How deep does the math get in practice?



For practicing architects, how often are you using trig or calculus?


Nov 14, 19 10:42 am


Nov 14, 19 10:56 am

Calculus: never first-hand in practice.  It's been very occasionally useful to understand it, because our acoustical consultants do use it to evaluate some of our proposed assemblies, and in their reports assessing existing conditions.

Trig:  from time to time. Mostly to understand how to model complex volumes and their intersections.  If one is working in a firm that never does that sort of thing, then it would be easily possible to never encounter the need for it.

Nov 14, 19 11:01 am

acoustical consultant sounds like an interesting job, I always thought architects did that on their own


Disclaimer: Unlicensed | Building Designer of exempt buildings (mainly in Oregon and Washington) - such as houses and light commercial buildings. The math that mostly used the most is math. Elementary algebra, typical math, and geometry. Even those engineering equations used can be processed as regular math problems. You fill in the numeric values for the variables (which you can derive from multiple sources such as building codes, your drawings, etc.). Most of it is pretty basic. Unless you are working on something particularly unusual in shape and form like biotecture style forms, you probably are dealing with relatively straightforward, quadrilaterals, triangles, circles, and occassionally some other basic geometric shapes. A lot of projects are pretty straightforward and often not fancy. Houses can sometimes be more complex in their form than some commercial buildings which are just big rectangles or boxes with just rows of columns and supporting beam to support roof and trusses (which are probably the most complicated structural member on such buildings)... otherwise, it's often some kind of lally column or square section or a steel I- or H- section column.

Nov 14, 19 12:42 pm

Point being, the advance math are not regularly used in most projects designed by architects and building designers. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. 

It is that typically, the architect or building designer are concerned with a lot of factors of the overall design and coordination of the different engineering systems, along with the structural system, means of egress, form & function, as well as the experiential aspect of the design. Some designs are more utilitarian than others. 

Usually, the heavy lifting of mathematics is done by our engineering consultants which they themselves are likely running it through their little software programs that does more of the matematic steps for them. Although, they would have more heavier math requirements for their education so they would be able to check and verify that the math is true. You can practically set everything up in excel spreadsheet to compute most engineering equations.


"The math that mostly used the most is math." - Richard Balkins*

*not an architect

*not educated in architecture

*not at all equipped to give advice on the subject


Sure, I didn't go to art school where you went. If I recall correctly, architect is anglicized version of the Greek word arkhitekton which means master builder or chief builder. A man who can hammer a nail in a stud is more an arkhitekton then some loud mouth keyboard jockey from an ivy league school. Right.... being a true arkhitekton is not for those too afraid of saw dust and actually having to sweat and dirt which you might have to get on the ground and crawl under some spider and web infested crawlspaces. Oh, yeah.... real work.

Anyway, razzing because the last I call, we kind of have to learn about architecture to build them, to draw them. Houses are architecture as well.


so just to be clear to the OP, now you’re disparagingly and ignorantly referring to architecture school “art school,” and an architect with close to 20 years of experience in practice and academia a “keyboard jockey” who doesn’t do “real work.” please, enlighten us about how your a) lack of a bachelor’s degree, b) zero experience, and c) thousands of comically long winded forum posts (from your parents’ house) describing your catatonic inability to get anything done makes you anything other than PRECISELY a “keyboard jockey” who doesn’t do “real work.”


If you can draw in CAD there's no need for trig as the answers are all generated by the drawings. That said I still use it when designing on paper/ talking/ having charettes and not drafting.

Calculus... lol. Maybe if you are reading pretentious theoretical architectural texts you will talk about it, but you'll never use it.

Nov 14, 19 1:26 pm
atelier nobody

The caveat to using CAD to do your math is, you'd better draw it RIGHT to get the right answers - I've seen a lot of sloppy CAD drafting in my career (89.99999999° angles...really?!?), and I've had busts in the field because of it.


Haha, yes. Indeed.


Well if the people (or the office) can't draft right there's fuck all chance I'd trust them to do trig.


Calculus in pretentious theoretical texts? Just shows how little you know about calculus. You will find calculus is a requirement in structural design and building physics engineering. As an architect (depending again on the country where you practice) you only need to know the basics of these.


I've never heard of an architect doing anything other than the most rudimentary statics calcs. Curious what kind of projects you work on where you do, or why you aren't collaborating with a trained engineer?

atelier nobody

I've used trig once in the last 25 years. I've never understood why calculus is a prereq for so many M.Arch programs - I've never heard of it being used in architecture. I'm not even sure how much engineers actually use it.

