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The discipline of architecture has both legal and cultural definitions. In the United States, all states have regulations that govern conditions of licensure, registration, use of the title “architect” and the provision of professional services, succinctly summarized by The American Institute of Architects. Each state or jurisdiction creates its own requirements for each of these aspects of the discipline. While legal definitions mandate the ways in which the profession is responsible for safeguarding the health, safety, and welfare of the public, cultural definitions characterize the ways in the discipline responds to social, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of making cities, buildings, and landscapes. A “whole building” approach must necessarily incorporate both sets of disciplinary definitions.

Architect’s Role

Sometimes beauty and functionality are in tension, as seen by Roger K. Lewis. (Courtesy Roger K. Lewis)

Today, the required legal, technical, and cultural knowledge base has such breadth and depth that it is no longer in the best interest of the project for one discipline to hold, implement, and be responsible for all building-related knowledge, as did the Master Builder of old. Professional malpractice concerns have led liability insurance companies to encourage, even implicitly force, architects to limit activities to design. For example, “construction supervision” became “construction observation,” moving the architect further away from the risks associated with construction activities.

According to some industry analysts, such as Carl Sapers, the architect’s role has been further limited by the idea that buildings are commodities, consisting of assemblies of standard materials and systems best understood by their suppliers and constructors. New forms of project delivery, including “design/build”, “bridging”, and “construction management”, come out of a belief that architects are no longer able to stay abreast of complex information in order to lead the design process on the owner’s behalf. (Carl Sapers, “Toward Architectural Practice in the 21st Century,” in Harvard Design Magazine, Fall 2003/Winter 2004)

However, this standardized approach to efficient building design is not necessarily synonymous with the requirements for whole building design. Integrated, high-performance design requires both efficiency and innovation. It requires a design process in which the users, owners, and project participants are all integral team members.

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