Scott A. Brothen, AIA
Architect, Tailored Places, Ltd.
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What does an architect do? Designing buildings is a big part of our
responsibilities, but the profession of architecture includes many other
tasks, too. Architects are frequently involved in the design of land use
plans, interiors of existing spaces, renovations or restoration of old or
historically significant structures, bridges, towers, and just about any
other type of built environment. Some architects even design the contents of
those spaces (i.e. furniture and light fixtures, etc.).
Art, Science, Mathematics
Architecture is a unique profession that requires practitioners to have an
understanding of art, science, psychology and mathematics. The architect uses
the knowledge of these factors to define spaces in functional and
eye-pleasing fashion. The "art" component is the portion you see, the beauty
and proportion and balance of the design, as well as how the design works
aesthetically with its surroundings.
The "science" component includes chemistry, metallurgy, physics, meteorology
and geology. It is important to the architect to have an understanding of
how the soils beneath the structure will behave under the weight of the
building, and how the building will resist the pressure and motion the earth
can exert on the building. Many of the materials used to build a structure
can react to the effects of weather, the chemical properties of the soil and
to other building materials in contact with it, such as galvanic reaction
between aluminum and steel.
The "mathematics" component is equally important to the architect as the
"art" and "science" components. Without mathematics, it would not be
possible express the design images of the architect on a drawing that can
then be used by construction workers to build that image for everyone to see.
Mathematics is needed to analyze and calculate structural problems in order
to engineer a solution that will assure that a structure will remain standing
and stable. The sizes and shapes of the elements of a design are possible to
describe because of mathematical principles such as the Pythagorean Theorem.
Calculating area and volume are important. Dimensioning a drawing (providing
the distance or length of a wall or opening graphically).
The design process requires a great deal of artistic and spatial
visualization abilities. The images that develop within the architect's mind
would remain as only the architect's personal images if it were not for
his/her ability to take those images and express them in a drawing. In order
to take that image and "draft" a plan for its construction, the importance of
mathematics is undeniable. If every building were a simple box, the drawings
needed to build it would be simple. But, architects use angles and curves,
bridges and cantilevers, and other shapes and forms that add complexity to
the drawings and descriptions necessary to build the images. Trigonometry
allows us to describe the shapes and forms in numerical equations that can be
reproduced by any contractor exactly as the architect intended. Calculus
allows us to evaluate the complex forces acting on the structures we create
so that we can safely and adequately provide resolution to those forces and
maintain balance and stability within the structure.
An architect visualizes solutions to functional and aesthetic problems. In
order to realize the vision, the architect needs to be able to take the
vision from the mind's eye and graphically present the vision so others can
"see" the vision also. The architect "builds" the vision from start to
completion in his/her mind, then drafts a plan which, when followed closely,
will result in the physical manifestation of that vision.
The process of "drafting" a plan involves a great deal of mathematical
calculations. The size and shape of the project, its orientation on the
site, the area it covers, the height of the structure, the weight of its
components, the connections between the various parts all have mathematically
See also Dr. Bill Whitmire, Mathematics Educator and House