Green Figs Magazine


Why Hire An Architect?

Why Hire An Architect?

Today, there are numerous options for building your new home. Contractors, builders and designers are everywhere. Pre-drawn home plans are in the backs of nearly every home and garden magazine. New developments offer customization. The options are nearly endless. So why bother hiring an architect?

Good Design Matters

A home is a functioning, living space that can enhance and improve your quality of life when designed well. A well-designed home is beautiful, unique and proportional. It also must function according to your wants, desires and needs. It is custom to you, your family and your budget down to the tiniest detail. And design is the life-long obsession of an architect.

Professional & Licensed Service Matters

Licensed by the state, an architect is the only professional specially trained to design spaces for living and working from the design phase through construction. Architects spend their entire professional lives training to master the art of design and the practice of construction.

An Architect Has Your Best Interests At Heart

Above all, the architect is YOUR professional and serves as your advocate through the process. Designing and building a home can be a difficult and very complex process. Most consumers don’t understand everything from blueprints to site planning and fixtures to roofing specifications. Architects are experts in those things and will serve as your agent and representative when tough and complex decisions have to be made. Unlike contractors and subcontracts, their loyalty is to you and your vision for your home.

Architects Save You Money & Time

Architects spend their days keeping up with the latest construction methods, materials and technology. They can recommend the methods that best fit your budget and project. Your architect will also help you during the contractor bidding process, ensuring the price is fair and the services and expertise fit your project. Construction is expedited by your architect, who oversees planning, drawings and specifications.  The architect serves as your agent with the contractor, resolving disputes that may arise and analyzing additional costs the contractor proposes.

You & Your Architect

“Architecture” isn’t only for museums, corporations, and the very wealthy. Whether you are remodeling a kitchen, creating your dream home, or planning a commercial building, working with an architect can save time and money while making your new environment more functional, comfortable, and sustainable. The result is a project that is beautiful, original, and distinctive.
The challenge lies in knowing how to communicate with your architect in ways that will enable you to get the most from this special collaboration. You and Your Architect can help you to do so—personally,
professionally, and creatively.

Whether you have extensive experience with design and construction or are coming to both for the first time, it can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions before interviewing prospective architects.
You do not need firm or complete answers at this point. Rather, these questions will help to ensure that your initial communications will be clear and productive and enable you to select the design professional best suited to your needs.

• How will your project be used? Do you have specific ideas on how to translate these activities into spaces and square footage?

• Do you have a site? Or will this also be a subject of discussion with the architect?

• Have you decided upon a schedule and budget?

• What are your overall aspirations for the project—aesthetic and emotional as well as practical?

• Who will be making the critical decisions— you alone, your family, or a committee of some sort?

• Where will the resources come from to create and operate your project?

• Are you willing to pay a little extra up front on systems that will save energy or bring other operations savings and pay back over time?

• Do you have previous experience with design and construction? If so, in what ways were you successful, and was the experience in any way disappointing? A good architect will listen closely to your
answers, help you solidify your goals and desires, and translate them into an effective building. Look for a good listener, and you’ll find a good architect.

Selecting Your Architect
Every architecture firm brings its own combination of skills, expertise, interests, and values to its projects. The challenge is to find the one that aligns most closely with your project’s needs.
Some of the most frequently asked questions regarding architect selection include:

When should I bring the architect into the picture?
As early as possible. Architects can help you define your project in every respect and may also do site studies, assist in securing planning and zoning approvals, and provide a variety of other predesign services. Should I meet with more than one firm?
Usually, yes. One obvious exception is when you already have a good relationship with an architect.

How do I find suitable firms to contact?
Talk to individuals who have developed similar facilities and ask who they interviewed. If there are projects that you have admired—whether similar to your own or not—find out who designed them. And your local AIA component will be able to help you identify firms appropriate to your situation and budget and may also maintain referral lists (
What can I realistically expect to learn from an interview?

