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What Is Commercial Architecture?

By Carol Francois
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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Commercial architecture is the design of buildings and structures for use by business. This genre of architecture is focused on combining function with style to meet the needs of a wide range of business types. The impact of commercial architecture can be seen in any major city center, where almost all the buildings are commercial. Architecture is the designing and building of structures designed to provide protection from the elements. The simplest structural requirements are easily satisfied by building a shelter, but an architect's job is to combine good design elements into a building that meets both current and future needs.

The field of commercial architecture has been in place since the very beginning of architecture, and some of those structures are still available today. Roman and Greek architecture included the building of elaborate structures, complete with courtyards and meeting rooms. Today, most architects work in commercial architecture. There are four stages to projects: obtain client requirements, determine site location, create design proposal and submit project plan and costing.

The first part of the process is to meet with the client and define his needs. The more specific and detailed the requirements, the more accurate the proposal can be. Ask to meet with people at different levels of the organization to understand how they conduct business, the practical requirements and the company's public image. Look at the corporate image, publications and marketing materials provided by the firm to get a sense of its design tastes and preferences.

Work with the client to either visit the proposed site location or discuss the space requirements for the type of building required. Look at the other buildings in the area to get a sense of local style, height, physical presence and use of color. For example, a building designed for a location with a large number of office towers will be very different from one designed for a park-like setting.

Create the concept drawings and designs for the client to review. Focus on the exterior of the building, main floor and office work spaces. Many commercial architecture firms employ model makers to create a scale model of the design. This process helps the client to visualize the final product.

Once the conceptual design has been approved, the technical and costing aspect of commercial architecture begins. Prepare detailed project plans, time lines, costs and decision points. This project plan forms the basis of the quotation and must be approved by the client before any work can begin.

What Does Commercial Architecture Include?

A city’s skyline can be iconic. The silhouette of the Empire State Building standing amongst the backdrop of the city defines the skyline of New York City. Around the world, these towering skyscrapers and other buildings make these cities recognizable worldwide. Commercial architecture has long been a moniker of development and growth in modern society. These structures have grown to symbolize the cities they inhabit.

The development of commercial architecture has grown over the years. This combination of style and function provides businesses the retail space to expand their enterprise, redefine expectations and improve people’s everyday lives. When you are looking at what defines commercial architecture, start with how to use the space for commercial purposes. These buildings can be hospitals, shopping centers, factories, warehouses or offices.

The key detail to this field is that the buildings are created with functionality in mind. Factors such as the number of rooms, airflow, electrical capacity and layout help create commercial spaces. Sometimes, the building is designed with a specific type of business in mind. Other times, companies will shop around until they find an existing structure that suits their needs. Additionally, depending on the company, the space may come with extra storage and flexibility for the increased number of people that use the building daily.

What Is the Difference Between Residential and Commercial Architecture?

While skyscrapers and commercial buildings are synonymous with a city skyline, so are the apartment buildings and homes. To better understand what commercial architecture is, it is first necessary to understand the difference between commercial and residential use.

A residential building needs to account for the people living in it and be ready for use 24/7. When designing, an architect needs to consider both safety and comfort throughout the space. A residence needs to meet specific federal and state regulatory codes for use. It must include looking at items like stairs, electrical needs and plumbing. Also, when building, the architect should consider the interior design to ensure that the living space is comfortable for its tenants.

Commercial architecture has to conform to different but specific design needs. These needs include offices or meetings rooms, unique features like parking garages or restaurant kitchens, and finally, size. Due to the difference in use, a commercial building needs to meet a safety code that works for a more significant number of people. The wear and tear are at a higher level, and the architect must keep this in mind when designing the building.

What Do You Need To Become a Commercial Architect?

If you are looking for a new career, consider the exciting world of commercial architecture. Education is the first step to getting started in this field. An aspiring architect needs to begin by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Some people choose to further distinguish themselves by pursuing a graduate degree as well.

Upon graduation, architecture students apply for an internship working with a senior architect, who will supervise their work. This internship can last up to three years but must be at least 3,740 hours of work. During this time, the student will cultivate and develop their commercial architecture specialty.

Upon completing their internships, students qualify to apply for their state's licensing exam. Each state has different requirements, including location-dependent challenges or required courses. This license is up for renewal every two years. The architect may also apply for certification through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Anyone can be an architect with the proper degree, internship, state license and NCARB certification. Take the time to see if this exciting career field is right for you.

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Discussion Comments
By geekish — On Aug 13, 2011

@runner101 - Typically, I am not sure how government buildings are made and who the chooses the architecture. But I have heard, when it comes to big projects they will requests bids and then there is review board of some sort that selects the best or their favorite bid. I am not sure what they base the choice on - whether it is aesthetics or price or a combination of many things.

There are some pretty famous bidding wars where not-so-famous architects were chosen or committees had difficulty choosing such as the architecture plans for the Sidney Opera House and for the landscape architecture of Central Park in New York City.

But you are right, in many cases I am happy to see a boring city building because we as taxpayers are paying for it, but I am also happy for beautiful buildings as well - I love buildings that astound the eye or even things that are not even buildings but become icons such as the St. Louis Arch. I went up in the arch and it was absolutely worth the time it took to see it.

By runner101 — On Aug 12, 2011

Who chooses the architect for city or government owned commercial buildings?

I have often seen quite boring city government buildings and wondered if they hired an architect at all?! But I, of course, appreciated the fact that when they built the building they were trying to be conscientious of taxpayers dollars.

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