An architect is a person who plans, designs and oversees the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means to provide services in connection with the design of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings that have human occupancy or use as their principal purpose.
The professional requirements for architects vary from place to place. An architect’s decisions affect public safety, and thus the architect must undergo specialized training consisting of advanced education and a practicum (or internship) for practical experience to earn a license to practice architecture. Practical, technical, and academic requirements for becoming an architect vary by jurisdiction, though the formal study of architecture in academic institutions has played a pivotal role in the development of the profession as a whole.
In most developed countries, only those qualified with an appropriate license, certification, or registration with a relevant body (often governmental) may legally practice architecture. Such licensure usually requires a university degree, successful completion of exams, as well as a training period. Representation of oneself as an architect through the use of terms and titles is restricted to licensed individuals by law, although in general, derivatives such as architectural designer are often not legally protected.
To practice architecture implies the ability to practice independently of supervision. The term building design professional (or design professional), by contrast, is a much broader term that includes professionals who practice independently under an alternate profession, such as engineering professionals, or those who assist in the practice of architecture under the supervision of a licensed architect such as intern architects. In many places, independent, non-licensed individuals may perform design services outside the professional restrictions, such design houses and other smaller structures.
The architect, once hired by a client, is responsible for creating a design concept that both meets the requirements of that client and provides a facility suitable to the required use. The architect must meet with, and question, the client in order to ascertain all the requirements (and nuances) of the planned project.
Often the full brief is not entirely clear at the beginning: entailing a degree of risk in the design undertaking. The architect may make early proposals to the client, which may rework the very terms of the brief. The “program” (or brief) is essential to producing a project that meets all the needs of the owner. This then is a guide for the architect in creating the design concept.
Design proposal(s) are generally expected to be both imaginative and pragmatic. Depending on the place, time, finance, culture, and available crafts and technology in which the design takes place, the precise extent and nature of these expectations will vary.