Do Architects Have to Be Mathematicians?

Love Architecture, Hate Math? What To Do

Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen), Rotterdam, Netherlands, designed by Piet Blom (1934-1999) in 1984
The Geometric Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen), Rotterdam, Netherlands, designed by Piet Blom (1934-1999) in 1984. Photo by Visions Of Our Land/Photolibrary/Getty Images (cropped)

As a student you may wonder how important mathematics is to the field of architecture. How much math do architecture students study in college?

French architect Odile Decq has said that "it's not obligatory to be good at math or science." But if you take a look at the college curricula at several universities, you'll find that a basic knowledge of mathematics is required for most degrees—and most college majors.

When you earn a 4-year Bachelor's Degree, the world knows that you've studied a variety of subjects, including mathematics. A college education is a little different than a more simplified training program. And today's registered architect is indeed educated

Do professional architects really use all those formulas from Algebra 101? Well, maybe not. But they certainly do use math. But, you know what? So do toddlers playing with blocks, teenagers learning to drive, and anyone betting on a horse race or a football game. Math is a tool for making decisions. Math is a language used to communicate ideas and validate assumptions. Critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving are all skills that may be related to mathematics. "I have found that people who like to solve puzzles can do well in architecture," says Nathan Kipnis, AIA.

Other architects continually suggest that "people" skills are most important for the successful professional architect.

Communication, listening, and collaboration are often cited as essential.

A big part of communication is writing clearly—Maya Lin's winning entry for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was mostly words—no math and no detailed sketch.

Becoming a licensed architect can be intimidating. Who has not heard horror stories about the grueling Architect Registration Examinations (ARE)?

It's important to remember that tests are not given to punish students and professionals, but to maintain educational and professional standards. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, administrators of ARE, state:

"The ARE concentrates on those services that most affect the public health, safety, and welfare. The ARE has been developed with specific concern for its fidelity to the practice of architecture; that is, its content relates to the actual tasks an architect encounters in practice."

If you're interested in architecture as a career, you're already interested in mathematics. The built environment is created with geometric forms, and geometry is mathematics. Don't be afraid of mathematics. Embrace it. Use it. Design with it.

Learn More:

Sources: Odile Decq Interview, January 22, 2011, designboom, July 5, 2011 [accessed July 14, 2013]; Becoming an Architect by Lee W. Waldrep, Wiley, 2006, pp. 33-41; Overview, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards [accessed July 28, 2014].