Working with an Architect
Step One: Initial Consultation
Meeting with an Architect can be an exciting time because you have high expectations for your new home, addition, or renovation. Use this time to express all your hopes and desires for your home. This is when you will discuss the requirements: how many rooms, what size, who will use it and how. While this is the time to dream, it is also a time to be realistic and explore with the Architect what you want, what you need, and what you can spend.
Be prepared for the Architect to ask you many questions to get a better sense of your goals and needs. This will help determine if your expectations match your budget. The Architect may suggest alternate ideas based upon knowledge, experience, and your budget. Be prepared to explore new and creative ideas, but be very frank about how you want the end product to feel and function.
Based upon thoroughly discussing your functional requirements at the initial consultation, the Architect will prepare a proposal outlining the scope of your project. Many times before presenting the proposal to you, the Architect will complete a preliminary site and zoning review. This is done to identify any limits that are imposed on your property by your neighborhood or the government, such as how close to your property line you can go or how tall your home can be. Don’t be surprised if your Architect asks you for a copy of your Plat of Survey (a document typically provided when you buy your home.) Because this preliminary site review may have an effect on what you can build, the Architect will want to verify that these site restrictions will not conflict with your functional requirements before beginning your design drawings.
If possible the Architect will also prepare a construction cost estimate to help you understand if your project falls within your budget. If the construction estimates exceed your expectations, sit down with the Architect again to look for ways to bring down the costs.
Step Two: Rough Sketches (Schematic Design)
With an understanding of your needs and any site restrictions, the Architect will then do a series of rough sketches, known as schematic designs. These sketches will illustrate the general arrangement of rooms and of the house on the site. These sketches are not "finished" construction documents; instead they are meant to show possible approaches for you to consider. The Architect will refine and revise the sketches throughout the design stage until a solution is developed that meets your needs. When reviewing these drawings, ask yourself: Do I like the traffic flow through and between the rooms? Does each space serve the intended purpose? Do I have a good sense of what it will look like? Do I like how it looks?
If you have a hard time understanding the drawings or if you have any questions about the design, ask your Architect to explain the drawings. It is important that you and your Architect are on the same page about what you want and what is being designed. Changes are much easier when the project is on paper then later when construction has commenced.
Step Three: Refining the Design (Design Development)
This step, called design development, is when the architect elaborates on the schematic design to more clearly illustrate the finer details of the project, such as finishes, mechanical, lighting, electrical, and structural systems.
When reviewing these drawings, again ask yourself: Do I agree with the selection of wall and ceiling finishes, door types, windows, etc.? Would I prefer heating and cooling registers in the floor or ceiling? Do I like the location and type of light fixtures? Will I have any unusual electrical needs? Before proceeding to the next phase, the architect will ask for your approval of the design.
Step Four: Preparing Construction Documents
When the design is finalized, the Architect prepares working drawings. These are the drawings that will be submitted for permit approval and to build the project. During this phase the Architect will have questions for you about final design items and it is usually recommended that you start visiting manufacturers and suppliers to select materials. You should also start asking friends, relatives, neighbors and your Architect for builder recommendations. You can ask your Architect to make recommendations based upon relationships they have established with contractors from previous projects. You can ask around to friends and family to see if they have worked with reputable builders.
Step Five: Hiring the Contractor (Bidding Phase)
When the construction documents are finished, you are ready to hire the builder. By now you should have interviewed a list of recommended builders, walked through a current project and talked with their references. Ask at least your top three prospects to submit bids on the job. These prospective builders will need the bidding documents, which the architect can help you prepare. The bidding documents consist of drawings and specifications as well as aninvitation to bid and instruction to bidders.
The bidding documents will outline the period of time you will give them to reply with their proposed price to build your project. The architect can help you review bids and make sure they are complete. It is important to study the comprehensiveness of all the bids to verify they are equivalent so that choosing a builder from your list of highly recommended builders should simply be a matter of weighing the pros and cons of each.
Step Six: Construction
The final step is often the most anxiety-producing part of the whole process, when the two-dimensional drawings move to a physical reality. To ease this transition or depending on your personal needs or desires, you may want the Architect more actively engaged, acting as your agent, into the construction phase.
In addition to their standard services, Architects also provide Construction Administration services. These services may include guidance on selecting a builder, making site visits, reviewing and approving contractor’s payments, and keeping you updated on construction progress. This orchestration of services can keep the project on track, on time, and on budget.
With literally hundreds of decisions to make, many of which have a strong impact on how the project looks and functions over time, the path to a completed building project may seem paved with incalculable challenges and uncertainty. The Architect can ease the way by helping you avoid wrong turns and showing you solutions you would have never considered. The Architect should guide your every step along the path from start to finish. The result will be a unique building project created to meet your needs, express your individuality, and provide enjoyment for everyone who uses it.