Project architect vs. Project manager

Some of you may ask or wonder what is the difference between a project architect and a project manager. My initial response would be as follows:
1. It depends on the size of the firm.
2. Which is then determined by the structure and organization of the firm or office.
3. Followed by resposibilities.

Typically, you will see project managers and project architects in larger firms (10+).

An office with at least 20 employees would be organized with a head principal (usually the founder of the company and the one who signs all the paperwork). The princpal is usually busy running around bringing work into the office; always in meetings and talking to clients. Successful principals have busy schedules and do not have time to keep track of the daily aspects of projects. That’s where the project manager comes in. The PM is brought in to manage the daily affairs of a project or two, and supervise the project team. A project team usually consists of at least one draftsperson and one project architect, who is responsible for producing the construction documents, and works with the PM to meet deadlines and provide them with information.

Sometimes the line between project manager and project architect blur together in firms that have around 10 employees. And that’s due to one or more of the following reasons:

1. Small offices may not have the man power to delegate and separate the responsibilities.
2. Small offices may not have the revenue to hire individuals for the distinct roles.
3. The type and size of the projects may not require the levels of personnel to be involved and thus the roles may be combined.

From my experiences I have been a project architect, a mix between a PA and a PM, and most recently a project manager.

As project architect I was responsible for preparing and producing the construction documents as well as communicate and coordinate with our consultants. I had some direct contact with clients. I researched and specified products and materials.

While I was project architect my responsibilities expanded to project management lite, which meant that I took the lead in not only mamaging myself but staff and consultants and to some degree clients too, however I was not creating schedules or watching the budget. I determined the deadlines not only for myself but also for my consultants. As PM coordination with consultants became an exercise of following up with them on items that needed to be addressed. I also managed the flow of information to keep the project moving forward and meeting deadlines.

In a small office setting an individual has an opportunity to get lots of varied experience and advance professionally, which is why I prefer to work in small firms. Not all small firms may offer greater opportunities due to office structure. Sometimes they only need a draftsperson or just someone who can prepare and produce documents.

In a firm where titles are defined, PA and PM work in tandem to accomplish the project goal. The PA is reponsible for producing the design and construction documents as well as coordinate consultant documents. The PM makes sure the project team meets the program and project scope as well as establishing and meeting timelines. The PM also coordinates with the client, consultants, and general contractor and/or construction manager. Other duties include managing internal budgets, project staffing, and construction administration.

For more information about each role, please click on the following links:

Project architect as explained by Wikipedia.
Architectural Project Manager as explained by Wikipedia.

13 thoughts on “Project architect vs. Project manager

  1. Hi,

    I would like to republish this post as an article on PM Hut. I think it’s an excellent explanation on the 2 titles.

    Please email me back in case you’re OK with this.

  2. Hello I stumbled across this blog while researching about “architect vs. construction manager”. I am an architecture bachelor student, and after my first four months of internship at a large firm, I realized there is a big gap between what an architect and a construction manager do. I was much disappointed in how all that architects do are drawing plans in CAD, producing renderings and preparing presentations. The firm I worked for was a big firm with its own troop of engineers. It was the engineers, the structural, civil and mechanicl engineers who laid out the construction details. I knew an architect’s job is mainly designing a building. But what I expected ever since I was a high school student was beyond designing, to console the whole construction at the site from the foundation to the finish. Is this not supposed to be an architect’s job as well? In the age of the famous 20th century, modernism architects, Le Corbu, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe; all these architects were both architects and construction manager. Or have I got into a completely wrong field of building construction? Just as much I love designing, I strongly believe an architect is, in the end, an builder not just a CAD monkey. I am hoping I simply lack experience in architecture, but what I’ve seen in the firm I worked for, even my project managers themselves didn’t know in depth of construction methods.

    • Thank you for reading the post and i appreciate your comments.

      The experience you described is not a unique situation but at the same time, it all depends on the firm and how the office is structured to operate. Usually in the large A&E firms as the one you have worked at previously, operate with different levels of people who do specific tasks, which creates the hierarchy that you have observed during your internship. As you mentioned, there are the CAD monkeys – most architects if not all start off their careers drafting and/or rendering; it’s one of the ways you learn about construction methods, design, phases, how to put a set of drawings together, etc. As you gain more experience, your role changes from CAD monkey to the different levels of architectural positions but still drafting (intermediate, junior, project architect, etc.) At some point, the roles separate between a project architect and a project manager. And then it also divides again between a project manager and construction manager. This is what happens in large architectural and A&E firms; as well as you move from job to job to up your position.

      However, it is up to the individual to strive to be the architect they envision themselves to be, or professional related to the field of architecture and construction. You just have to find the environment that will nurture that you wish to become.

      Through the years, I have met professionals who have come out of an architectural education and carved out their architectural careers. Some have become the type of architect you described and aspire to be while others have become project managers for developers, or have turned their skills and talents toward construction. I have also met architects who don’t always have the qualifications but have carved out a nice position for themselves through charisma and the ability to gab. And then there are those who move up in their careers by going to grad school (MArch) instead of gaining professional experience. Not that there is anything wrong with getting an MArch but there is a difference in a person who has two years more of professional experience vs. someone who has spent those two years in academia.