How can Istructure the interview to make it as informative as possible?
You can learn how the architect’s team will approach your project by talking to key members. Review buildings the firm has designed that are similar in type and size to yours or that have addressed similar issues.
Find out how the firm will gather information, establish priorities, and make decisions, and what the architect sees as the important issues for consideration.
You might also want to inquire about the ability of the architect to stand financially behind the
services to be provided. For example, you might ask if the firm carries professional liability insurance, much like that maintained by doctors and lawyers. Indeed, you should choose your architect at least as carefully as you would any other professional provider.

Why are formal interviews desirable?
An interview addresses one issue that cannot be covered in brochures: the chemistry between you and the architecture firm. Should I expect a firm to deliver all the services necessary to complete the project?
Not necessarily. You may have considerable
project-planning, design, and construction
expertise and may be capable of undertaking
some tasks yourself. Alternatively, you may
find it necessary to add other consultants to
the team. Discussion with your architect will
establish who will coordinate owner-supplied
work or other services.
What is “green” architecture, and
do I need to discuss it?
“Green” or sustainable design refers to the
increasingly popular and important practice of
creating architecture that is friendly to both the
environment and the end user. This can be as
simple as using recycled, non-toxic materials
or a more comprehensive program involving
such elements as green roofs, photovoltaic
cells that capture sunlight, and air and water
treatment systems. Although many firms are
generally familiar with green design, you will
want to question prospective architects closely
about their level of experience in this regard
and examine past projects that incorporated
sustainable strategies. (For more information,
contact the U.S. Green Building Council or visit

How many firms should I interview, and how should they be selected?
Typically, three to five firms—enough to see
the range of possibilities but not so many
that an already tough decision will be further
complicated. Treat each firm fairly, offering
equal time and access to your site and existing
Factors such as experience, technical
competence, and available staff resources will
be important to your decision. Thus, if you are
approaching more than one firm, make sure
that you can provide all the information required
to ensure that the proposals you get offer
the same scope of services so that you can
evaluate them on a consistent basis. How should I follow up?
By soliciting references. Ask past clients to
assess the performance of both the firm and the
resulting architecture. Notify the selected firm or
short-listed firms as soon as possible to ensure
their availability. On what should I base my decision?
Personal confidence in the architect is
paramount. Seek also an appropriate balance
among design ability, technical competence,
professional service, and cost.

Selection Is a Mutual Process
The most thoughtful architects are as careful
in selecting their clients as owners are in
selecting architects. Be prepared to answer
questions about your project’s purpose, budget,
time frame, site, and the team of players you
anticipate being involved with the project.
And don’t be afraid to be frank. Tell the architect
what you know and what you expect. Ask for an
explanation of anything you do not understand.
The more you put on the table at the outset,
the better the chances are for a successful
project. As client and architect jointly evaluate
alternative approaches to the project’s direction,
priorities are clarified and new possibilities
emerge. There is no substitute for the intensive
dialogue and inquiry that characterize the
design process.

Services Available from Architects
As the owner, you will find it helpful to review
this chart with your architect to acquaint yourself
with the professional services your project may
require. Ask your architect for an explanation of
any unfamiliar terms or processes.

Project Administration and Management Services
Project Administration
Coordination of disciplines/documents checking
Agency consulting/ review approval
Value analysis balanced with budget & program
Schedule development/ monitoring of the work
Evaluation of budget & preliminary estimate of cost of the work
Construction management

Evaluation and Planning Services
Functional relationships/flow diagrams
Existing facilities surveys
Marketing studies
Economic feasibility studies
Project financing
Site analysis, selection, & development planning
Detailed site utility studies
On-site & off-site utility studies
Environmental studies & reports
Zoning process assistance

Design Services
Architectural design documentation
Structural design/ documentation
Mechanical design/ documentation
Electrical design/ documentation
Civil design/ documentation
Landscape design/ documentation
Interior design/ documentation
Special design/ documentation
Material research & specifications
Tenant-related services

Bidding or Negotiation Services
Bidding materials
Addenda/responding to bidder inquiries
Analysis of alternates/ substitutions
Special bidding
Bid evaluation
Contract award

Contract Administration Services
Submittal services & rejection of defective work
On-site visits
Full-time on-site project representative
Testing & inspection administration
Supplemental documentation
Quotation requests/ change orders
Contract cost accounting
Furniture & equipment installation administration
Interpretations & decisions
Project close-out

Facility Administration Services
Maintenance & operational programming
Start-up assistance
Record drawing
Warranty review
Postcontract evaluation

Negotiating the Agreement
The formal agreement between you and your
architect is an opportunity to ensure that you
both envision the same project, requirements,
and expectations. Before committing these to
paper, use the steps presented below to identify
any items that may have been missed.
Establish project requirements with these
crucial questions:

• What is to be designed and built?

