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May 14, 2011 / Robert Ross

Why hire an Architect?

“My contractor told me I needed to call you. We know exactly what we want, how much do you charge for the blueprints?”In these cost challenged times, this is a familiar theme. Another common refrain, “Why should we hire an Architect, our project isn’t:  a) big enough, b) expensive enough, c) important enough”. Or even the more basic, “I just need some drawings to get a permit, our contractor knows what to build.” A lot of my time and energy lately has been spent on marketing efforts.  As a result, a lot of it has been in trying to come up with answers to these and other similar questions.

As part of the weekly program of a networking group I belong to, each member is periodically given the opportunity to present their business.  It was recently my turn.  With price playing an even greater role in decision making, and facing the reality that most people really don’t know what an Architect or designer can bring to a project, I decided to create a “Why hire an Architect?” presentation and follow it up with a recent project to illustrate the points.

Here are my top 6 reasons to hire an architect:

Vision-  One of the services I offer clients is to preview a property under consideration – prior to purchase! Whether raw land or an existing house we are able to walk the property and discuss its potential pros and cons related to their particular project goals. After previewing a house one client was considering for renovation, she casually turned to me and said “You are a visionary. “I was surprised into silence! It was not the way I would typically describe myself. but it is at the heart of what we do as architects and designers. We have an amazing capacity to look past the present and see the possibilities. Our job is bring those possibilities to life and within budget.

Analysis- A successful project is one that meets the stated needs of the client and then exceeds their expectation. This requires a clear ability to understand not only the client’s requirements, but the impact of climate and codes on a potential solution. There is no one size fits all solution to a problem but a maze of possibilities. The Architect’s job is to navigate that maze. The choices begin with an analysis of the clients needs, ranking them in order of priority and making sure they don’t conflict with each other. Once you have the internal requirements, you then look beyond the project borders to minimize external impact on the project. For a residence, maintaining a clear distinction between public and private space can become a delicate balancing act. Blocking the view of or from the ugly house next door may be a priority. A guest to a home office should never pass through the private areas of a house. It is probably not the best idea to locate a picture window over a master tub on the front of a house. Why build a 5000 square foot house if you can accomplish the same goals more effectively in 3,500 square feet? Careful analysis helps prevent those pitfalls that can lead to difficulties in a future sale of a property.

Leadership-  Many clients enjoy existing relationships with contractors, interior designers or other professionals that they bring to the table. I personally enjoy a team approach to design. In my experience, the collaboration of differing perspectives usually leads to a better outcome. Because the Architect is typically the one person on the project team whose job intersects with all others, it falls to him to to be the coordinator and leader. The Architect is charged with maintaining the overall vision for the project and making sure that the appropriate decisions are made in a timely manner. There are a myriad of choices to be made to get from paper to reality and an appropriate order to handling those tasks. To revisit an old saying, it is much better to draw twice and build once!

Unexpected and unique- Because of their visionary and analytical approach to design, hiring an architect will often result in the client’s goals being met in a completely unexpected way. For one project, I was hired to design a remodeling of a kitchen. At the initial meeting the client was not able to see past the original layout of the house. By putting it on paper, it became clear that the dining area and kitchen actually needed to swap locations. It was a very successful reconfiguration that led to me being called back in for a more extensive remodeling and addition. On another project, the owner of a lakefront house was very insistent on having exterior living space overlooking the lake. And rightly so! The exterior deck just did not need to be in front of the floor to ceiling glass window wall that provided a view of the lake from the main living area of the house.  As a result of shifting the deck to one side, there are vantage points where you feel like you are on board a ship.

Expertise- Because of their training and experience, Architects bring a vast wealth of  knowledge to every project they work on. They can look at a property and assess environmental, code and zoning issues that might be unapparent to the owner. By tweaking a design in a certain direction, the Architect can often bypass the need for a variance saving the client time and cost. In the event a variance is required, the Architect often has the experience to help expedite the process.  There is always more than one way to achieve a goal. Architects can help look at a project’s cost in a holistic manner. A less efficient heating and air conditioning system may be less expensive to install in the short term , but more expensive to operate or maintain in the long term. A client should be able to make an informed decision and the Architect can help them impartially weigh the pros and cons of a proposed solution.

The sixth and final reason to hire an architect is

Architects bring and add Value to any project they are involved in. Because of the involvement of an Architect, it is possible to achieve a good design and meet a budget. A well thought out project will positively impact the daily life of a client in many ways primarily through attention to detail.  Through careful design, liabilities can become assets. The thoughtful choice of materials and systems can lead to a reduced maintenance structure that costs less to operate. A well thought out project will typically be more easy to sell because it makes sense to more people.

If you just want blueprints for a permit, hire a draftsman. If you want a creative solution that maximizes the value of your investment, hire the Architect.



Leave a Comment
  1. leecalisti / May 14 2011 11:37 am

    Wow, I have been thinking of a way to say everything you have just said. But you’ve done it eloquently. This is an endless discussion and seemingly defensive type of position we as architect have. However, this begins to put a positive spin on it. It is a sort of “what do you mean you’re not going to hire an architect” spin rather than “why should I” mentality. Thanks for not being anti-architect as many residential designers can be. I now have to either quote you extensively or come up with my own list!

    • Robert Ross / May 15 2011 9:38 am

      Thanks Lee! I’ve always thought people can be too hung up on titles. Design is design after all no matter who does it! I’ve a new post on that topic in the hopper!

  2. jeff / May 15 2011 7:17 am

    Well written, as always, Robert !

  3. Cherish Devaughn / May 16 2011 7:35 am

    Hello, just hopped over to this site from stumbleupon. It is not blog post I would typically read, but I liked your spin on it. Thank you for making a piece worth reading!

  4. Beth Shorthouse / May 17 2011 11:12 am

    Well said, Robert!

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