Building 101: How to Work With a Contractor When You Have an Architect

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By Nick Kunkle
Read this before you embark on a project working alongside a contractor and an architect.

Here are the best practices when building a design with a contractor and an architect on board to ensure that the project remains on time and on budget while saving you stress.

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Church wanted a steel staircase inspired by a Jean Nouvel design. Her architect and contractor collaborated on an economical version that is used both inside and out.

Church wanted a steel staircase inspired by a Jean Nouvel design. Her architect and contractor collaborated on an economical version that is used both inside and out.

1. Timing Is Key

So, you have already started working with an architect to design your project. You have been developing the design for months—maybe years—or you might be just starting to envision what your project could be. At some point, you’ll need to bring in a contractor to understand how you're going to realize your vision. 

You will want to talk to your architect about when they think is the right time to start those conversations: some projects benefit from engaging contractors early; some projects benefit from more rounds of refinement and negotiation with governmental jurisdictions before talking to contractors. Your architect will understand the pros and cons of each approach.

2. Define Your Role and Leverage Your Architect

You should decide, and communicate, how involved in the building process you want to be. Your architect should be as big or as little of a buffer as you want from the many decisions that get made during the building process. An architect is your representative to the contractor, and you should empower them by reinforcing that hierarchy with the contractor. The last thing you want is a contractor that thinks they can disregard your architect and go straight to you for decisions. Besides being unprofessional, it will inevitably lead to wasted time, oversights, and a disenfranchised architect.

3. Set Clear Expectations

The most important thing you can do when working with a contractor and architect is communicate clearly your expectations for the project. Any ambiguity in quality, project scope, timeline, or budget will lead to undesirable results. These topics should be an ongoing conversation throughout the project, and everybody involved should be on the same page.

4. Remember That Building Is Personal

Undertaking any building project can be stressful and overwhelming on its own—adding personalities that clash takes it to a whole new level. The relationship between the team members should be that of mutual respect. Do your best to read the initial interactions between the team members, and put a premium on good rapport. The most effective project teams listen to what each other have to say and provide input that move the conversations forward. Be wary of contractors that do things "their way"and architects that are never willing to compromise. Also, don’t be afraid to bring this up with your architect and make it a priority. If they minimize its importance, it could be a telling sign.

To read about how to work with just a contractor (and no architect), click here.