Nov 14, 19 1:30 pm

Calculus helps me understand the universe, in that way only it might help me be a better architect.

In my day-to-day jobbings I rarely encounter something more complicated than percentages.

Nov 14, 19 2:15 pm

HOW DEEP IS YOUR MATH (How. deep. is. your. math.)


This song has been in my head for 2 days straight now.


Math will be very very important, more important then design. You better remember all the additions and subtractions because you will need it to generate balance statements and calculate how much time and money you are spending versus how much money you are making. 

Nov 14, 19 7:21 pm
atelier nobody

benny has a good point - bookkeeping, accounts payable, and especially accounts receivable are skills you will definitely be needing.


is this referring to private practice or is this also applicable to working as an associate.

atelier nobody

I've had to do all of the above, as well as making the collection calls myself, as a PM in a large firm.


you need to add fractions in your head when talking to co-workers and project architects - I know people who can mentally add multiple dimensions at once

Nov 14, 19 7:49 pm

One word: Zoning

Nov 14, 19 8:09 pm

math is super important to count the zillions we make.

Nov 14, 19 8:51 pm
Non Sequitur

how many zillions in a baziilion? I keep forgetting and none of my 14 maids can remember.


New low.

Happy Anarchy

use it all the time:

- Structural Engineering

- Zoning (see above), if you're good Excel or Parametrics (ish) is a method

- Accounting (running a business)

- HVAC design

- Egress routes (simple)

- Proving that a 34" swing door is ADA (32" clear)

Nov 14, 19 10:46 pm
Non Sequitur

- Proving that a 34" swing door is ADA (32" clear)

That's not math... it's sorcery.

btw, accessible doors in my area are now default 38" (965mm)


the new A117 is going to suck


Fuck torturing yourself, just go 36" or 42". In some cases, 48"

Non Sequitur

48” standard? Don’t give them ideas.


A 34" Door is NOT ADA compliant. Only a 36" door is truly ADA conmpliant because the clear width is measured between the stop and the face of the door leaf.


N.S., lol... yeah. It's becoming more norm with this powered chairs and desired clear width for space for shopping bags on each side of the chair and lets not forget the increase in body mass of Americans given their diet of cow meat, grease fat, and extra cheese.


How many cow patties does it take to require 48" doors as standard? Isn't that a proverbial math question?

Non Sequitur

Use math all the time.  Been working on roof slopes and structural drawings all day which required a little trig.  I do a shit load of calculus (basic formulas) for energy modeling and code reqs... plus all the other basic things like scaling old drawings and whatnot.  What's more important is getting very comfortable with math because you'll need to eventually deal with occupancy counts, room areas, material take-offs, minimal clearances, material thickness, etc. 

btw, I failed most of my HS math class but I excelled once I used it for structure and other basic everyday real world situations.

Nov 14, 19 11:19 pm

Doing a lot of math today too. Feet, inches, square feet. Addition, subtraction. Minimum this and maximum that. Zoning code section Another dozen pages in zoning including the pages on how to measure existing building height and proposed fences on top of retaining walls. Invoicing. Counting pages in a drawing set, figure out why I have more sheets in the set than on the title sheet. Thanks, math. Figuring out how long it's going to take me to finish and when the next deadline can be set for. Looking at my bank account and mentally calculating how it looks a little on the light side for how much I've been working lately. 

Nov 15, 19 3:32 pm

Are you me?


Don't believe so.

Happy Anarchy

sorcery math deserves its own post. 34" ADA hinged door.

A 34" hinged door can be ADA compliant.  BulgarBlogger your response is a conditioned NYC Examiner response, in other words you're not thinking like an architect, you're thinking like a layman, or like 90% of the people I meet who try to state some FACT about a technical or code item with regard to architecture as if they knew something.

I was a young man once and wondered why the old architect's hemmed and hawed and rambled for hours to give an answer, but I'm old now, only Business Majors and fools think there are binary solutions to architecture problems.

Q1: Please point me to the table that states 2'-10" (34") are not ADA?

A1: Such a table does not exist, rather it clearly indicates in a figure a 2'-8" (32") clearance is required when door is open at 90 degrees.

Q2: What type of hinges?

A2: Soss and Tectus concealed type hinges do not shift the door as much into the clear width when the door is open 90 degrees, so we saved some space there.

Q3: How thick is the door?

