As an architect, it’s a question you get asked all the time: ‘What kind of architecture do you do? Is it residential, or commercial…?’

A simple, reasonable question, but the answer is not so straightforward. First off, there are more types of architecture than residential and commercial. Second, while some architecture firms are highly specialized, most firms work on a variety of projects, with a wide range of types, scopes, scales, and styles.

As a client looking to find the right architect for your project, it’s important to understand the different types of architecture, and the different skills architects can offer, so you can best assess how their experience fits your needs.

Let’s go through them:

1. Residential Architecture

Residential architecture is, quite simply, the design of places people live.

Straightforward enough, but this type of architecture is broad, including houses of all sizes, and multi-family projects: duplexes, townhouses, apartment buildings, high-rises, and so on.

The process of designing a residential structure involves a deep understanding of the needs and wants of the inhabitants, as well as designing systems and spaces optimized for comfort and performance.

In residential architecture, architects work closely with clients to ensure that the design reflects their style and meets their daily needs. The design process often considers factors such as the site’s natural landscape, the direction of sunlight, and the efficient use of space to create environments that enhance the quality of life for residents.

From traditional homes that embrace historical architectural styles to modern dwellings that prioritize minimalism and innovation, residential architecture showcases a diverse array of designs tailored to accommodate people’s evolving lifestyles. The design of residential architecture highlights the role of architects in shaping the environments where memories are made and cherished.

Residential Architecture

2. Commercial Architecture

Commercial architecture encompasses the design and construction of buildings and spaces intended for business purposes, including offices, retail stores, hotels, and entertainment facilities.

Again, this is an extremely broad type of architecture, and it is one where you will find that some firms are highly specialized in something like airports, hospitals and healthcare, or stadiums. On the other hand, outside of these project types where a high degree of specific technical knowledge is important to the project, most architects will work on a variety of commercial projects throughout their careers.

This branch of architecture has a focus on combining function and aesthetic appeal to create spaces that meet the specific needs of businesses while enhancing the customer and employee experience. Commercial architects are tasked with balancing good design with practicality, safety, and regulatory compliance.

The layout and design of commercial buildings can be planned to optimize space utilization, promote productivity, encourage foot traffic, create a brand identity or unique customer experience, depending on the business’s nature. For example, retail spaces may focus on creating an engaging shopping environment that highlights products effectively; a restaurant wants a certain ambiance and atmosphere; an office building prioritizes efficient use of space and the creation of productive work environments with specific lighting needs, access to windows, and so on.

Through creative and technically practical design solutions, commercial architects contribute to developing dynamic, functional, and inspiring spaces that accommodate the complex needs of businesses and their clientele. Design is a big component of a business’s overall success.

commercial architecture

3. Hospitality Architecture

While technically a subset of commercial architecture, hospitality architecture is broad enough to deserve its own category.

Hospitality architecture is a specialized field focusing on the design and construction of facilities that provide services and experiences related to leisure and accommodation, such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, and bars. This type of architecture aims to create spaces that offer guests comfort, fun, an experience or an atmosphere, while balancing all the behind-the-scenes functional needs. Often the goal is to create an environment that is an escape from the everyday, and therefore lends itself to a creative, experimental design.

In the realm of hospitality architecture, the emphasis is on creating a welcoming and immersive atmosphere that reflects the brand’s identity and the cultural context of the location. Designers and architects in this field employ various strategies to achieve this, from integrating local art and materials into the decor to designing with the natural landscape to offer stunning views and outdoor experiences. The layout, lighting, and even the choice of materials are carefully considered to evoke a particular mood and cater to the specific needs of the target clientele, whether they are luxury travelers, business professionals, a couple on a first date or a family on vacation.

Environmental consciousness and a holistic wellness focus are increasingly important in hospitality architecture, with many projects focusing on an experience that gives people a spa-like experience that leaves them feeling healthy, refreshed, inspired. Wellness and eco-tourism are driving architects and developers to push the boundaries of design to offer memorable stays and experiences that connect guests with their surroundings in meaningful ways.

hospitality arch

4. Landscape Architecture

In almost every project, how the indoor spaces connect to the outdoors is an important part of the overall experience. Architects coordinate with Landscape Architects to help make the outdoor and built environments all work together to reach the client’s goals.

Landscape architecture is an integral branch of architecture that focuses on designing, planning, and managing outdoor spaces and environments. It is, for the most part, a distinct and separate profession from the architecture of buildings. It has it’s own schools, degree programs, licensing requirements, and a deep-rich history that spans all eras and cultures. Some architects pursue training in both fields, but it is more common to have a separate architect and landscape architect work together on a project.

This discipline goes beyond planting trees and arranging flowers. A landscape architect is designing the actual performance of the site, managing topography, drainage, water management, and often helping with layouts of pool and outdoor areas. Landscape architects engage with many projects, including public parks, gardens, greenways, urban plazas, and even restoring natural environments such as wetlands and forests.

