I read somewhere that only 9% of people will ever use the services of an architect in their lifetime. Surely more people than this do some sort of building or remodeling, but apparently many of them don’t see any added value in using an architect for their project. I’m sure for many it feels intimidating too – I know I feel that way when I need to consult with an attorney, or financial advisor.
I’d like to try to make a case for why working with an architect makes a lot of sense, and in almost all cases will lead to a better project. And it may sound counter-intuitive, but I think using an architect can often save a homeowner money in the end.
There are high-end architects that only do multi-million dollar projects, and aren’t interested in working with you unless you buy into their design vision. But most architects genuinely want to help homeowners with THEIR vision for the project and want to become part of a collaborative team to make that happen. On most projects my first design meeting is a ‘charrette’, where I sit down with the homeowners, with the existing plans, some quick initial sketches, and a roll of tracing paper, to generate, all together, ideas for different schemes that might solve their design problem. The outcome of that meeting is a clear design direction that is then developed further.
Things an architect brings to a project:
- Fresh eyes
Usually clients come to me with very general ideas about what they’re looking for; but sometimes they have very specific ideas, and even bring floor plan and elevation sketches to show me what they want. I think it’s best to start a project with an open mind, and to consider different options for how to achieve your project goals.
- Design experience
Remember that an architect (depending on the architect) has been designing projects for many years, and has probably worked on a project similar to your’s in the past. Architects tend to understand spaces well, and have a good sense of, for example, when a layout is too tight, or too gracious, or awkward. Architects think on many levels while designing, e.g. about functionality, aesthetics, budget and constructability at the same time.
- Knowledge of how to navigate the permitting process, understand codes etc.
Working with the local jurisdiction to obtain a permit for your project can be an incredibly confusing, and time-intensive experience. An architect has done this many times before, understands the process, and knows how to get you a permit in an efficient manner.
- Help in finding and choosing a contractor
An architect can help you choose a contractor for your project. If you don’t already have one he or she can recommend some. Then they can help you choose one, and help you negotiate a contract.
- Help to make the construction process smooth and less stressful
Often the thing potential clients are most anxious about, anticipating a new project, is the construction process – fear of change-orders, ballooning costs, construction delays etc. An architect can help you alleviate these concerns, by developing construction documents that leave little to the imagination, help you find a construction contract that works best for you, and work with the contractor to answer questions and provide clarifications that come up during construction.
- Green design
An architect can help you incorporate ideas into your project to save energy, make the home healthier and more comfortable, and be easier on the environment.
- Aesthetic value
In addition to helping you solve the functional requirements of your project, an architect can help you create beautiful spaces. I believe this is one of the biggest value-added aspects of using an architect, and can make the experience of your completed project more enjoyable, more uplifting, and will increase your sense of well-being.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but often using an architect can save a homeowner money in the end. We do this for a living, and keep up with trends, new technologies etc. We can advise on such things as bathroom finishes that will be less maintenance over time, find efficient solutions that kill 2 birds with 1 stone, develop design features that won’t look passé in 5 years (and need to be remodeled again), specify products that are more energy-efficient, and materials and assemblies that make the house more durable in the long-term. And sometimes we’ll (diplomatically) counsel against truly bad ideas (e.g. I once toured a house that had a urinal built into the master shower).
Of course some architects are better than others, and not everyone will share your vision or values. And not all will be the best choice for your project. As with contractors it’s a good idea to talk with 2 or more, to find one that is excited about your project, and that you feel is a good fit for you.