For several years I have conducted educational programs for the American Institute of Architects to inform the public about what architects really do and how we do it. Talking with people who are planning to build a new house or renovate a home has allowed me to share insights and perspectives based on years of architectural practice. Here are a few of the questions we have discussed. You may find my answers helpful, especially if you are thinking about working with an architect.
Why do we need an architect if we already know what we want to do?
Your initial idea is only the first step in a long design and construction process. An architect does more than sketch a pretty picture of a building and rough out a space plan. An architect can identify and review with you all the issues that will affect the design and construction of your project, from site constraints and code requirements to a wide variety of technical concerns. This intervention will save you time and money in the long run.
Then, once your design is fully developed and detailed to your liking, accurate drawings and documentation will make construction details clear to your general contractor. This too will avoid costly mistakes. An imaginative architect moreover, can embellish on your ideas, making the results even better than you imagined.
How do we find the right architect for our project?
I recommend the three R’s – Research, Referrals and References. Start with research and referrals. Identify projects that you like and find out who designed them. There are a number of architecture firm directories on the Internet organized by location. The Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has a good one (www.aiachicago.org). Your library will also have information on different firms. Your yellow pages will let you know who is in your area. Get referrals from your local building department and from general contractors, as well as from other homeowners who have worked with architects.
After all the homework is done, narrow down your choices and interview the strongest candidates. Ask lots of questions. Check out references. Good “chemistry” is also very important, as you will be working closely with your architect for, generally, quite a while.