Scott A. Brothen, AIA
Architect, Tailored Places, Ltd.

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Home being built 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 designated components.

See also Dr. Bill Whitmire, Mathematics Educator and House Builder