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Choosing an Architect – What to Look for in a Reputable Architect

When you are about to embark upon a new building project — whether a sustainable building for a municipal complex or a custom home remodel or a new business — most likely you will need a design architect. Choosing an architect who you can collaborate with will make creating your vision a great deal easier.

First and foremost, it’s worth understanding why hiring an architect is worthwhile. The list of contributions an architect can make to a build is endless, but includes things like: negotiating often complicated planning procedures and building regulations on your behalf; conjuring a site-specific design that maximizes natural light, space and storage; and researching materials, fixtures and finishes. Most importantly, an architect represents your interests independently of the costs of materials and construction.

deangelo residence exterior, two story grand house

You can find all types of architects, but you need to know where to look, how to look, and what to ask. Consider the following when choosing an architect for your project.

What does your vision for your project look like? 

Before you even research an architect, have a clear idea of what you want your project to look like. Look at their current portfolio. Make note of things that catch your eye: a certain use of material, a perfectly framed view, or an exterior profile. It might seem like a superficial place to start but allowing yourself to be instinctively and aesthetically drawn to an architect’s work is a solid foundation for whittling down a choice of potential options. There’s little point hiring an architect who is going to spend the entire design phase trying to persuade you to choose marble if you’ve already decided on concrete for your worktops. One thing to bear in mind,is that when looking at images of completed work, try to see past things like furniture and art as they are most likely out of architects’ control. A good architect will make recommendations based on your ideas. Do not hesitate to explain what you are hoping to achieve and allow them to offer creative solutions that you may or may not have thought of!

Ask friends and family 

Felt serious house envy after walking into a friend’s recently-completed basement refurb? It probably means the way their architecture configured the space resonates with you, so get the firm’s details. If you’re serious about contacting an architect based on a recommendation, ask the person it’s coming from how they found working with the architect. Did they feel like they were listened to throughout the process? Were their expectations met? What value did they bring?

Visit completed works 

Many architects work across private and public commissions, so if you’re drawn to a particular firm, see if you can visit one of their publicly-accessible buildings. Do you like the choice of materials, the spatial layout or the fixtures and fittings? Of course, some of these decisions will be client-led, but experiencing a completed project will give a sense of their work.

Ask for and check their references 

You might love the designs of one architect, but if every client that worked with them had a terrible experience, you need to know that. Hiring an architect comes down to much more than just the architectural designs they have created. Read reviews. You need an architect who forges professional relationships and behaves in a well-mannered way. You need them to be easy to work with on the project.

Who would the architectural firm contact be? 

Will you deal directly with a project architect or a project manager or an assistant? Does your point of contact have direct access to the designer?

Determine the architectural fees for the project 

A brewery design architect and a residential project architect will differ in costs. A municipal design project will also differ in cost. Since some architects take on multiple project types, you need to learn the fees for the type you need. Also, which costs does the contract or flat fee not cover? You should be able to receive a design fee proposal that you understand, that is not complicated and that makes you uncomfortable.

Ask what insurance the architect carries 

You also need to know about any open claims against them. Rather than just believe what they tell you, check the insurance validity. You can verify their policy with the insurance agency and find out about open claims. You need to choose a solvent firm that will remain so.

Get an estimate on the length of time the design process takes 

Also, ask about the construction processes timeline. Be wary of any architect who claims they can bring in your project in far less time than the others you contact. If four architects say it will take four months and the fifth one says two months, they are cutting corners or only telling you the best case scenario. Have a realistic outlook on the required timetable.

Inquire about any potential challenges to your project 

Your architect should be upfront about any homeowners’ association requirements, zoning ordinances, unique lot shapes, etc. If you want an unusual design or green building materials that could be tough to come by, they should tell you this upfront.

Ask what builders the firm recommends.

While you may know a general contractor, the firm may have someone it works with regularly. If you do not know anyone, the architect provides a strong source for finding someone experienced in the type of project you want to build.

Which of the building contractors does the architect have a good relationship with?

If you hire an architect for a custom design, you need them to be able to work well with the building. Ideally, you want them to have experience working well together and for them to get along. They are collaborating on something quite important to you.

Ask the architect for recommendations on how to reduce environmental impact or improve energy efficiency 

Your architect needs to know at the outset if you desire a sustainable design or want to integrate renewable energy sources such as solar power or wind energy or a biomass stove. Energy efficiency measures increase up-front project cost but can reduce long-term costs. An architect should discuss the costs associated with these ideas, and offer an opinion on which ones will provide you the biggest impacts for the related costs.

Watkins Architect is a professional architecture design and renovation practice located in Fleetwood PA, and was founded in 1995. Our team combines a rich diversity of project experience with decades of practice in the profession. We provide a tremendous depth of skill sets enabling an even greater range of services and resources to build with cost effective, innovative, timelessness, and sustainability. We look forward to sharing this synergy of architectural services with our clients!

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