The Case for Architects

American culture has promoted and encouraged an appreciation of design in the past few decades.

From PBS’s “This Old House” and TLC’s “Trading Spaces” to the popular “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on ABC and the recent “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, the American public is more aware of the benefits of design. Leading many to DIY projects and flipping houses, improving aesthetics through cosmetics changes and decorating can move a space to become more than just a room with four walls.

This receptiveness to design is an opportunity to discuss architecture and for architects to demonstrate their value to the design process. Architects are one set of professionals truly trained in design and problem-solving. From challenges early in the design phase, like making needs and wishes fit into limited structures or budgets, to unforeseen conditions occurring onsite during construction, architects find solutions.

Good design can bring added value to your investment.

Architects apply design principles holistically so that spaces and building components fit well together, and they consider the impact of potential future phases. The massing and detailing unite with the stylist and aesthetic features to reinforce the owner’s vision.

Good design can positively impact how you live and work.

Detailed programming leads to maximizing the efficiency of the space for the project’s uses so that buildings function well. Determining a solid initial program allows rooms to be sized correctly during space planning early in the design. How occupants move into and through spaces and room adjacencies are addressed. The shape of spaces can impact acoustics. Rooms may want to connect to the exterior by permitting natural light or capturing views. Buildings are tailored for their owner with efficient and flexible layouts.

Good design creates safe environments.

 As most projects require a building permit, construction drawings will need to be sealed by a design professional, a licensed architect, registered in Pennsylvania. (Note that engineers can also seal drawings, but this typically applies to work related to their area of expertise.) The architect is trained and well experienced in using the ever-changing building codes and brings that knowledge to the design from the initial sketches. Having a code-compliant design smooths the entire process as plans can be approved promptly and surprises from inspectors during construction are minimized. And, if there are structural impact considerations or security concerns, the architect will address them up-front.

Good design can be green and earth-friendly.

 The benefits of creating sustainable and environmentally friendly buildings are also publicly acknowledged. Many architects encourage integrative design where building envelopes maximize thermal performance, energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems are provided, and passive solar features may be included. Some architects are also accredited as LEED professionals (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design).

Good design can be well executed.

 Construction is a complex process, and there are hundreds of design decisions in every project. The architect can navigate a client through this process by leading and coordinating engineers, consultants, zoning officers, banks, building code officials, contractors, and subcontractors (to name a few potential participants). Architects have built good relationships with these groups which can help a client new to the process feel more at ease. And, architects have the knowledge to recognize and minimize potential problems before they seriously impact the budget.

Good design benefits from extensive training.

 An architect’s education initially includes 5-years at one of the accredited universities (or 7 years if the accredited degree is in a Masters’ program). An intern process of working under the direct supervision of an architect follows this for several years, and all six sections of the national exam must be passed before becoming licensed. A decade can easily pass before an architect begins to practice architecture for the rest of their careers.

Good design is an economical investment.

Some people skip talking to an architect to “save money” due to the perception that working with an architect is too expensive. The public sees the architects that jet around the world for their next project and grace the cover of glossy magazines. But, those images are not most architects. In reality, architectural fees are typically not excessive, and architects can provide services to fit the needs and budget of most clients.

And, in return for your investment, architects provide great design!

Scott Shonk, AIA, LEED BD+C, is an award-winning partner architect with Beers + Hoffman Architecture, a firm specializing in religious, educational, healthcare, commercial, senior living and residential design. He can be reached at

This op-ed originally appeared in “The Design Issue” issue of Central Penn Business Journal published on May 4, 2018.