      If you want to be the kind of architect that you described, try working for different sized firms; chances are smaller firms will give you more opportunities to work with the principal as well as give you more opportunities to do various tasks and not just be the office CAD monkey. And you should look into working for a construction company where you can at least get onto the construction job site and see that point of view and gain construction experience. Not many architects have a construction background where they physically build stuff. It’s one thing to be able to design and draw the detail; and another to understand the material(s) and how to put it together to make it work, hold up, create and support the structure. And this is something you will hear a lot as an architect working with construction managers and contractors. These will be one of many consultants who will advise you if your design is feasible or not.

      I hope this is helpful. I’m happy to discuss further if you are interested. Good luck with your studies and internships.

  3. It’s one thing to be able to design and draw the detail; and another to understand the material(s) and how to put it together to make it work, hold up, create and support the architect? can someone talk me abot this,please?

  4. I wark for a very big A&E firm, The more you work as a CAD monkey the more work you get because the pencil pushers can’t cope up with the technology change, form cad-2004, 2006, 2008……Revit 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 …. etc. If you are smart and get the drawings done you get more work pilled up on your desk. you might get a pat on your back or employee of the month.
    at the end of the day you realise the strong hierachy prevails, you wouldn’t be talking to the client or
    involved in constructon .. You are just a cheap CAD Money. All the career in Architecture you had read is a distant dream. Your Manger would let you know how lucky you are to have job in the recession while he would be planning his next golfing with the client.

  5. Appreciating the hard work you put into your website and detailed information you present.
    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out
    of date rehashed material. Fantastic read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  6. hello,

    I just discovered your blog and I find it very usefull. I live in Romania and I am an architecture student, but here we don’t have much information about project managers and often is confused with project architect. I want to read more about project managers and what is his role in countries like Germany, Switzerland, Japan to compare and to observe if are differences. can you help me with some information/opinion please

  7. I agree with you in the definition of the responsibilities and roles of the Director of Architecture and director of projects, but I kept inclined to the architect remains inclined to supervision and preparation of maps and documents that lead to the creation of the project with a sense architect more than any other project manager who is not architecturally originally.

  8. An Engineer can become a project manager but he can not become a project architect. but a project architect can become a project manager. dual advantage.

  9. Hello,
    I have read out all the conversation above. it seems interesting to me. i think if i share my experiences as a project architect, it will help you to understand about a ” Project Architect & Project Manager”.
    I have worked two years as an project architect and one year as a project manager in a big Architectural farm which has Architectural Consultancy and Architectural Construction Department. I was appointed by the architectural Consultancy department as a project architect. there, i need to follow some responsibility like:

    1) understanding the project scale and work progress with construction team including project manager.
    2) Preparing all the construction detail following construction work schedule with my architect team.
    3) Co-ordination with design team and principle Architect.
    4) ensuring all the Building, fire, safety and security codes.
    5) Material exploration according to design and Building specification and clients requirement.
    6) ensure the design implementation and supervision.
    7) if the problem arise implementing the design on site, the solution must give instantly respecting the design.

    i have found many more design and implementation related activities in project architect. i think project architect is a DESIGN IMPLEMENTER and ARCHITECTURAL MANGER. on the other hand project manager is a MANAGER OF CONTRACTOR, PROJECT BUDGET, TIME, SITE etc. project manager is a runner of the project site. project architect is the leader of the project design team. project Architect = Architectural manager. Project manager = construction site manager. these two managers work as a bridge between design and construction. project manager ensures workers efficiency, project completion in due time, material supply on due time smoothly, site safety and security etc. on the other hand, project architect ensures build quality, material finishes, design detail implementation, over all look of architecture and interior spaces, exterior and interior finish, ensures building codes and all the specifications as an implementing form.

    ” CAD monkey”? to me is an architect without having knowledge of accurate implementation of design. Implementation knowledge gives architects confidence to design more precisely.

    anyway, i can discus more about this topic. hope that these all information will help you all. thank you all…………….

  10. I am an architect working as a construction manager for major retail brands in a Construction firm .I did my internship with an architectural firm but was so confined to the so called term cadd monkey .It gave me cramps sitting all day in the office and just drafting what my senior architects asked me to draft .It was pathetic and all I could get familiar with was with cadd line weights .I did not have the patience to practice cadd for a few years in some architecture firm and then learn some real construction details .I was lucky to have landed in a construction firm where I could coordinate with architecture firms and real on site conditions which helped me grow as a complete professional -we call an Architect . I would recommend budding architects to join project management or construction management after your small stint with real architecture firms …if u wanna start of on your own and even have some real building construction knowledge .

  11. This unique posting, “Project architect vs. Project manager | La Femme
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  12. I think while the architect is responsible for the quality of the solution, the Project manager on the other hand is responsible for the quality of the program including the scope, cost and the schedule.

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