Synergy: The Value of Architects

What defines an architect’s value? How should they justify their fees when clients ask hard questions or challenge them on pricing? These are questions that often plague architects as we struggle to define how our services should translate to dollars. Too often, our work is reduced to a few dollars per square foot of space. Worse still, our designs, foresight, due diligence and creativity are summed up as a single deliverable: “The Plans”. Clients cease to view architects as part of a team that will guide a project from inception to completion and instead consider them to be brokers of products or salesmen of commodities. Our profession has too often ignored the overuse of jargon and big words of architecture, thereby allowing the general public to paint us as drafters for a lack of understanding. To be sure, our work is immeasurably complicated, even on many seemingly simple projects. So why is it so difficult for architects to convey their value to clients and the public? And ultimately, what is that value? Arguably, the value of the architect is found in synergy.Tools

A tool is only as good as its user’s knowledge to operate or use it. Here lies the flaw in thinking that architects only exist to draw plans for permitting. Our profession has failed to communicate clearly that plans are a tool; not an end result. Too many people genuinely believe that obtaining a set of plans from an architect is both the first and last step of the design process. After obtaining a set of plans, they can immediately begin construction and within a few short months, enjoy their new building. Unfortunately, this mindset is prevalent across the residential market and others. The fundamental difference in this thinking and reality is that Architects create tools, not products. This distinction implies the need for someone knowledgeable and skilled to implement the use of that tool in order to realize the project fully.

Physical, tangible tools that assist a person in completing a task are prevalent in architecture. A hammer, a computer, a roll of drawings are all examples. Technology and software products are the next set of familiar tools used in the design and construction processes. Drafting or building information management software, or applications for tablets and smartphones abound to assist architects in the office and in the field. As we consider the various tools available to architects, it is easy to recognize the varied skill levels and expertise needed to utilize each one. Using a hammer is easy for anyone to master, while operating complex software may take several months of intensive training to become an expert user. Even an expert user will only find software and applications useful if they understand the underlying project requirements. Further, there are tools that are intangible that architects implement in their daily routines. Conversational skills, conflict management, quick problem solving and more. These ‘soft skills’ are actually tools that an architect must know when and how to use effectively. Even knowledge is a tool. Knowing what questions to ask at meetings, or giving them enough information to make decisions without overwhelming them are skills that rely on knowledge and experience.


It is at the intersection of tools, expertise, experience, intuition and creativity that we find the value of architects. If we reduce an architect to only the set of plans they produce, we disregard all the other aspects of the design process and their synergy. Ultimately, it is the synergy that brings the most value, as this is how architecture is experienced. Architecture truly is “the interaction of elements that when combined, produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements”. Architecture is not just a set of plans. It is not just a building. It is not just the piece of land it sits on, or even the community that surrounds it. Architecture, and thus the architect who guides it into existence, is all of theses pieces and more. This is why we can have a great design, that when poorly executed, comes up short and unappreciated. It is why an amazing idea can be ignored or misunderstood if not given the proper context. Architects design buildings, but they also design experiences. From start to finish, architects must create and use synergy to realize an idea. 

In the residential field, it seems too easy for tools to be misused and misunderstood. As we eagerly anticipate the commencement of construction on our home, I can’t help but think that many of the delays in our process were due to misunderstanding how to use the tools provided (ex: knowing which way was North in real life compared to the plans…no really. We hired a new builder).

photo credit: Denial via photopin (license)

photo credit: Denial via photopin (license)

Architecture is so much more than just tools. It is about people, experiences, and service. It is vitally important to have the right team in place, not just a set of tools. My hope is that architects can convey that our value lies in our synergy with the other parts: we are leaders of teams that implement a wide range of tools to enable success.


 This month’s #Architalks topic can be found at the following locations:

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
3 Tools to Get Our Clients Engaged and Involved

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
The Best Tool In Your Toolbox

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)


Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
The Tools That Help Make #AREsketches


Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
tools #architalks

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
One Essential Tool

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Architools – Mind Over Matter

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#ArchiTalks 17 “Tool”

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Tools of an Architect #Architalks 17


Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Why An Architect’s Voice Is Their Most Important Tool

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
it’s ok, i have a [pen]

Brinn Miracle – Architangent (@simplybrinn)
Synergy: The Value of Architects

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Tools for Learning

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Something Old and Something New


Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)


Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Helpful tools found within an Architecture blog

Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Sharpen Your Tools

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
Super Tool


Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
Construction: An Architect’s Learning Tool

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
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  • “Our profession has failed to communicate clearly that plans are a tool; not an end result.”

    Brinn, very well written!

    It’s sad, but true. Our profession does a horrendous job of explaining what we do to the general public. The average person sees us as a commodity, but it’s not totally their fault. We’re also responsible for how the profession is perceived. It’d be better for everyone if they knew the value of architects.

    • Thanks Michael! Hopefully we can all be part of the change in how the public understands and values our profession.

  • Matthew Stanfield

    Well stated Brinn. Architecture is about so much more than building. And we need to understand that ourselves so that we can properly convey that fact to our clients.