About Architecture

The American Institute of Architects, founded in 1857, is the professional organization for 80,000 licensed architects and associated professionals. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., and some 300 state and local chapters worldwide, the AIA helps to build public awareness of architecture and supports the practice of architecture. In addition to meeting professional standards for licensure to practice architecture, AIA members adhere to the AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, assuring clients, the public, and colleagues of their dedication to high standards of professional practice. AIA members must also fulfill annual continuing education requirements to maintain their professional standing and to stay current in the profession.

“Architecture” isn’t only for museums, corporations, and the very wealthy. Whether you are remodeling a kitchen, creating your dream home, or planning a commercial building, working with an architect can save time and money while making your new environment more functional, comfortable, and sustainable. The result is a project that is beautiful, original, and distinctive. The challenge lies in knowing how to communicate with your architect in ways that will enable you to get the most from this special collaboration. With the help of this guide, you will be on your way to a successful relationship with your architect in no time.

You and Your Architect


You and Your Architect: GETTING STARTED

Whether you have extensive experience with design and construction or are coming to both for the first time, it can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions before interviewing prospective architects. You do not need firm or complete answers at this point. Rather, these questions will help to ensure that your initial communications will be clear and productive and enable you to select the design professional best suited to your needs.

  • How will your project be used? Do you have specific ideas on how to translate these activities into spaces and square footage?
  • Do you have a site? Or will this also be a subject of discussion with the architect?
  • Have you decided upon a schedule and budget?
  • What are your overall aspirations for the
  • project—aesthetic and emotional as well as practical?
  • Who will be making the critical decisions—you alone, your family, or a committee of some sort?
  • Where will the resources come from to create and operate your project?
  • Are you willing to pay a little extra up front on systems that will save energy or bring other operations savings and pay back over time?
  • Do you have previous experience with design and construction? If so, in what ways were you successful, and was the experience in any way disappointing?

A good architect will listen closely to your answers, help you solidify your goals and desires, and translate them into an effective building. Look for a good listener, and you’ll find a good architect.

YOU AND YOUR ARCHITECT: selecting an architect

Every architecture firm brings its own combination of skills, expertise, interests, and values to its projects. The challenge is to find the one that aligns most closely with your project’s needs. Some of the most frequently asked questions regarding architect selection include:

When should I bring the architect into the picture?
As early as possible. Architects can help you define your project in every respect and may also do site studies, assist in securing planning and zoning approvals, and provide a variety of other predesign services.

Should I meet with more than one firm? 
Usually, yes. One obvious exception is when you already have a good relationship with an architect.

How do I find suitable firms to contact? 
Talk to individuals who have developed similar facilities and ask who they interviewed. If there are projects that you have admired—whether similar to your own or not—find out who designed them.

What can I realistically expect to learn from an interview? How can I structure the interview to make it as informative as possible?
You can learn how the architect’s team will approach your project by talking to key members. Review buildings the firm has designed that are similar in type and size to yours or that have addressed similar issues. Find out how the firm will gather information, establish priorities, and make decisions, and what the architect sees as the important issues for consideration. You might also want to inquire about the ability of the architect to stand financially behind the services to be provided. For example, you might ask if the firm carries professional liability insurance, much like that maintained by doctors and lawyers. Indeed, you should choose your architect at least as carefully as you would any other professional provider.

Why are formal interviews desirable?
An interview addresses one issue that cannot be covered in brochures: the chemistry between you and the architecture firm.

Should I expect a firm to deliver all the services necessary to complete the project?
Not necessarily. You may have considerable project-planning, design, and construction expertise and may be capable of undertaking some tasks yourself. Alternatively, you may find it necessary to add other consultants to the team. Discussion with your architect will establish who will coordinate owner-supplied work or other services.

