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Who does what? Defining five key roles in the building design and commercial real estate industries

There is a plethora of roles of professionals in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries as well as in commercial real estate (CRE), and it can be tough for the outsider looking in to determine who does what. Today, the Architrends blog examines some of the more common job titles and their functions: The ABC’s of CRE and AEC, if you will.

Defining five key roles in the building design and commercial real estate industries


Property developers buy land and then develop a plan for building or re-establishing a property through renovations or adaptive reuse. They obtain necessary permits and approvals, and many also manage the design and construction process. They can also finance real estate deals and joint venture projects, as well as oversee the marketing of the property. Their goal is to add value to the property and extract a profit from the development through either sale or rental income.


There are many sub-categories falling under the architect umbrella, such as project architect, design architect, and architect of record, but the overarching definition of an architect is one who designs buildings and generally plays a key role in the construction process. The many hats worn by this profession, outside of design, also include planning, coordinating and advising on technical, aesthetic and safety matters.

Check out How to Architect’s YouTube video for more detail on how an architect invents, designs and translates a user’s requirements into a built environment.

General contractor

Often referred to onsite as the “GC”, the general contractor is responsible for the daily management of the jobsite, and can either be an individual or a company. They coordinate and supervise the site as well as schedule and oversee subcontractors such as plumbers and electricians. They’re responsible for providing materials, equipment and all necessary services for the jobsite, in addition to managing safety.


Often referred to as the landlord, the property owner ensures the building is safe and operational for tenants. The owner can be hands-on – managing all of the details of the building’s operation and the needs of tenants – or then can outsource the day-to-day operation of the building to a property manager.

Property manager

Property managers handle the day-to-day operation of a building for the owner. This includes maintenance, rent collection, marketing the building to prospective tenants and ensuring the building is in compliance with local regulations. They operate as the liaison between the tenant and the owner and most often have a specialization in a particular property type, be it retail, office, multifamily, industrial, etc.

An excellent example found in Wikipedia illustrates how the above teams work together.

A property owner or real estate developer develops a program of their needs and selects a site (often with an architect). The architect assembles a design team of consulting engineers and other experts to design the building and specify the building systems. Today contractors frequently participate on the design team by providing pre-design services such as providing estimations of the budget and scheduling requirements to improve the economy of the project. In other cases, the general contractor is hired at the close of the design phase. The owner, architect, and general contractor work closely together to meet deadlines and budget. The general contractor works with subcontractors to ensure quality standards.

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