Sunday, February 1, 2009

hiring an architect

Ok, so we’ve established that design should occur before construction, but do you need to hire someone or can you design it yourself? Do you need an architect?

Before embarking on any home improvement project, it’s a good idea to define the project. Ask yourself:

  • What am I remodeling? Is it just new finishes for a face-lift or a whole room or several rooms? Am I moving any walls or adding on?
  • Why am I remodeling? Is it for personal enjoyment and long-term investment or to sell?
  • Who will be doing the construction work? Me? A contractor?
  • When is the project to be done? Next week, next month or next year?
  • How much do I want to invest (budget)?
Most larger home improvement projects are complex enough to hire an architect. Smaller projects such as new finishes in one room may not need the skills of an architect or designer, but if you work full time, or do not have the inclination, patience, desire or aesthetic sense, it would be worthwhile to employ a professional. An architect will suggest several design alternatives, propose a better utilization and flow of the rooms and help you to visualize and understand the new spaces. He will help clarify the project scope and keep it within budget. He is knowledgeable of the local codes, requirements and building techniques and can stamp the drawings if required. He is familiar with the different finishes and fixtures and can help you wade through the myriad of options. And he can refer you to contractors that will fit your personality and needs.

So how do you find an architect? The process of searching for one is similar to searching for any professional. Ask friends, neighbors and relatives for referrals. Read the local paper and magazines. Search online. The local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) offers a class in hiring an architect and can assist you in finding a qualified professional. Go to open houses and home tours and ask for business cards of projects you like. In a few months, the HBA will be hosting their annual Tour of Remodeled Homes in which you can see the projects firsthand and talk to the professionals who designed and built them.

Interview at least three architects. Ask each of them:
  • What different services do you offer?
  • What is your specialty? (residential, commercial, historic, sustainable, etc.)
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many employees do you have?
  • How many clients do you work with in a year?
  • How many clients do you work with at any given time?
  • What is the average size or type of project?
  • Is my project similar to those that you’ve done in the past?
  • How long will it take to design my project?
  • When can you start?
  • What is your general design philosophy?
  • How do you approach a design problem?
  • What is the design process like? What will happen during the design phase?
  • What is my role during this time?
  • How many people will work on my project?
  • What are your deliverables?
  • Do you monitor the project during the build phase? What tasks do you do during construction?
  • What are your fees and what do they include? What is the payment schedule? (Note that fees are usually hourly, lump sum, dollar per square foot or a percentage of construction cost.)
  • Do you have a list of references?
  • May I see a portfolio?
Look for someone who shares a similar aesthetic sense and whose design ideas are in keeping with your own values. Although he is trained to design in any architectural style, make sure he has done work that you love. Of course, the architect should be someone that you get along with easily. Be clear about your needs and ready to actively engage in the design process. Carefully reviewing the architect’s proposals and providing thoughtful feedback will help the process go smoothly.

Now that we’ve touched upon the general topics of whether or not to design and how to hire an architect, we will return to the normal programming of Bungalow Remodel PDX.

Tune in next time for designing the basement!

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