Although you don’t need to be a theoretical mathematician to be an architect, you need to understand practical applied mathematics and how it relates to structures that stay up and don’t fall.
Math Subjects in High School
The math courses available to you in High School depends on your school and your State. All states require some math for graduation, but the rules vary.
The Math course available are:
- Algebra I & II
- Integrated Mathematics I, II & II
- Precalculus and Calculus.
- Probability and Statistics.
What math for architecture?
The answer depends on your aptitude and pleasure in studying mathematics.
If math is easy for you, take as many subjects as you can handle and fit into your studies. Math opens doors to a choice of degree subjects and is an excellent foundation for high-level problem-solving skills.
If math is not your jam, check your preferred college or university entrance requirements and do the minimum necessary to meet the criteria. (You will also need these other subjects to study architecture.)
Work hard in getting the best grades you can in the math you take but don’t overload yourself with extra math when you can get better grades with other useful subjects.
Integrated mathematics teaches a bit of every branch of mathematics.
On the one hand, this gives you a rounded mathematical knowledge, but on the other hand, it means you may face struggling with your weakest subjects.
You may be brilliant at geometry (most useful for an architect) but out of tune with statistics.
Integrated mathematics will give you enough mathematics to move into studying architecture, so if it is the only option, don’t worry; it will do.
Types of Math in Architecture
Various math types are hidden in architectural practice, from the Golden Ratio for producing aesthetically pleasing structures to scale calculations on blueprints.
Why Do You Need Math as an Architect?
Math is useful in an architect’s life because it allows you to calculate costs and work out design parameters.
Examples of how an architect uses math include:
- Converting units -you will do this all the time – imperial and metric measurements, standard building supplies, and anything else you come across in your design.
- Scale – you draw and build models to scale, so you need to understand it and interpret it for the client and contractor.
- Ratios – buildings are proportionate, and that means you need to understand ratios. Ratios comparing dimensions are everywhere in your design.
- Calculating the build cost – bill of quantities, how much, and what price.
- Create complex and functional forms – parametric design and modeling in 3D drafting software allows you to push the boundaries with mathematical principles.
- Business accounting – you need to balance your books and make a profit. Math for business involves arithmetic, percentages, and ratios.
It is unlikely that you need calculus in your day to day life as an architect, but the logical problem solving from learning calculus is an invaluable skill for any architect.
Calculus is the study of change or movement, and it is the basis of many complex designs like the Eiffel Tower that uses calculus to create a wind-resistant structure.
Practical architectural applications for calculus are:
- Calculating heat loss through a building.
- Quantity of materials necessary for a project.
- Support systems.
- Behavior of buildings in high winds.
In practice, computer programs using calculus will help you in your architectural design and calculations, but a knowledge of calculus allows you to understand why the building works.
A structural architect may use calculus more than a landscape architect, but the study of calculus benefits both.
Geometry is one of the oldest philosophical mathematics branches and covers size, shape, position, angle, and dimension in 2D and 3D.
The first written book of geometry dates to 300BCE – Euclid of Alexandria (source).
But the principles of geometry are ancient, as you can see from the circular formation of prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge and the ancient pyramids with their 51-degree angles.
Geometry is essential to architecture, and if you don’t study it at High School (beyond the basics), you will need to catch up at University.
Algebra is a mathematical problem-solving method when you have incomplete information.
In architecture, basic algebra lets the architect calculate dimensions and weights. Algebra is crucial because architectural design is about large, massive 3D structures.
Algebra combines with calculus in working out the impact of wind, earthquake, and the result of people using a structure.
Trigonometry is about triangles and angles. These are important to architects in:
- Calculating the height of a building.
- Understanding forces and loads.
- Designing trusses that bear the necessary load.
Like calculus, most of the necessary trigonometry is part of CAD and 3D rendering software. However, it still helps a potential architect to understand how trigonometry works to design a spectacular but safe building.
5. Probability and Statistics
Architects design useable buildings.
The useability of a building involves statistics – how many people need to use that corridor or the lift at any one time or what most people want from residential property.
Statistical information provides the answers and is part of the design process.
Probability is part of risk assessment – what is the likelihood of a flood in this area or the probability of an earthquake occurring in this building.
Probability and statistics add useful information to the design brief and shape an architect’s thinking towards meeting end-user needs.
Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are all basic arithmetic that is useful for everyone.
As an architect, you will use a lot of arithmetic (with a calculator or an excel sheet) to cover everything:
- Calculating dimensions and ratios.
- Costing projects.
- Setting budgets.
- Business administration.
7. Basic Physics – for Extra Math Practice
Physics is a science with a lot of mathematics.
Newtonian physics covers most architectural needs as it involves all the useful mechanical properties:
- Impact of wind.
- Impact of water.
- Center of mass.
- Stress and strain.
- Compressive and tensile forces.
- Movement of heat.
The mathematical calculations involved in understanding Newtonian physics underlies most architectural designs.
Math and Architecture
For early humans, math and architecture are the same things; you could not be an architect without solving math problems.
The human body was the first measuring tool (a cubit is the length of a forearm) and these measurements applied to buildings and ships.
Math developed as a problem-solving tool and applied to building a stone arch or working out how to build a skyscraper.
Modern architects have the advantage of calculators and computer programs to take care of the calculations, but understanding why those calculations are necessary is the point of studying High School math.
When you are thinking about what math for architecture, pick as much math as you are comfortable studying; learning to think mathematically and logically is the foundation stone of becoming an expert problem-solving architect.