Friday, March 27, 2009

Eight Things to Consider when Looking for an Architect

If you’re looking for an architect you’ve probably read the 20 things to ask an architect article published by the AIA by now. While this is a good list, we wanted to add a few more questions and suggestions to add to the selection process. Some of these suggestions are from our insight gained from working in actual offices and interviewing with hundreds of potential clients. Other issues arise from knowing how a good office functions and technology is used by the best firms. So here’s our list:

1. Visit the architect’s office.

An architect’s office can say a lot about their design aesthetic and creativity. Unfortunately many first meetings with a client will be at their project site, so you may not have an opportunity to see the architect’s office. Consider scheduling a visit at the architect’s office within a few days of the initial meeting.

2. A disorganized architect’s office might be a red flag.

An architect has to organize hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of information, and a disorganized office might be a big red flag. However, don’t confuse artist creativity with disorganization. Models or model building supplies, trace paper and sketches can be a sign of real creativity, but project information is normally stored in binders and filing cabinets. Large piles of paper are probably not a good thing.

3. Ask your architect if they are using 3D software (the answer should be ‘yes’ – then ask them if they are using BIM).

The latest architectural software is called BIM (building information model) and the more sophisticated architects are using this. A house or project designed in BIM is completely or almost completely designed in 3D. In addition, in many cases the software can help eliminate errors in coordination of drawings since the 2 dimensional drawings are all ‘extracted’ from the 3D model. The software also keeps track of things like sizes of each door and window, and when a size is changed in one drawing, it is automatically updated in another. This can be a real help in reducing errors.

4. Education is the foundation of an architect’s experience.

While attending a good school can help assure your architect has a good foundation to build upon, usually a better indicator is how an architect did in the school they attended. From my experience in school and teaching, only 10%-20% of students are really talented designers and very few students got significantly better as they went through school. To get a sense of how someone did in school, ask about design awards they may have won or exhibitions they may have participated in.

5. Know who you are going to work with.

If you are hiring a multi-person firm, find out who you will actually be working with. Many times the person you are interviewing with won’t actually be doing much work on your project. If the person you are going to be working with isn’t in the interview, ask to visit the architect’s office (see #1) and meet the person or people who will be on your team. Ask to see the credentials of those team members as well.

6. Architects communicate with drawings as well as words.

Look at the architects drawings and ask questions about them. It may be challenging to read or understand drawings if you haven’t done that before, but if you can’t understand them after an architect explains them, then either the drawings are not very good, or the architect has a hard time communicating – both might be red flags.

7. A complete set of construction drawings includes specifications.

Not all information is communicated within drawings. Plumbing fixtures, electrical fixtures, finishes, expected quality levels, and other information that is easier said in words than in drawings are communicated in written specifications. If your architect doesn’t prepare specifications, then you’ll likely be answering many questions during construction and may be hit with change orders.

8. Look at the architect’s website.

A well designed, well organized website can communicate that an architect is organized and can assemble information in a clear format. If their website is out of date or they don’t have one, this might be a hint that they are behind the times.

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