What is “green” architecture, and do I need to discuss it?
“Green” or sustainable design refers to the increasingly popular and important practice of creating architecture that is friendly to both the environment and the end user. This can be as simple as using recycled, non-toxic materials or a more comprehensive program involving such elements as green roofs, photovoltaic cells that capture sunlight, and air and water treatment systems. Although many firms are generally familiar with green design, you will want to question prospective architects closely about their level of experience in this regard and examine past projects that incorporated sustainable strategies.

How many firms should I interview, and how should they be selected?
Typically, three to five firms—enough to see the range of possibilities but not so many that an already tough decision will be further complicated. Treat each firm fairly, offering equal time and access to your site and existing facilities. Factors such as experience, technical competence, and available staff resources will be important to your decision. Thus, if you are approaching more than one firm, make sure that you can provide all the information required to ensure that the proposals you get offer the same scope of services so that you can evaluate them on a consistent basis.

How should I follow up? 
By soliciting references. Ask past clients to assess the performance of both the firm and the resulting architecture. Notify the selected firm or short-listed firms as soon as possible to ensure their availability.

On what should I base my decision?
Personal confidence in the architect is paramount. Seek also an appropriate balance among design ability, technical competence, professional service, and cost.

selection is a mutual process

The most thoughtful architects are as careful in selecting their clients as owners are in selecting architects. Be prepared to answer questions about your project’s purpose, budget, time frame, site, and the team of players you anticipate being involved with the project. And don’t be afraid to be frank. Tell the architect what you know and what you expect. Ask for an explanation of anything you do not understand. The more you put on the table at the outset, the better the chances are for a successful project. As client and architect jointly evaluate alternative approaches to the project’s direction, priorities are clarified and new possibilities emerge. There is no substitute for the intensive dialogue and inquiry that characterize the design process.

YOU AND YOUR ARCHITECT: Services available from architects

Project Administration and Management Services

  • Project Administration
  • Coordination of disciplines / documents checking
  • Agency consulting / review approval
  • Value analysis balanced with budget & program
  • Schedule development / monitoring of the work
  • Evaluation of budget & preliminary estimate of cost of the work
  • Presentation
  • Construction management

Evaluation and Planning Services

  • Programming
  • Functional relationships / flow diagrams
  • Existing facilities surveys
  • Marketing studies
  • Economic / feasibility studies
  • Project financing
  • Site analysis, selection, and development planning
  • Detailed site utility studies
  • On-site & off-site utility studies
  • Environmental studies & reports
  • Zoning process assistance

Design Services

  • Architectural design documentation
  • Structural design / documentation
  • Mechanical design / documentation
  • Electrical design / documentation
  • Civil design / documentation
  • Landscape design / documentation
  • Interior design / documentation
  • Special design / documentation
  • Material research & specifications
  • Tenant-related services

Bidding or Negotiation Services

  • Bidding materials
  • Addenda /  responding to bidder inquiries
  • Bidding / negotiation
  • Analysis of alternates / substitutions
  • Special bidding
  • Bid evaluation
  • Contract award

Contract Administration Services

  • Submittal services & rejection of defective work
  • On-site visits
  • Full-time on-site project representative
  • Testing & inspection administration
  • Supplemental documentation
  • Quotation requests / change orders
  • Contract cost accounting
  • Furniture & equipment installation administration
  • Interpretations & decisions
  • Project close-out

Facility Administration Services

  • Maintenance & operational programming
  • Start-up assistance
  • Record drawing
  • Warranty review
  • Post-contract evaluation

YOU AND YOUR ARCHITECT: Negotiating the agreement

The formal agreement between you and your architect is an opportunity to ensure that you both envision the same project, requirements, and expectations. Before committing these to paper, use the steps presented below to identify any items that may have been missed. Establish project requirements with these crucial questions:

  • What is to be designed and built?
  • Where will (or might) it be built?
  • What is the level of quality?
  • What is the role of the project in your life, your community, and/or your business?
  • What are the scheduling requirements or restraints?
  • What is the target date for completion?
  • What are the budget and sources of financing?
  • Who are the anticipated key team members?

