5 common fears of working with an architect


The first thing that people talk to me about when they say they are thinking about hiring an architect for their new building is their fears (well maybe fees first then fears?  Or fears of fees?).  Most people fear many things when it comes to new construction as most people have never dealt with it in their life.  I, of course, deal with it every day so it isn’t scary to me at all…but alas, it is my job as an architect to put my clients’ fears to rest.  Here are some common fears I deal with:

Communication:

Most people get extremely stressed out when they start thinking about how often they will be talking with their architect.  I make it a point to ensure that I am extremely accessible to all of my clients.  Architecture to me is not a 9-5 job…I never stop being an architect the same way a doctor doesn’t stop being a doctor.  I “work” nights, weekends, and everything in between.  It isn’t uncommon for me to get back to clients within the hour…definitely that day, or at the latest the next day.  I understand that a simple 5-minute conversation or a few lines in an email is usually enough to calm the client down and make him/her feel like they’re staying in the loop throughout the process. By the way, I put work in quotes because what I do doesn’t feel like work to me.  As sad as it sounds architecture is my biggest hobby!

Builders:

I have great connections with builders over the last 20 years.  The best way to get a good builder is by word of mouth, testimonials, looking at their previous work, etc.  Basically, the same way you would find a good architect.  For more reading on finding a good architect please click herefear of feesTo me it has always been important to like (on a personal level) the builder you will be working with. I find this important because you will be working with them for many months…sometimes up to a year if not longer.  You want to make sure that the builder is someone you can get along with and feel comfortable with.  You don’t want to be with a builder that makes you feel like you’re annoying him whenever you send an email.

Expectations:

It is important to have a consultation with an architect (hopefully me!) at the very onset to establish what your expectations are not only for the project, but for the relationship with the architect. I always offer a free consultation because that is the only way I can fully understand the scope of the project.  I need to understand the scope so I can price the project the best way possible.  Now in terms of the consultation from the client’s perspective, it is critical because this is the time to be face-to-face with your potential architect.  This is the time to express all your questions, concerns, and fears.  It is very important that you go into your architect/owner relationship with eyes open and dwell within the realm of reality.  For example:  I had a consultation with a client for an extremely complicated project.  They told me they’re in a rush to get the drawings (no shock there!).  Then they continue to tell me they need the signed/sealed documents within 4 weeks.  At that moment I told them their expectations weren’t realistic and if I was that good I would not be an architect I’d be a magician!  After I explained that to them they quickly backtracked and asked for 8 weeks.  I told them let’s shoot for 12 weeks and if we come in at 8 or 9 weeks I’ll be the hero as opposed to saying 8 weeks and taking 12.  This is just one example of ensuring that you and the architect are on the same page when it comes to expectations.  Voice your concerns.  Come prepared to the consultation with a laundry list of questions.  Make sure that by the end of the meeting you feel confident that they can meet your expectations…or on the flip side, rule them out if they cannot.

Responsibility:

In my humble opinion, the most important stage of any architectural project is the drawing stage.  This is where the design is graphically explained in document form with complete schedules and notes on how the building and all of its components will come together to form the building.  Calling out the right components and assemblies is critical.  It is the architect’s responsibility to do this properly.  As proof of my confidence in my abilities, I used my name for my firm.  I didn’t hide behind a made-up name…the name of the business IS my name.  If there is a problem with my drawings I assure you they will be remedied.

Fees:

Maybe this should be first on the list?  Most people that want a building will first go to their family, then friends, then the internet, then their friend’s cousins to avoid having to go to an architect for services.  Most people hear the word “architect” and immediately think, “this is going to be expensive”.  To be blunt they’re not wrong…architects are not inexpensive per se (not good ones anyway!).  However, it is important to understand the value that the architect brings to the project.  The standard of care for an architect is something I take extremely seriously.  When people hear I’m an architect the first thing they always want to talk about is design aesthetics, which is fine.  But most people don’t realize that buildings can potentially be scary things.  It doesn’t occur to most people that life-safety issues trump design.  In my mind’s eye my architectural priorities have always been:  1) life-safety 2) water intrusion 3) design.  There isn’t any point in building your dream home if the walls are going to cave in or the floors are going to collapse.  I know that sounds extreme but I have to be extreme when talking about safety issues in buildings.  I’ve been called to projects that weren’t designed properly to find things that were literally jaw-dropping.  We’re talking about things that should never have been built.  Things that could have killed people.  People always understand that doctors can kill people if they mess up, but they never think about what would happen if an architect messed up.  Could you imagine what would happen if a 20-story apartment building’s structural system failed?  I promise it would kill more than just one person.

Fees can be scary and cause for concern for clients, but at the same time it depends on what the architect brings to the table and how he/she charges.  After doing this for as long as I have I can say (with a straight face) that my fees are beyond fair for the services I provide.  I will also listen to a potential client’s concerns with respect to my fees and try my very best to make the numbers work.  So far this system has worked very well for me.  Once they understand that although they have to pay me, they gain someone that will be in their corner throughout the entire process looking out for their wallet.  What I mean is that my fees are fixed…so once my fees are established my job then becomes keeping the project cost as low as possible to make my client as happy as possible.  In essence, a portion of my fees are recouped during the project by properly designing the building(s).