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How to Choose an Architect

Allow at least an hour for the interview. The meeting might take place in the architect’s office–helpful because you can see where the work will be done. Or it could be held in your office–helpful because the architect can learn more about your project and needs. Do what feels right. The architect may show you slides or photographs of past work and describe how the firm’s experience and expertise will help you.

During the interview, ask questions. How busy is the firm? Does it have the capacity to take on your work? Who will handle the job? Insist on meeting the person who will actually design your project. What is the firm’s design philosophy? How does the architect intend to approach your project? How interested is the firm in your job? Talk about your budget and find out the range of fees that the architect would anticipate for your project. Before making a final selection, have the architect take you to a completed project. Ask for references from past clients. While many architects do not charge for the interview, some do. Before the interview, ask if there is a fee.

And speaking of fees, some charge hourly rates, others a sum per square foot, still others a fixed fee or a percentage of construction costs. Discuss the fee structure for your project whenever you feel it’s appropriate. The architect may suggest a combination of the above methods. The basis for the fee, the amount, and payment schedule are issues for you and your architect to work out together.

Ultimately, you will choose the architect whom you trust and feel is right for your project. Unlike buying a car, you can’t see the final product and test it out. The architect provides professional services, not a product. The right architect will be the one who can provide the judgment, technical expertise, and creative skills, at a reasonable cost, to help your realize a project that fits your needs.

Be prepared to explore new and creative ideas with your architect, but be frank about how you want the end result to feel and work. The architect will ask you lots of questions to get a better sense of your goals and needs and to determine if your expectations match your budget. The architect may suggest changes based upon knowledge, experience, and your budget. After thoroughly discussing your functional requirements, the architect will prepare a statement outlining the scope of your project. During the next step, your program will be realized.

If at any time in the design process you feel uncomfortable, discuss your concerns with your architect. You don’t want your architect to control the project to the point that the building is no longer yours. But you also want to be careful not to restrict your architect so much that you’re not getting your money’s worth in terms of design creativity.

Once you have found the architect, you’re ready to prepare a written agreement, concerning the scope of work, services, schedule, construction budget, and architect’s fee. Although you can have your lawyer draw up an agreement, the AIA offers a variety of standard contracts which are used throughout the industry.