If you haven't worked with an architect before, these answers should help with your most pressing questions.
1. What services do architects provide?
Architects see the big picture when it comes to your project. They help you explore what appeals to you aesthetically and what you require functionally. They coordinate teams of design, engineering and construction professionals; they sort through the maze of building codes and zoning requirements; they provide design leadership so that your project is built the way it was intended.
2. At what point in my project should I involve an architect?
As soon as you decide you want to begin planning your project, you should start looking for an architect. Architects provide important pre-design services including site evaluation, and can help you explore options you may not have considered. Involving an architect early in the process can help avoid costly missteps, and increase the likelihood of your satisfaction with the project.
3. How do I find the right architect for my project?
It is critical to find an architect who makes you feel comfortable, and with whom you can have open communication. It's also important to find an architect with experience in your project type. The design website Houzz has an architect finder that can serve as an important first step in your search; you should also seek recommendations from those you know who've worked with an architect previously.
4. Don't architects add substantial cost to a project?
While it's true that architects' fees are an additional project cost, hiring an architect can actually save you money in many ways. Architects can monitor your budget and negotiate to get the best materials and workmanship at a good price. An architect's design can reduce energy and maintenance costs, and provide an efficient layout so that you don’t overbuild what you really need. They can turn a difficult lot into a successful building site. And they spend time planning and fully developing your ideas to avoid changes once construction is underway.
5. How are architects compensated?
An architect's compensation can be based on time, a stipulated sum, a percentage of the cost of the work, the project's square footage, unit cost (based on number of rooms/apartments, etc.), or royalty in which compensation is a share of the profit derived from the project. Time-based compensation and stipulated sums are most common.
6. What's my role in the design process?
Your architect will depend on you to communicate about your design preferences, functional requirements, and budget. Your timely response to questions and design submissions will help keep the project on track. It is also important for you to raise any concerns you have as the project proceeds, so they can be addressed in the earliest stages. Working in partnership with your architect, you will help achieve a successful outcome for your project.
About the author: Charles Hultstrand, AIA, is an architect and the 2017 chair of AIA's Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture Knowledge Community.