To get the most out of working with an architect, it's important to communicate your needs and preferences. Pre-planning and open communication helps your architect create the most appropriate design solutions for your project.

To ensure a productive dialogue with your architect, consider the following:

Money

A building or renovation project involves present and future economic commitments. Once your project is complete, furnishings, day-to-day operations, maintenance and future repairs add to the total cost. Your architect can help you develop a realistic estimate through a life-cycle cost analysis, which calculates expected future operating and maintenance costs. Decide what's affordable, or limit the budget and make this cost limitation part of the architect's written agreement. Know what the must-haves of the project are.

Design

Consider what you want both aesthetically and functionally from your project. What type of experience are you wanting to create? Does the aesthetic express your goals (or differentiate you from others like your competition) in a unique, meaningful and relevant way? What is the time frame for occupying the structure? What are the indoor and outdoor space requirements or the likely movements and interactions of those using the building? Answering these questions will not only save time with your architect, but provide insight into uses and operating conditions. It is just as important for your architect to know what you don’t want as much as what you do want.

Location

Think about what you need from a site. If you've chosen or are considering specific sites, begin to match your list of needs to what the actual properties offer. Your architect can identify unusual or troublesome site conditions such as soil irregularities, drainage difficulties, or problematic slopes. Understanding your surrounding and adjacent buildings and neighborhoods will also affect design decisions. You and your architect will also make site decisions involving orientation and design, depending on your specific preferences, such as the use of sun for heating.

Lifestyle

For residential design projects, your architect will consider aspects of your lifestyle, like your desire for privacy, plans for family, entertaining needs and interest in gardening. In addition to your immediate requirements, discuss your thoughts or expectations concerning future uses of your home and spaces. For commercial design projects, your architect will consider your corporate culture or company brand. While concrete answers may be elusive, including them in discussion can enlighten your architect's design.

About the author: Luanne Carleton, AIA, is the creative managing director for FRCH Design Worldwide and a member of AIA's Interior Architecture Knowledge Community Advisory Group.

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