Describe project tasks and assign responsibility for each one.
You and your architect should clarify the administrative, design, and construction tasks essential to successfully completing the project, as well as the services required and who will be responsible for each of them.

Identify your schedule requirements.
Place all tasks on a time line, estimating duration for each, and identify those that, if delayed, will postpone completion of your project. Compare the time line with your target completion date and adjust one or both as appropriate.

Take a critical look at the results. 
Good project schedules allow enough time for decision making. Is your schedule reasonable, particularly given the project’s requirements and budget? Have you allowed enough time to review the architect’s submissions, receive any necessary approvals, and make your decisions?

The Owner-Architect Agreement

If you have done your homework, the written contract should follow without difficulty. One thing to remember: As with medical or legal services, architecture is not a product that can be perfectly quantified, and just like your doctor or lawyer, your architect typically does not warrant or guarantee results. As a provider of professional services, an architect is required to perform to a professional standard. Courts recognize this, and so too must responsible clients.

Compensating Your Architect

The fee an architect receives depends on the types and levels of services provided, and the formal agreement you develop jointly with your architect will be an excellent basis for a compensation proposal. There are a number of commonly used payment structures — compensation may be based on one or more of them — and arriving at the one that is fairest to both client and architect requires thoughtful consideration.

Time-Based Methods
Multiple of Direct Personnel Expense multiplies salaries plus benefits by a factor representing overhead and profit. Professional Fee Plus Expenses includes salaries, benefits, and overhead as the expense, and the fee may be a multiplier, percentage, or lump sum. Hourly Billing Rates include salaries, benefits, overhead, and profit in rates for designated personnel.

Stipulated Sum
Compensation is stated as a dollar amount.

Percentage of Cost of the Work
Compensation is calculated by applying an agreed-upon percentage to the estimated or actual cost of the work.

Square Footage
Compensation equals the square footage of the structure multiplied by a pricing factor.

Unit Cost
Compensation is based on the number of units such as rooms and apartments.

Compensation is a share in the owner’s income or profit derived from the project.

 YOU AND YOUR ARCHITECT: Keeping the Project on track

Successful projects are invariably the result of effective management by both client and architect. There are a number of steps you can take to ensure that your project moves smoothly through both the design and construction phases.

Schedule for Architect’s Services
Carefully review the architect’s schedule for services. Ask that the schedule be updated on a regular basis.

Team Member
Take part in the project-planning process. Be sure that your own deadlines, as well as your own decision-making needs, are reflected in the schedule.

Client Representative
Identify a single person to represent you and to speak for you at planning sessions and project meetings.

Internal Coordination
If several people or departments must be involved in your project’s development, make it clear that the client representative is authorized to speak for you.

Plan regular meetings of the project team and participate in them. These should have clear agendas, and persons with assigned tasks should have them completed prior to meeting.

Require that contacts between architect and client be documented and the results shared with appropriate members of the project team. This system keeps everyone informed of what is being discussed and decided outside of formal meetings and presentations.

Decision Process
Be sure that both you and your architect understand the process by which you will make decisions: Who requires what information, whose approval is required, how much time should be allocated for review of submissions?

Agreement Modifications
Keep the owner-architect agreement up to date. Modify it when project scope or services are changed.

When you have questions, ask them. Pay particular attention to design submissions since the work reflected in each submission will be further developed in the next. All questions should be resolved before construction begins.

Address problems when they arise and before small ones become large ones. Regular project meetings provide a natural opportunity.

Contract Administration
Once you’ve approved the work, you want it built as designed, and your architect is well positioned to administer the contract between you and the contractor. This requires considerable experience, time, and effort, but contract administration services represent the spending of a penny to save a dollar and are highly recommended.

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The American Institute of Architects is the voice of the architecture profession dedicated to serving its members, advancing their values and improving the quality of the built environment. Through a culture of innovation, the American Institute of Architects empowers its members and inspires creation of a better built environment.

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