How to Work With an Architect

Use this as a guide to finding the right architect for your new home or renovation—and what to expect during the process.
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Deciding to build or remodel a home can be a nerve-wracking experience. Hiring a licensed architect can make the process run a whole lot smoother. Architects are highly skilled, professionally-trained individuals whose job it is to guide you through the design, planning, and construction process. It’s also important to note that some jurisdictions require a licensed architect in order to obtain building permits. So, be sure to check with your local permitting office to determine whether or not this is the case for you.

Continue reading to learn exactly what to expect when you hire a professional, and the main tips you need to know before diving in.

What to Think About Before Hiring an Architect 

Before interviewing architects, create a list of project goals. Focus on what you want to achieve, noting down all your requirements and highlighting any problems that need solving. Think in terms of how you would like to use the space in the future. Don’t worry about solution—that’s what the architect is for. You should also try to establish your overall budget. This will help you discuss costs upfront with the architect and avoid any possible disappointments at a later stage. 

Looking for the Right Architect

Now, you’re ready to interview architects. Most of them offer initial consultations for a small fee, so meeting with a few is a good idea. During the initial consultation, you should discuss project goals, your budget, and learn about each architect’s individual process.

Look for someone who has experience with your type of project and shares your values. This is a relationship that you’ll have for some time, so make sure it feels like a good fit. It's also a good idea to check references. 

Hiring Your Chosen Architect 

Once you’ve made your decision, the first thing to do is tell your chosen architect and notify any others that you interviewed. You and your architect should agree on the scope and cost of architectural services before any work begins (architects may charge a fixed fee, dollar amount per square foot, percentage of construction cost, or hourly fee). It's important that this agreement is in writing and sets out the services to be provided while outlining the obligations of each party. 

Beginning the Project 

The first thing your architect will do is ask questions, listen, and understand what you're trying to achieve. They'll work with you to cement your goals. A good architect will develop efficient solutions and propose ways to reduce costs while coming up with a design that satisfies most, if not all, of the project goals.

Sou Fujimoto works in a former factory in Tokyo. Since many of his ideas start out as 3-D concepts, hand-built models are one of the fastest ways for him to visualize and modify his ideas.

Phases of the Project 

Projects will typically be separated into different phases. The number of phases depends on the size and complexity of the project. Here, we’ll look at some key phases, keeping in mind that your project may be structured a bit differently. 

1. Schematic Design Phase 

During this phase, the architect reviews the project goals with the homeowner, then creates one or more design options, which may be sketched by hand or using a CAD (computer-aided design) program. The homeowner and architect will meet in person (if possible) to review the design sketches and make design decisions. The homeowner’s honest feedback (what they like, what they dislike) is key. This process continues back and forth until the homeowner is satisfied with the design and is ready to move on to the next phase.

These drawings will then be sent out to potential general contractors (CGs) to obtain preliminary cost estimates. The homeowner, sometimes along with the architect, will then interview potential GCs. The homeowner will select a GC based on an acceptable cost estimate and whether they feel that they're a good fit for the project. Again, it’s very important that the homeowner checks references to be sure that the GC they choose has proven to be of the utmost quality. 

Throughout the pre-construction and construction process, the architect, GC, and homeowner will work together as a team. So, it’s pertinent that everyone communicates with each other and works well together in order to achieve a successful project. 

Shown here is an example of a hand-sketched conceptual design.

2. Construction Documents Phase 

Schematic design drawings will be further developed into drawings that will be used to submit for both permitting and construction. Structural drawings (created by a licensed structural engineer) may also be needed. The architect will help coordinate this effort. Once applicable permits are received, construction can begin. The GC (not the architect) sets the construction schedule.

Here, an architect and client get into the nitty gritty. 

3. Construction Administration Phase 

During construction, the architect will make periodic job site visits to observe the quality and intent of construction. The architect also acts as the homeowner’s representative to ensure that the project is being built per the architect’s specifications. Throughout construction, the architect should be available to answer any questions that the GC has, and to provide the GC with information and details as needed.

In this project, the architects worked closely with the general contractor MW Construction to refine the details on site, often sketching on pieces of leftover sheetrock.

Final Thoughts to Consider

There are a lot of qualified architects out there, but finding the right one for your project is key. Look for someone who listens and communicates well, someone who shares your project’s vision, and who is trustworthy. An architect can bring so much creativity to a project and guide you through an otherwise confusing process, so open yourself up to the countless possibilities that he or she can bring to the table. Finally, don't forget that you can find a great selection of professionals in our Pro Index.