In most residential construction, the use of an architect’s services is optional. So why use an architect for your project? A welltrained architect is a specialist in tailoring a design to individual, particular needs and tuning it to fit a particular location. An architect is very concerned with aesthetic issues. He/she manipulates proportions, alignments, masses, voids, and materials to create pleasing results. He/she specifies the use of materials, finishes and fixtures best suited to achieve the client’s goals. People wonder if an architect’s involvement in a project will drive up the cost. Architectural design fees pay for extensive forethought about a project before the hammers swing or concrete is poured. By thinking through and drawing the design in detail, an architect can identify potential trouble spots where special attention may be required, thus minimizing surprises and controlling costs. A well-considered, well-executed design adds value to your home. An architect juggles many factors when solving a design problem. While sharing the contractor’s concerns with getting the project built and meeting the budget and schedule, an architect integrates a broad range of additional concerns including:
- providing spaces for a client’s unique needs and requirements
- how the project expresses the client’s feelings, values, and priorities
- how the project relates to its site
- how the project fits into its neighborhood
- how the project fits into its historical context
- how the details enhance the overall effect
- how the project is structured
- long- and short-term economic benefits of design strategies and material, finish, and fixture selections
- jurisdictional limitations
- energy and environmental responsibility
- planning ahead for optional future changes
- in remodels or additions, how new work will fit with or contrast with existing construction
Ideally, an architect designs with all of these things in mind, creating a few alternative schemes for the client to consider. These may solve the problem in satisfying ways that the client has not even considered. When a favorite scheme is in hand, the architect develops the design into a detailed set of working documents which can be used for estimates, bids, permits and construction. During this process, there is time for client feedback, which helps refine and hone the specifics of the design. In the construction phase, the architect observes and reviews the work in progress for conformance with the design intent and the contract documents. During this phase, his/ her role is to protect. An architect’s broad range of concerns, knowledge, skills and experience can smooth the way through.
Q: What can an architect do for me that a contractor can’t do?
A large part of an architect’s role is to help you visualize potential solutions. This may be achieved through the use of building models, three-dimensional drawings, perspective views, and computer-generated images in addition to traditional floor plans, sections and elevations. A clear and vivid representation helps you understand what a design solution will look like and feel like, so you can judge it in an informed way. A contractor may lean toward construction methods and product suppliers with which he/she has had past success. This may narrow the field of possibilities for your project. Most architects approach a project with an open mind toward a broad range of methods, materials and components. Creative and apt solutions can come out of this freedom. An architect is knowledgeable about tailoring your design to comply with zoning laws, neighborhood covenants, building codes, and the like. He/she can help guide your project through the construction permitting process. An architect can recommend contractors who might be well-suited for your project.
Q: Can I get a permit for construction on my home without an architect?
In many jurisdictions, a singlefamily home owner may obtain his/her own building permit. However, many homeowners find that between drafting the required documents and providing the necessary copious technical information, the task is quite daunting, and they seek professional assistance. The permit process varies considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is best to contact your local building department for information.
Q: Where can I find an architect?
Four methods come to mind. First is word of mouth—someone you know has experienced a successful project with an architect. This may be another homeowner or your builder. Second, there is a project you have seen in person or in the media which you like very much. Third, the architects’ professional organization, the AlA (American Institute of Architects) offers listings and materials to acquaint the public with their members. Fourth, architects are listed in the phone book. In all cases, it is wise to check references.
Q: How much do an architect’s services cost?
There is no quick answer to this frequently asked question. The fee is usually structured in one of three ways: as a reflection of the number of hours needed to do the work; as a percentage of the construction cost; or as a fixed fee (stipulated sum). Sometimes an architect will propose to bill the open-ended portions of the work on an hourly basis and the more finite portions as a fixed fee. The hourly rate and percentage of construction cost vary according to the architect, the state of the economy, and the part of the country. For an answer specific to your project, meet with an architect who will determine the scope of your project and will provide you with a proposal.
Q: What if I don’t like the designs my architect comes up with?
Upon occasion, a client may be dissatisfied by the architect’s work or approach. Keep in mind that the creation of a design is a complex process; an architect may not “hit the nail on the head” immediately. However, if you feel you are not being served adequately or appropriately, it is best to discuss your concerns directly. Most contracts have a provision for termination of services. Generally, either party may terminate the relationship at any time with a week’s notice. Of course, the client is required to pay for services rendered up to the notice of termination.
Q: What does “licensed architect” mean?
It means the practitioner has earned a state-issued license to practice by obtaining a professional degree, completing an internship in the office of a licensed architect, and passing a rigorous examination. (It is possible to substitute a substantially extended internship for the professional degree.) By having earned this license, the architect is expected to uphold the prevailing professional standard of practice. He/she is expected to support public health, safety and welfare, and to practice the profession ethically. It is illegal for anyone without a valid license to represent him or herself as an architect.
Q: What is meant by the letters “AlA” after an architect’s name?
The letters refer to membership in the American Institute of Architects, which is a professional organization. Membership is optional—not required for the practice of architecture. The AlA is open to interns (unlicensed), as well as licensed firms and individual practitioners. The AlA serves its membership by providing a forum for education, information, recognition, advocacy and advice. Many local chapters serve the public with educational programs and information about the qualifications of their members. The standard contracts developed by the AIA are widely used and generally accepted by architects and contractors. They are available for the use of members and non-members alike.
Q: Does it make a difference if an architect uses computer-aided drafting?
The computer and the pencil are simply different means toward the same end: a design and/or a set of construction documents. The computer is particularly useful for large and complex projects. For home remodels, which are usually full of unique, non-repeated conditions, hand drafting is less cumbersome than computer drafting. The quality of the final product, that is, the built object, depends on the architect’s talent, experience and care, not the tool used to produce drawings.
Q: Is any project too small or too insignificant to use an architect?
Even a smaller project such as a deck, an entry, or a bathroom can benefit from the forethought an architect can provide, especially if the project is encumbered with several conflicting constraints. There are clear benefits to solving a construction puzzle on paper prior to buying materials, busting out walls, etc. This is the architect’s expertise.
© 2001 Laura Kraft – All Rights Reserved. www.lkarchitect.com