Top 7 Things to Consider When Choosing An Architect
One of the most exciting, (and nerve-racking) endeavors you will ever embark on in your life is building or renovating a home. If you’ve ever heard how difficult a renovation is on a marriage, or a family, it’s no joke! Undoubtedly there are time constraints and budget considerations, all tied up with fantasies of that elusive dream home, so truly, there is a lot at stake. This is one decision you really need to get right. The best way ensure the whole process runs smoothly is to have an excellent architect at the helm.
You may have references from friends or neighbors, or you may be blindly making calls and surfing the Internet looking for an architect. At any rate, these are the top five most important things to consider when you are looking for that perfect match.
1. Vet the architect’s reputation
You are going to be spending a lot of time and money on this project. In fact it may be the investment of a lifetime for you. In this case, you owe it to yourself to do incredibly thorough research before making such an important decision. Google the architect’s background. Look for accreditation, articles, references, etc. How much, (and what kind of) experience does the architect have? Speak to clients whose homes the architect has designed, and have a checklist handy. Was he or she always accessible? Are past clients happy with the work? Was communication open? How adept was he or she at problem solving? Was he or she able to stay on budget? Was he or she able to incorporate the client’s wants and needs when considering design? How has the project held up? Were there unforeseen flaws in the design, or are the clients pleased with the lasting results?
2. Choose an Independent Architect
One of the many benefits of working with an architect is the independent advice and guidance that you’ll receive throughout the whole designing and building process. The architect’s autonomy makes for your peace of mind; he or she will act as your advocate when dealing with other contractors. It’s like putting the ‘cart before the horse’ to lock yourself into a construction package before properly considering the building design with a suitably qualified and independent professional, i.e. an architect. So, look for an architect that is not compromised by association with other components of the design and build process. Which is not to say it’s a negative if the architect has builders he or she can recommend, just be wary of the package deal. You want to know that you are the priority, and there is no influence swaying the architect to tailor the project to anyone else’s agenda.
Architecture firms combine elements of both art and design. The best architects are the ones who have a firm understanding of engineering principles and an ability to materialize an artistic vision. Your home reflects your personality and your lifestyle. In addition, it has to be right for your family’s needs. You may gravitate toward clean lines and modern design, or you may be much more traditional. Whoever you choose to helm the project should also be passionate about the style you choose, and have examples to point to of past projects that are similar to what you desire.
Like in any great relationship, the success of the partnership is all going to depend on chemistry. You may have found someone who has been featured on the cover of Architectural Digest—an impressive architect who has built the most amazing houses you’ve ever seen, but if you don’t like his/her personality, it’s not going to be a good choice. You and your architect are embarking on an exciting journey. Such a shared journey involves discussions about your personal habits, style preferences, hobbies and even your family relationships, so it’s really important that you choose an architect you can trust.
Once you feel you’ve chosen someone whose aesthetic and design sensibility truly appeals to you, make sure you also have a sense that he or she is able to hear you, and incorporate your own specific needs into his/her vision. An architect with a singular, unbending vision must still be at least somewhat open to your input.
5. Neighborhood/landscape appreciation
Because every site is unique in in landscape and terrain, design cannot exist in a bubble, in an office, on a blueprint. There are many architects who work from a cache of cookie-cutter designs that have been successful for them. But remember, yours must be the right design for its spot, for the neighborhood, for the landscape. If there are dramatic—possibly spectacular—elements of the landscape, such as view, mountainside location, waterfront location, steep incline, etc., the design should incorporate these elements, and it should complement them. A good architect who wants to build something that will endure takes all the environmental elements into consideration.
This is a big one! Along with the rumors of renovations and home construction being difficult on a marriage, are the rumors of how these projects inevitably go way over budget. We’ve all heard stories of projects going 20, 30, 50 or even 100% over budget. We’ve seen the HGTV shows where the bummed out couple gets the bad news from the designers and has to eliminate plans for their sunroom/water feature/home office, etc. due to unforeseen plumbing, electrical, or environmental issue.
Depending on the area in which you live, there can be stringent permitting issues that can delay a project. A good architect will work in partnership with your builder to thoroughly research every aspect of the build and lower the probability of these kinds of unfortunate roadblocks.
7. Direct Contact Throughout
When you’ve created a short list and you start contacting architectural firms, make sure to confirm that your chosen architect will continue to remain your point of contact throughout the entire process. The direct relationship is so important for understanding your needs, and also to ensure consistency of communications. A good architect will streamline the whole design and construction process for you from initial pre-design meetings to the final home construction.
A great architect will be able to get you the best design for your buck, recommend trustworthy and experienced pros, guide your investment, protect your interests during construction and save you time, money and stress. The right architect might cost a little more than an average one, but the amount of value added to your project could be substantial.