• Where will (or might) it be built?

• What is the level of quality?

• What is the role of the project in your life, your community, and/or your business?
• What are the scheduling requirements or restraints?
• What is the target date for completion?

• What are the budget and sources of financing?
• Who are the anticipated key team members? Describe project tasks and assign
responsibility for each one.
You and your architect should clarify the
administrative, design, and construction tasks
essential to successfully completing the project,
as well as the services required and who will be
responsible for each of them. Identify your schedule
re quirements.
Place all tasks on a time line, estimating
duration for each, and identify those that, if
delayed, will postpone completion of your
project. Compare the time line with your target
completion date and adjust one or both as
appropriate. Take a critical look at the results.
Good project schedules allow enough time for
decision making. Is your schedule reasonable,
particularly given the project’s requirements
and budget? Have you allowed enough time to
review the architect’s submissions, receive any
necessary approvals, and make your decisions?

The Owner-Architect Agreement
If you have done your homework, the written
contract should follow without difficulty. One thing
to remember: As with medical or legal services,
architecture is not a product that can be perfectly
quantified, and just like your doctor or lawyer,
your architect typically does not warrant or
guarantee results. As a provider of professional
services, an architect is required to perform to
a professional standard. Courts recognize this,
and so too must responsible clients. Compensating Your Architect
The fee an architect receives depends on the
types and levels of services provided, and
the formal agreement you develop jointly with
your architect will be an excellent basis for a
compensation proposal. There are a number
of commonly used payment structures—
compensation may be based on one or more
of them—and arriving at the one that is fairest
to both client and architect requires thoughtful

• Time-Based Methods.
Multiple of Direct Personnel Expense multiplies
salaries plus benefits by a factor representing
overhead and profit.
Professional Fee Plus Expenses includes
salaries, benefits, and overhead as the expense,
and the fee may be a multiplier, percentage, or
lump sum.
Hourly Billing Rates include salaries, benefits,
overhead, and profit in rates for designated

• Stipulated Sum. Compensation is stated as a
dollar amount.
• Percentage of Cost of the Work
Compensation is calculated by applying an
agreed-upon percentage to the estimated or
actual cost of the work.
• Square Footage. Compensation equals the
square footage of the structure multiplied by
a pricing factor.
• Unit Cost. Compensation is based on
the number of units such as rooms and
• Royalty. Compensation is a share in the owner’s income or profit derived from the project.
Suppose my pro ject has many repetitive units. Does it make sense to use these as a basis for compensation?
Will the number of units bear a reasonable
relationship to the responsibilities of the
architect? If the answer is yes, unit cost may be
an appropriate method of compensation.

When does it make sense to consider hourly compensation?
It makes good sense when there are many
unknowns. Many projects begin with hourly
billing and continue until the scope of the
project is better defined.
What does a stipulated sum include?
Generally, it includes the architect’s direct
personnel expenses, other direct expenses
chargeable to the project, indirect expense or
overhead, and profit. The stipulated sum does
not include reimbursable expenses.
What are reimbursable expenses?
These are out-of-pocket expenses incurred
by the architect on behalf of the owner, such
as long-distance travel and communications,
reproduction of contract documents, and
authorized overtime premiums.
What a bout payment schedules?
Ask your architect to provide a proposed
schedule of payments. Such a schedule will
help you plan for the financial requirements of
the project.
What other expenses can the owner expect?
These may include site surveys and legal
descriptions, geotechnical services, required
technical tests during construction, an on-site
project representative, and the necessary legal,
auditing, and insurance counseling services
needed to fulfill the client’s responsibilities.
What if too little is known about the project
to determine the full extent of professional
services in advance?
If this is the case, then engage the architect to
provide project definition and other predesign
services first, with remaining phases and
services to be determined later.

