Working with an Architect; Go Have an Adventure

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So, you have a project in mind.  Maybe it’s an interior renovation to a room; perhaps it’s a complete gut inside the house. Quite possibly, you feel a new home is your best option, or at least added space to your existing home is necessary. You know you need to DO something because your life no longer functions in the house the way you want to live. What’s next?

For some, they consult a builder first.  Although this may seem appropriate, builders are not designers, and they can seldom give you a cost estimate until you have something on paper to scale with at least an idea of what you envision.  Builders are talented, don’t get me wrong, but my husband, a civil engineer, has a great phrase, you need to know when to “stay in your lane.”  For that reason, the builder comes second, not first.  They build, they install, bring visions into focus.  They can offer up general budget numbers at the beginning of any project. Still, any builder worth their weight will tell you they need the final plans before they can provide you with a real proposal for building your dream. 

The Process

Now what? – speak to an architect.  An architect will meet with you, talk through your ideas, walk through your existing space.  The first meeting may be very engaging with ideas flowing, options, and opinions.  Learning how to work with an architect is as important as you, your program, and your needs. 

Meet & Greet

There are a couple of stages of working with an architect.  The first, of course, is the meeting, which will help you narrow down your selection.  For guidance, see our other module, “How To Select the Right Architect for your Project.” The architect should then generate a proposal that outlines what they will and will not be doing for you and your project and how much it will cost.  The fees will range depending on what you ask the architect to give you as a final product.  Some architects do not offer different levels of service like ours does.  Some architects will only give you a minimal amount of information needed for you to obtain permits.  Whichever level of service you are looking for, it should be clearly defined in the architect’s proposal. 

Pre-Programming (Another way to say – information gathering)

From here, the project typically moves into the information gathering process.  There are building codes, zoning codes, and measurements to be gathered and crossed checked.  Can you build on your property where you want the addition?  Can you create a new home as big as you want?  These are questions on the east coast that need to be reviewed and answered before the design process starts.  Zoning in each town differs and does NOT allow you to build just anything, anywhere.  This is the architect’s starting point, to follow up on the local rules and cross them with your wish list. The architect then will place all the measurements of your existing project into the computer.  In the not too distant past, cave dwellers painted on walls, and architects drew by hand on paper.  Today, although the creative sketches may be by hand, your technical drawings should be done in a computer and done in 3D. 

Design (Schematic)

After we know you can build what you want without having any hurdles to overcome with the town or county, the design process starts.  The architect will come up with ideas.  How the architect will present those ideas to you will depend on your architect, but you will review and tweak these ideas.  Hopefully, you will be excited and delighted with your options.  If you are not, maybe you need to rethink the project or the team.

Design (Developed)

From this point, some architects will either revise their original design or dive deeper into the initial design.  It’s a process, like a layer cake.  Each layer builds on the previous one until you’re ready for the icing. New questions may be asked to you during the design, requiring your active participation in the process. It would help if you, too, were asking questions along the way.  You wanted a pantry to dirty up and close the door?  Where is it, how many steps from the kitchen?  You wanted natural light to flood the great room?  How big are the windows, how far off the floor do they start?  Ask!  It’s your home, your space, your life.  Get the information you think you need to understand the design. 

Construction Documentation

The next phase will be the technical phase of the project.  Here, the architect will generate all of the 3D drawings needed to show you your space and understand what it might feel like when it is completed.  You want to understand the designed space; because making changes during construction will not only add to your budget, but it will most likely add to the building time.  From here, once you are happy and understand what your space will look like when it is built, the architect will do the final drawings needed for construction.  These drawings will be used for obtaining contracting prices, permits, and construction.  They are detailed drawings of the plans, elevations, sections, framing, electrical layout, and more.  You may be very involved with additional questions from the architect at this time because the architect may want to review where the switches to the lights go or exactly how many steps you like in order to get from one floor to another.  There will be choices for kitchens, faucets to pick, and fireplaces to review. 

Not all architects will provide detailed information like we just mentioned on their plans, which is why you need to understand what they are giving you.  All of this information is absolutely necessary, so if you don’t do it with the architect, you will do it with the builder. There is no way around making these decisions, and trust us when we say it is exhausting! Burn-out happens, but wouldn’t you rather it happen during the design phase, when there isn’t as much pressure about time?  During construction, you want to keep the project moving. When you want your home back to yourselves, or when you need to leave the rental you’re living in because your home is under construction, the timeline is critical and condensed.  There is less pressure before construction starts to make decisions, but make the decisions; otherwise, you’ll never understand the final budget and costs associated with your choices. 

Construction Administration

Time to build!  Here the architect can wear several to no hats.  After the drawings are completed, the architect can review the bids and make sense of the soup you were given from the builders.  Here is an apple, here is an orange, here is your choice, here is the project cost.  Some homeowners prefer to do this step on their own; go for it! But know what you are getting and ask questions and for clarifications.  When the construction begins, an architect will be around to check on the progress.  Depending on what services you hired them to perform, they will, at a minimum, come to see the framing and answer questions from the builders along the way.  Most problems come up during the framing, but there can be questions about finish details, built-ins, lighting design.  At the end of the project, the architect should be walking through one last time to check on the final product.

It’s a wrap! (The Icing on the Cake)

Time to move in!  We have maintained many clients as friends over the years.  The process from start to finish for our average project is well over a year.  The architect’s timeline is 4-6months on average; then comes the building.  Working with both the architect and builder requires you to have an above-average personality fit.  You will be making decisions, relying on their professional opinions and experiences to guide you along the way.  You will share intimate details about your life and how you live with the architect so they can design a space that touches all of your wish list and more!  When you open the door and step foot into the finished space, it should be seamless and feel like it was always there.  You’re ready! – to cook, to sleep, to not trip over stuff.  You’re ready to gaze out the kitchen window toward the beautiful yard, landscape, ocean.  You’re ready to close off the noise in your new office, to crank up the volume at the dinner party you’ve been dreaming about hosting.  Whatever your need, your dream, the right architect can pull it all together.  Go have an adventure!