A building begins as an idea in some-one’s mind, a desire for new and ample accommodations for a family,
many families, an organization, or an enterprise. For any but the smallest buildings, the next step for the owner of the prospective building is to engage, either directly or through a hired construction manager, the services of building design professionals. An architect helps to organize the owner’s ideas about the new building, develops the form of the building, and assembles a group of engineering specialists to help work out concepts and details of foundations, structural support, and mechanical, electrical, and communications services.

This team of designers, working with the owner, then develops the scheme for the building in progres-sively fi ner degrees of detail. Drawings and written specifi  cations  are produced by the architect–engineer
team to document how the building is to be made and of what. The drawings and specifi cations are submitted to the local government building authorities, where they are checked for conformance with zoning ordinances and building codes before a permit is issued to build. A general contractor is selected, either by negotiation or by competitive bidding, who then hires subcontractors to carry out many specialized portions of the work. Once construction begins, the general contractor oversees the construction process while the building inspector, architect, and engineering consultants observe the work at frequent intervals to be sure that it is carried out according to plan. Finally, construction is finished, the building is made ready
for occupancy, and that original idea, often initiated years earlier, is realized.

Although a building begins as an abstraction, it is built in a world of material realities. The designers of a building—the architects and engineers—work constantly from a knowl-edge of what is possible and what is not. They are able, on the one hand, to employ a seemingly limitless palette of building materials and any of a number of structural systems to produce a building of almost any desired form and texture. On the other hand, they are inescapably bound by certain physical limitations: how much land there is with which to work; how heavy a building the soil can support; how long a structural span is feasible; what sorts of materials will perform well in the given environment. They are also constrained by a construction budget and by a complex web of legal restrictions.

Those who work in the building professions need a broad understanding of many things, including people
and culture, the environment, the physical principles by which buildings work, the technologies available for utilization in buildings, the legal restrictions on building design and use, the economics of building,
and the contractual and practical arrangements under which buildings are constructed.

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