Finding and then Hiring and Architect

Whether the project is commercial or residential, Owners often struggle with the ‘Where do I begin?’ question in looking for an Architect.  The first question really should be ‘When do I begin?’   The answer: As early as possible.  Even if you are unsure of your potential project making complete sense, an architect can help.  For business and public clients, it is not uncommon to have an architect develop a Feasibility Study –to see if what you would like to do has merit.  This can be of limited scope and is very helpful in clarifying any issues related to the project –to even see if it makes sense to move forward before you expend substantial time and money.  These types of Service Options will be discussed in a future ‘Working with an Architect Series’ post.

Some Architects specialize in a style or type.  Most are generalists and will help to bring out your style.  A great ‘one-stop’ location to search for architects is through The American Institute of Architects (AIA). Here you can research firms, get contact data and find other valuable information.  Most Registered Architects are members of a chapter in their home area.  We belong to AIA Minnesota.

Definitely ask friends and colleagues, realtors and contractors for any recommendations.  Don’t rely solely on the Yellow Pages as many firms have transitioned to using the Internet as their main place to ‘show their wares’.  In the end, a face to face meeting with a handful of short-listed firms is the best way to feel comfortable making a selection.

Typically, there is no charge for that initial meeting with a firm.  This is a great opportunity to not only review qualifications but to also make sure there is a mesh in personalities and philosophies.  As for the qualifications, it is important to:
1. See past examples (of similar scope/size) –If possible, even set up an on-site tour.
2. Get a list of references.  Not only of past clients but also from General contractors.  This will be helpful in understanding how issues were handled and the dynamics of working as part of a team.
3. Don’t get too bogged down with the ‘fee’ question.  It is hard for architects to pin down an exact fee this early in the discussion.  We can certainly give an estimate based upon similar projects or based upon the proposed budget.  Initially, we will often work hourly to help refine the scope and goals.  This then can be credited into a formal and fixed proposal.

The selected architect will then define a list of services provided, associated schedule and the fee arrangement.

Our job as architects is to gather and present the information you need to make appropriate decisions for your project.  To be creative in the solutions and to be am advocate for your goals.  To use your resources- financial, time, etc., wisely.  And make the experience enjoyable, comfortable and positive.

Here is a great resource sheet from AIA Minnesota on ‘How to Hire the Right Architect for Your Project

Written by Michael Huber AIA LEED AP
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