In the past, clients typically developed separate
agreements with both architect and contractor.
More recently, an option that involves a
combination of the two, known as design-build,
has become increasingly popular. There are four
basic design-build scenarios:
• Design-build-contractor: The architect and
contractor work together to develop a set
of bid documents from which a client may
choose and then build them according to the
contractor’s prescripts.
• Design-build-architect: The architect designs
and capitalizes a project, then engages the
necessary labor to bring it to completion.
• Bridging: The client engages an architect
to conceptualize a design, then hires a
design-build firm to develop the concept
and build the project under the supervision
of the original architect.
• Construction management: The client makes
separate contracts with both an architect
and a contractor, then gives construction
management responsibility to a third party.

Keeping the Project on Track
Successful projects are invariably the result
of effective management by both client and
architect. There are a number of steps you
can take to ensure that your project moves
smoothly through both the design and
construction phases. Schedule for Architect’s Services.
Carefully review the architect’s schedule for
services. Ask that the schedule be updated on a
regular basis. Team Member. Take part in the
project-planning process. Be sure that your own
deadlines, as well as your own decision-making
needs, are reflected in the schedule. Client Representative. Identify a single
person to represent you and to speak for you at
planning sessions and project meetings. Internal Coordination. If several people
or departments must be involved in your project’s
development, make it clear that the client
representative is authorized to speak for you.
Meetings. Plan regular meetings of the project
team and participate in them. These should have
clear agendas, and persons with assigned tasks
should have them completed prior to meeting. Documentation. Require that contacts
between architect and client be documented
and the results shared with appropriate
members of the project team. This system
keeps everyone informed of what is being
discussed and decided outside of formal
meetings and presentations.

Decision Process. Be sure that both you
and your architect understand the process by
which you will make decisions: Who requires
what information, whose approval is required,
how much time should be allocated for review
of submissions? Agreement Modifications. Keep the owner-architect agreement up to date. Modify it
when project scope or services are changed.
Questions. When you have questions,ask them. Pay particular attention to design
submissions since the work reflected in each
submission will be further developed in the
next. All questions should be resolved before
construction begins. Problems. Address problems when they
arise and before small ones become large ones.
Regular project meetings provide a natural
opportunity. Contract Administration. Once
you’ve approved the work, you want it built as
designed, and your architect is well positioned
to administer the contract between you and
the contractor. This requires considerable
experience, time, and effort, but contract
administration services represent the spending
of a penny to save a dollar and are highly
Such services include • evaluating work for compliance with drawings and specifications
• approving shop drawings, materials, and product samples
• reviewing the results of material tests and inspections
• approving the contractor’s requests for payment
• handling requests for design changes during construction
• administering the completion, start-up, and close-out process of your project

How the AIA Can Help
The American Institute of Architects, founded
in 1857, is the professional organization for
80,000 licensed architects and associated
professionals. With headquarters in
Washington, D.C., and some 300 state and
local chapters worldwide, the AIA helps to build
public awareness of architecture and supports
the practice of architecture.
In addition to meeting professional standards
for licensure to practice architecture, AIA
members adhere to the AIA Code of Ethics
and Professional Conduct, assuring clients,
the public, and colleagues of their dedication
to high standards of professional practice. AIA
members must also fulfill annual continuing
education requirements to maintain their
professional standing and to stay current in the
The AIA has also created a number of
documents that will greatly facilitate your
arrangements with your architect. These
standard forms of agreement, first developed
in the 1880s, have been carefully reviewed,
court-tested, and modified over many years.
Widely accepted by the construction industry,
they present a current consensus among
organizations representing owners, lawyers,
contractors, engineers, and architects.
The scope of services offered in the AIA
documents range from the typical to
customized applications. You may choose from
a variety of formats that come prepackaged or
à la carte. This approach gives you the flexibility
to customize the scope of services that meet
your particular needs.
With the help of this guide and AIA Contract
Documents, you will be on your way to a successful
relationship with your architect in no time.

1735 New York Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20006-5292

Copyright 2007 The American Institute of Architects | All rights reserved | This paper contains recycled content to support a sustainable world.

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