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5 Critical Keys to Working Successfully with an Architect


If you’ve never worked closely with an architect, you probably underestimate the full scope of what an architect brings to a project. Most of us picture an architect drawing a pretty picture of the finished product: a building elevation and a floor plan. But rest assured, the pretty picture is only a small part of the process. To ensure a successful project, keep these 5 critical keys to success front and center.

1. Think about and communicate to the architect what the project MUST do from a functional and design standpoint. An architect needs to know who will use the building, and how. Must it accommodate one or two people, or a cast of thousands? Must it be a refuge from its external environment, or should it be an extension of the outside space? Will people be working, living, or passing through? What is the ultimate goal of the project? Is it to make money, to build a legacy, or support an organization’s mission? Do you insist on a particular building style? Make sure your architect knows that. Ask yourself, how will I know that the building is a success? Be ready to share the answer with your architect.

2. Know your budget. Too often, clients have champagne tastes and beer budgets. Be willing and prepared to make tough decisions about what is possible within your budget and realize from the start that the need to compromise may impact your project’s space, features, and finishes. Your architect will be able to suggest the best ways to stay within budget while preserving the fundamental integrity of the design and construction, essentially giving you the biggest bang for your buck.

3. Honor the architect’s design recommendations. Architects are trained to solve design dilemmas creatively and effectively. If the designer suggests siting a building to take advantage of a view, to minimize heat gain or loss, or to improve visibility and traffic flow for a commercial building, realize that is why you hired an architect in the first place. Be thankful for the architect’s recommendations regarding proportion, style, detailing, materials, and finishes. Often, the small details that an architect includes are the difference between generic and unique.

4. Respect the architect’s experience and expertise. As we have already mentioned, the architect does much more than draw a picture of the building. He or she must respect how the building site dictates what can be built, based on soil types, set-backs, access, parking concerns, utilities, height restrictions, and a million other factors. The architect must know and abide by zoning regulations and building codes, and can save his or her clients time, money, and headaches when permitting and construction begin.

5. Realize that most of the work an architect performs does not show in the elevation or simple floor plan drawings. The exterior elevation and simple floor plans are just the first step in the architectural process. There are also site plans, underground utility plans, structural specifications, lighting plans, wiring plans, interior details, landscape plans, and on and on, all of which are based on the site and basic floor plan. Settling on a site plan and floor plan early and sticking with that decision are critical to the efficient completion of the entire project. And finally, the responsible architect will ensure that your contractor delivers on those quality details that were included in your plans.

When you are ready to invest hard-earned money into a building project, it’s worth spending a fraction of that investment by hiring a design professional to get it right. Architecture is not just lines on a page, or a copy of an attractive façade you pass on your way to work. Architects focus on helping you realize your goals for functional, affordable, enduring, and beautiful spaces.

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