Hiring a Residential Architect
Architecture isn't only for museums, corporations, and the very wealthy. Whether you are remodeling your kitchen or creating your dream home, working with an architect can save time and money while making your new environment more functional, comfortable, and sustainable. The result is a project that is beautiful, original, distinctive, and personal to you.
GOOD DESIGN MAKES A DIFFERENCE
If you've never worked with an architect before, you likely have questions.
Does your project really require an architect? What is it like to work with an AIA architect, and how do you get the most out of the experience?
To become an Architect, one must have graduated from an accredited Architecture program, completed a number of years of work experience and passed a series of rigorous exams. Members of the American Institute of Architects adhere to the AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, assuring you of their dedication to the high standards of professional practice. AIA architects also fulfill annual continuing education requirements to maintain their professional standing and to stay current in the profession.
DESIGN | LIFESTYLE | LOCATION
Consider what you want both aesthetically and functionally from your project. What is the time frame? What are the indoor and outdoor space requirements?
Your architect will consider aspects of your lifestyle, like your desire for privacy, plans for family, entertaining needs and interest in gardening. In addition to your immediate requirements, discuss your thoughts or expectations concerning future uses of your home. While concrete answers may be elusive, including them in discussion can enlighten your architect's design.
If you've chosen or are considering specific sites, begin to match your list of needs to what the actual properties offer. Your architect can identify unusual or troublesome site conditions such as soil irregularities, drainage difficulties, or problematic slopes. You and your architect will also make site decisions involving orientation and design.
Architects coordinate teams of design, engineering and construction professionals; they sort through the maze of building codes and zoning requirements; they ensure your project is built the way it was intended.
Whether it is a renovation or building from the ground up the first call to make should be to an architect.
Architects provide important pre-design services including site evaluation, and can help you explore options you may not have considered. Involving an architect early in the process can help avoid costly missteps, and increase the likelihood of your satisfaction with the project.
Categories of service that architects provide are listed below:
- Evaluation & Planning Pre Design - Determine your goals and priorities, the constraints and opportunities of your site and the feasibility of your timeline and budget.
- Schematic Design - Establish the conceptual design, scale and relationship among spaces.
- Design Development - Refine the design and prepare plans, elevations, building sections and typical details.
- Contract Documents: Prepare detailed working drawings and specifications for construction.
- Bidding or Negotiation: Solicit bids from contractors and negotiate the contract for construction.
- Construction Administration: Observe construction to assure the project is built according to the drawings and specifications.
It is critical to find an architect who makes you feel comfortable and with whom you have open communication. It's also important to find an architect with experience in your project type.
To get the most out of working with an AIA architect, it’s important to communicate honestly about your needs, preferences, budget and expectations. Realistic pre-planning and open communication will help your architect create the most appropriate design solutions for your project. Being receptive to your architect’s ideas and making decisions in a timely fashion with help keep your project on track.
It is also important for you to raise any concerns you have as the project proceeds, so they can be addressed at the earliest stage possible. Working in partnership with your architect will help ensure the best possible outcome for your project.
Your architect will depend on you to communicate about your design preferences, functional requirements, and budget. Your timely response to questions and design submissions will help keep the project on track. It is also important for you to raise any concerns you have as the project proceeds, so they can be addressed in the earliest stages. Working in partnership with your architect, you will help ensure the best possible outcome for your project.
Talk to individuals who have developed similar projects and ask who they interviewed. If there are projects that you have admired—whether similar to your own or not—find out who designed them. An interview addresses one issue that cannot be covered in brochures: the chemistry between you and the architecture firm. You should interview a enough firms so that the range of possibilities is clear, but not so many that an already tough decision will be further complicated.
Factors such as experience, technical competence, and available staff resources will be important to your decision. Thus, if you are approaching more than one firm, make sure that you can provide all the information required to ensure that the proposals you get offer the same scope of services so that you can evaluate them on a consistent basis.
Ask past clients of the architect to assess the performance of both the firm and the resulting architecture. Personal confidence in the architect is paramount. Seek also an appropriate balance among design ability, technical competence, professional service, and cost.
While it's true that architects' fees are an additional project cost for residential projects, hiring an architect can actually save you money in many ways.
Architects can monitor your budget and negotiate to get the best materials and workmanship at a good price. An architect's design can reduce energy and maintenance costs. They can turn a difficult lot into a successful building site. And they spend time planning and fully developing your ideas to avoid changes once construction is underway.
An architect's compensation can be based on time, a stipulated sum, a percentage of the cost of the work, the project's square footage, unit cost (based on number of rooms/apartments, etc.), or royalty in which compensation is a share of the profit derived from the project. Time-based compensation and stipulated sums are most common.
The owner typically hires the contractor but your architect will help to negotiate and compare bids from multiple contractors to ensure that you are getting the best contractor for your project.
Once the contract documents are complete, you want the project to be built as designed, and your architect is well positioned to administer the contract between you and the contractor. This requires considerable experience, time, and effort, but contract administration services represent the spending of a penny to save a dollar and are highly recommended.
Such services include
- Evaluating work for compliance with drawings and specifications
- Approving shop drawings, materials, and product samples
- Reviewing the results of material tests and inspections
- Approving the contractor’s requests for payment
- Handling requests for design changes during construction
- Administering the completion, start-up, and close-out process of your project
MAINTAINING A RELATIONSHIP
Just prior to occupancy, your architect can inspect the building to determine that it is complete and ready for use, and that the contractor is entitled to final payment.
Your architect's involvement with the project does not end there. As a design professional, your architect has a continuing interest in knowing that the design works. You may want to retain the same firm to provide design alterations and modifications in the future. You now have a working relationship with your architect, and no one knows your building better.
For a list of local architects who specialize in your project type, visit the AIA's Architect Finder.