
  • Architect / Designer I: Recently licensed architect or non-registered graduate with 3–5 years of experience; responsible for particular parts of a project within parameters set by others.
  • Intern Architect: Unlicensed architecture school graduate participating in a defined internship program; develops design or technical solutions under supervision of an architect. In the U.S., some states prohibit the use of architectto describe an unlicensed person who provides architectural services.