The core of landscape architecture lies in its holistic approach to designing with nature rather than against it, aiming to balance human needs and environmental sustainability. This involves careful consideration of the site’s topography, climate, flora, and fauna, as well as the cultural and historical context.

Landscape architecture plays a pivotal role in promoting environmental stewardship, fostering community engagement, and enhancing the health and well-being of populations through the thoughtful integration of natural and built environments.

landscape arch

5. Interior Design Architecture

Interior design, or interior architecture, merges the art of designing indoor spaces with the science of architecture to create functional, safe, and aesthetically pleasing environments.
Similar to landscape architects, interior designers/architects pursue different education and licensing from architects.

Interior designers and architects work closely to consider every aspect of a room’s environment, from the layout and distribution of spaces to the selection of colors, materials, furniture, and lighting, ensuring that each element contributes to the overall aesthetic and functional goals.

The realm of interior design architecture is diverse, catering to a wide range of settings, including residential homes, corporate offices, hospitality venues like hotels and restaurants, healthcare facilities, and retail spaces.

There is often overlap on a project between the architect’s work and the interior designer’s work, as both are qualified at space planning, design of millwork and moldings, choosing colors and materials like flooring, tile and surfaces. This is best discussed at the start of the project so the relationships run smoothly.

Professionals in the field of interior design must possess a deep understanding of human psychology and behavior to design spaces that not only meet the physical needs of users but also support their psychological and emotional well-being. This includes considering accessibility, ergonomics, comfort, and the intended users’ cultural and social dynamics.

bedroom with white linens and a built-in soft wood drawers

6. Wellness Architecture (Green Design Architecture)

Wellness Architecture, often synonymous with Green Design Architecture, can be considered a type of architecture, but can also be applied to any of the previously discussed types.

It is an approach to design that emphasizes the creation of spaces that nurture the health and well-being, of its occupants. This discipline integrates principles of sustainable design with innovations aimed at enhancing individuals’ physical and psychological comfort. The philosophy behind wellness architecture is deeply rooted in the belief that our surroundings profoundly impact our health, mood, and overall quality of life.

At the heart of wellness architecture is the conscientious selection of materials and construction techniques that minimize environmental impact while maximizing key factors such as air quality, access to fresh air, daylight, optimal scale and proportion, and encouraging space that promotes mindful choices, reflection, healthy habits.

Architects specializing in this field prioritize natural, non-toxic materials and incorporate features such as advanced ventilation systems to ensure high-quality indoor air, natural lighting to enhance mood and energy levels, and thermal comfort to promote physical well-being.

Moreover, wellness architecture extends beyond the physical aspects of construction to embrace the relationship between the built environment and its natural surroundings. Design strategies often include integrating gardens, water features, and elements that facilitate a connection with nature, supporting mental relaxation and reducing stress levels.

Incorporating cutting-edge technology and biophilic design principles, wellness architecture seeks to create spaces that actively contribute to the occupants’ health while promoting sustainable living practices. Wellness architecture aims to create environments that protect and actively enhance the quality of life, heralding a future where buildings support the well-being of their inhabitants and the planet’s health.

7. Industrial Architecture

Industrial architecture focuses on designing and constructing facilities and structures for manufacturing, production, and distribution. This field is characterized by its emphasis on functionality, efficiency, and the specific operational requirements of industrial processes. Industrial architects are tasked with creating spaces that can accommodate heavy machinery, optimize production lines, and ensure the safety and well-being of workers. The design of industrial buildings often involves considering large, open spaces with high ceilings, robust materials to withstand industrial activities, and effective logistics for moving goods. While industrial architecture may prioritize practicality, there is also a growing interest in aesthetic aspects, aiming to integrate industrial facilities harmoniously with their surrounding environments and improve the working conditions for employees.

8. Urban Design Architecture

Urban design architecture is a comprehensive discipline that deals with towns and cities’ arrangement, appearance, and functionality.
Historically, this was often the work of architects. While there is a great deal of overlap between architecture, master planning and urbanism, Urban Design has emerged as its own field, with specific degree programs and firms that specialize in designing neighborhood developments and new towns, thinking at the scale of the pedestrian walking through streets, and the driver navigating the roads.

It involves planning public spaces, infrastructure, and the overall layout to enhance living conditions and connectivity within urban environments. Urban designers focus on creating cohesive and vibrant urban areas that encourage community interaction and facilitate efficient movement throughout the city. They address the arrangement of buildings, public transport systems, pedestrian paths, and recreational spaces to create an integrated and dynamic urban fabric. An Urban Designer will often, as part of their scope of work, create a set of design guidelines, or a ‘pattern book, that will be passed along to the architects of the individual buildings so their designs can fit in with the overall style, scale, look and feel of the project.

Urban design architecture aims to foster accessible, safe, and attractive urban environments that cater to the population’s diverse needs, promoting a high quality of urban life through well-considered spatial organization and design elements.