The many (and varied) roles of the architect

It is often said that an architect’s role is that of a generalist; that is one who not only has to draw from many fields of knowledge, but also collaboratively orchestrate that expert knowledge through a rigorous design process to eventually create architecture (one would hope).
As Vitruvius states in book one of his ten books on architecture, when talking about the education of an architect:

‘To be educated, he must be an experienced draftsman, well versed in geometry, familiar with history, a diligent student of philosophy, know music, have some acquaintance with medicine, understand the rulings of legal experts and have a clear grasp of astronomy and the ways of Heaven.’

This holistic view for an architectural education may seem like it’s well established and even completely obvious (with possible exception of ‘some acquaintance with medicine’ perhaps), but something that should be given attention to is the very act of Vitruvius writing a treatise (in this case the ten books on architecture) in the first place for this cemented a very important role for the architect, which should not go amiss in this day and age; the architect’s role and responsibility as a social/public intellectual as well as a designer of buildings.

The practice of architectural journalism and the visual culture of architecture

In this sense it can be seen that the definition of an intellectual goes beyond the walls of academic institutions, where all it simply means is for one to use their own intelligence in a critical manner. The act of making can be seen as an intellectual activity for an architect, whether it is done through writing as a form of architectural journalism or the practice of designing buildings.

It is well documented that Le Corbusier dabbled in painting, sculpture as well as writing. Books in particular were of utmost importance to Le Corbusier’s intellectual life, as they were catalogues of images documenting the surrounding visual culture of the time, which in turn influenced his architecture. Architectural writing and journalism can open doors to new forms of inquiry, much like the way the Archigram magazine influenced a whole generation of architects and designers during the sixties, through its intellectual probes into futurist ideals and questioning the wider architectural scene at the time through the paper architecture of urban reinvention.

It can be seen that architecture is essentially a philosophy that goes beyond the ‘making of buildings’, where the words ‘architectural practice’ take on many fluid forms through architectural journalism, critical writing, curatorial work, architectural research and education as well as the design of buildings.

Dale Fincham


Cook, Peter (ed), Archigram, Archigram, 1972

De Smet, Catherine, Le Corbusier Architect of Books, Lars Muller Publishers, 2005

Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture, Ingrid D. Rowland and Thomas Noble Howe (eds), Cambridge University Press, 1999