A3: At 1 3/4" thick 34" hinged door even with a concealed hinge will most likely not provide a clearance of 32", even without a stop.   What if the door was only a 1/2" thick of glass? (of course that is a floor mounted pivot or not, and that will shift the door  into the clear space when 90 degrees open)....Anyway, if you're an architect, you would of asked this obvious question and drawn your way out of it.

Q4: How thick is the door jamb stop?  Do you even need a door jamb stop?

A4: The door jamb stop runs vertical up the interior side of the jam.  With concealed hinges you may not even need one.

In short, not only can a 34" door at 1 1/2" thick with concealed hinges and a 1/4" stop provide a 32" clear width, I've obtained approvals many times with an explanation as shown above with a 3"=1'-0" drawing so no one gets confused.

Math as an architect.  1+1 can be 3 if you can think.


Nov 16, 19 3:37 pm

I was going to say something about the thickness of the door and hinge selection, but this post works.

Happy Anarchy

everyday architect you are.

Image result for yoda


Indeed. However, while you can play to these minimums.... this is not forward thinking of what will happen when enough fat asses in powered wheelchairs made in the deluxe sizes for their fat asses decide to complain to their legislators and raise the clear width to 36" minimum clearance. Now the door opening needs to be a little wider. In any case, there is nothing wrong with going a little above the code requirement that is functional with the real equipment. Even wheelchairs are made these days that are too wide for the minimum clearance especially if you don't want them grinding their fingers against the door opening or getting them pinched between the wheels and the door and door stops or whatever. You want to have a fair clearance. Therefore, in practice, I prefer to spec ADA doors to being 42" wide at least. I know we can squeak by in less but that's minimums and even a little outdated.... as in the laws falling behind equipment used by those with mobility impairments or otherwise less prepared. While it might be technically ADA compliant, is that practices we should be doing....minimums might be legal but not adequate.

Non Sequitur

We’ve done the exact same dance numerous times (although on 36” doors) and it comes down to hinges and panic device but sometimes the AHJ just does not care. We just use 38” everywhere as a default. It’s easier than fighting over a few mm. I’m told to expect changes in 2020 to accommodate mobility scooters tho...


I agree with Rick-B-Astoria Balkins.  The basis is trig & calculus.  You know integrals you know HOW to do it, the more advanced stuff is just setting (really complicated (really integrated/interwoven)) equations

Nov 17, 19 11:48 am

also, vibrations deal with lateral and normal distortions based on harmonic modes

Nov 17, 19 11:54 am

i will throw in a vote for "math is useful" for those that draw document sets in 2d for surfaces that may move in two planes at once...usually for creating understandable dimensioning systems to be used by the GC

connecting the dots only gets you so far

Nov 18, 19 1:26 pm
atelier nobody

Agreed, but it doesn't involve calculus and only rarely trig, in my experience. If you remember basic arithmetic, the Pythagorean Theorem, and πr², you've got about 99% of all the math I've ever done in architecture.


If you know how to do it, that's fine. However, calculus is not something I would expect to be seen regularly and trig is somewhat rare. However, geometry, algebra (elementary algebra) and general math is what you will use most frequently. Most of the higher level math is stuff that as architects/designers, we tend to outsource to Professional Engineers. There are reasons for it and have been elaborated many times here and elsewhere online, in print, etc. If the word insurance comes to mind, then you are definitely on to a common factor. The other key operative words are 'liability exposure'. I think a little trigonometry maybe seen. Calculus could be seen in some really complex projects. To answer the question, in theory, the depth of math can be as deep as it gets. In practice, it is usually a lot less and not much more then the level of math that is used by competent builders... "construction math" which is basic math applied to construction with some common practices like fudging some of the numbers and padding the figures a little here and there that comes from experience like ordering a little extra lumber than absolutely needed. Ordering a little more cubic feet of concrete then is required. At the end of the day, its kind of an art of having the correct supply, minimal waste, but never being short on the supplies you need for a project. The math is still the same stuff you learned in 5th and 6th grade applied to different situations. That's the stuff you will normally use daily but there are potential situations where you need to use more advance math skills.


Calculus has been more useful to me for business management purposes than for architectural design.  If you understand marginal analysis you can use cost and revenue functions to look at your situation objectively and understand the likely outcome of various possible actions or changes.  If your university offers "business calculus" in its business school, consider that instead of a course geared toward engineers or math majors.

Nov 18, 19 2:42 pm

:-) Good point there.


I love this thread - question was correctly answered within 20 minutes.  Discussion, including 10 paragraphs from RB, continues for hours

Nov 20, 19 3:56 pm

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