Here is what turned into an essay about working with an architect that I just posted to a local discussion group. It started with a question about kitchen remodeling, and eventually turned to “…what about working with an architect?” I felt that it needed to be said that people should consider working with architects. Builders have done a very good job of supplanting architects in the public mind, but that shouldn’t necessarily be the case. Architects offer a lot that is outside the normal scope of a builder’s work.
Part of my purpose for having this blog has been to try to make the process of working with an architect more accessible. As I say below, most architects are friendly creatures, and there seems to be a lot of (completely unwarranted) perception that architects are only for big, expensive projects. I want people to understand that that is not the case at all. Architects offer a lot, and more people should understand that working with an architect can help them have a better, more comfortable, more personal home that suits their particular needs.
Working with an architect can be daunting to consider, but that shouldn’t be the case. Nor should you think that architects only want to work on big, expensive projects. Most architects are friendly creatures, and would be glad to talk about how they can help with your particular needs on a project.
While I am an architect, and I want to support the work of architects, I also have to agree that not every remodeling project needs an architect. If you are only changing the cabinets and the interior finishes, you probably don’t need an architect. And you don’t have to work with an architect if you are doing an addition or other remodeling project, but an architect can offer value in terms of helping with the design process, working through the specific needs and goals you have for your home.
An architect does more than just designing the space. An architect thinks in terms of problems and solutions. That problem solving extends far beyond the quetion of “how do make the building stand up?” A good architect should be able to evaluate your needs and develop a program and a design that represents what you want.
Some builders do offer design/build services, but others mostly just want to build, and the majority of design/builders are going to design what they want to build. That may or may not be the best thing for your particular situation and your needs.
Architects will often also take a longer-term view with the project. Instead of only looking at the immediate construction, they will also give consideration to matters such as energy efficiency and maintenance costs. What will your home be like in 10 years or in 20 years? An architect will look at a project with consideration to how things will change and adapt over time. And if a project gets to be too much to undertake all at once, an architect can help in determining what should be done immediately and what can be held off until later.
If you want to emphasize more sustainable building, or using healthy materials that will not offgas toxins inside your home, or being energy efficient, or trying to minimize your environmental impact, those are all things an architect can help with. If you have a particular style you want to match or if you want to try to do something unconventional and unique, an architect can help you.
Architects can assist with selecting materials that are more sustainable, that will offer better energy performance, and that will make for a better and more comfortable indoor environment. They can help you achieve a space that is personal and individual. An architect can help you focus the effort on the parts of your project that are most important to you.
Whether you are going to work with an architect or not, let me recommend at least taking a look at Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House” (and the other books she has since written in a series following that). She promotes an approach to creating spaces that are more about quality than about quantity. Better functionality and a more personal space are some of the things an architect can help you achieve.
Ideally, any construction project should be a collaborative effort. When everyone is working together on the same page, the project tends to turn out better. An architect can also help you navigate the building process, and should act as your advocate in working with a builder (which can be especially useful if you aren’t familiar with the construction process). The architect can be a person to talk with the builder on your behalf or may be able to help you in selecting the builder you want to work with.
You shouldn’t hire an architect “just because.” An architect should add value to your project. If you don’t think that an architect is going to offer anything more for your project, then I don’t think I’m going to be able to convince you that working with an architect is a good thing. If you know exactly what it is that you want to do, then working directly with a builder may work for you.
Most people, though, will find that working with an architect will bring a more complete analysis to the project and will result in a space they are happier with and one that more closely fits their particular needs. An architect brings expertise and experience to help you realize what you want for your home.
Architects work as consultants and collaborators to help the owner make the numerous decisions you need to make in undertaking a building project. There are many decisions to be made in the process of doing a building renovation or building a new building. The owner is ultimately the one to make these decisions, and the architect serves that goal by understanding the owner’s desires and helping to narrow the choices in order to meet their needs.