Joshua Sukenick on Houzz

 

Process and Schedule

While all architects follow the same basic steps, they each approach them differently. This makes it nearly impossible to accurately compare one architect to another. In interviewing architects, you should ask them to review their process with you and it is often helpful to ask them to break down the fees AND hours planned for each phase of work. Comparing hours is often the most accurate way to gage how much effort will be put into your project since most architects work at about the same pace. Comparing hours is a much more accurate idea of the service you are getting than comparing bottom line prices. Comparing hours AND services provided for the contracted fee is the only way to even begin comparing apples to apples. Click on the links below to read about each of the typical project phases.

As Builts/Existing Conditions

This phase is where the architect will measure the existing building (if one exists) to create a base drawing to work from in subsequent design phases. In new construction this phase will focus on obtaining the site plan for the project site. Other tasks performed during this phase may include discussions with the local township/municipality, collection of any other files or drawings that may already exist for the project and any additional data collection necessary to complete the project. A large number of pictures of the existing space will also be taken during this stage.

All buildings are built from the ground up. It seems silly to say this, but it holds true even when an architect is designing a building. What this means is that you must start with a good foundation to achieve a good end result. It is not uncommon for architects to rush the collection of existing data, resulting in minor (or major) errors to the existing conditions documentation. In today's computer age, all subsequent phases of work are based on the data collected and entered during this initial phase. Mistakes made here can be greatly magnified during the rest of the work on a project. Inaccurate roof slopes, dimensions and lack of detail can all lead to costly changes when these mistakes are discovered later on, often after construction has begun. When this happens it often delays work and costs the home owner more money. This is why it is so critical to ensure whoever you hire is spending an appropriate amount of time collecting existing data and accurately entering it in the computer during this initial stage of work. To be done well, this stage will usually represent 10-20% of the total design fee in residential work. In commercial work this is the one area where costs are potentially lower; sometimes as low as 5% of the overall fee for larger projects.

Schematic Design

Schematic Design is the phase where designs are developed and documented for presentation to the client. It is during this phase that the floor plans and elevations (facades) of the new space are developed. The end result of this phase should include a complete design that provides a very clear direction for the remainder of the work. It is this final design that will be developed during the later stages and eventually become your new space.

The final design concept usually consists of a single plan for each level and associated elevation drawings. This plan should represent something similar to (but a little more detailed than) what you would see in any home related magazine or advertisement. After this stage, the architect uses these base drawings to develop all drawings in the Construction Document set. Therefore, changes made after this stage will involve more cost and more time to implement completely, and often can lead to mistakes from the architect. Unless you are comfortable with the overall floor plan and aesthetics of the design, you should not continue past this stage until those issues are resolved.

Because of the advice in the paragraph above this stage is often the most difficult stage to budget time for when an architect drafts a proposal. Some architects will present only their favorite layout, while others might give the client a few options to choose from. The number of meetings included in this phase could also vary greatly, so it is very important to know what to expect during this phase when negotiating contracts with your architect.

Another reason this stage can be difficult to judge is that every client is different. The longer it takes for the client to make decisions and the more indecision they have will directly extend the time it takes to reach the conclusion of this stage. Most clients assume they make quick decisions, but that is rarely the case. Since it is so difficult to budget this stage, your architect should quantify the number of revisions, meetings, or designs specified in their contract before you sign it. This simply allows for an understanding of what you should expect to see before charges in addition to the terms of the contract would be billed. This clarification protects BOTH parties involved.

Design Development

In larger residential projects and especially in commercial projects, this phase is often lumped in with the Construction Document phase. It is during this phase that an architect will coordinate with other professionals involved in the project, including Site/Civil, Structural, Mechanical/HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical and Fire/Life Safety Engineers. Coordination with any other design consultants will be included in this phase. These could include kitchen equipment, green technologies and other specialties.

Design Development has become increasingly left out of proposals, especially in residential work. This is largely due to fact that most drawings are now done on the computer. Traditionally, this phase developed the Schematic Design further, ironing out any details left unresolved. But with the computer forcing more accuracy from the start much of this refinement is already incorporated in earlier stages. The relatively small nature of residential projects also tends to eliminate the need for this phase as it is usually possible to be very accurate from the beginning with these smaller projects.

Construction Documentation

This is the phase where the traditional "blueprints" are developed. Since blueprinting is no longer done in most offices (having been replaced by plotting directly from the computer), many professionals now refer to these drawings as "Construction Documents" or CD's for short. Regardless of what they are called, these drawings provide the basis for construction, budgeting and also serve as legal documentation of what the finished product should be.

It is critical that these drawings are thorough, accurate and provide a lot of detailed information. Due to the detail necessary, more time is usually spent in this phase than in any other. It is not uncommon for Construction Documentation to represent 50-75% of the total time spent on a project. It should again be noted that accuracy in the As-Built phase can shorten time necessary to complete this phase because those drawings serve as the basis from which all Construction Documents are developed. If more accurate drawings are done from the start, this phase is often easier to complete. Extensive coordination and cross checking happens during this phase and this is where mistakes in the architect's work are often discovered. After this stage, any mistakes remaining will be found during construction, which often leads to expensive changes and additional charges from your contractor and/or architect.

And yes, ALL architects make mistakes. To complete a thorough set of construction documents your architect must document and coordinate millions of bits of information. The less time spent on this task, the more mistakes will be made. Mistakes eat up time and cost money. We cannot stress enough the importance of having a thoroughly detailed drawing set!

Refer to the Drawings section in the Information Center for a more in depth discussion of what you should look for during this part of the project.

Bidding/Negotiations

Architects can be very helpful in reviewing contractors' bids to help the client compare apples to apples. They also may assist in negotiating prices and terms within the contract. Most architects will offer this service, though it often is not part of the initial architectural contract (especially with residential work). While it is usually a good idea to obtain a few bids from different contractors, it can be very difficult to determine what each one actually provides under the terms of the contract they give you. Much like architects' prices can vary greatly, so can contractors' prices. Your architect should be able to help you accurately compare final prices as well as recommend items to be included and excluded from your contract.

Construction Administration

This service is often offered as an additional service in residential and smaller commercial work and is usually performed under a separate contract for larger commercial projects. Some architects include at least some construction administration in their initial contract, so you should look to see if any time is budgeted for this phase in the base proposal.

During this stage an architect can be retained to oversee the work done on site and oversee/assist with payment requests from the contractor. Basically, they can oversee construction to make sure the drawings are being followed and they can help the homeowner make sure they are not paying for more work than the contractor has done. The architect will often act as a mediator in tough conversations (usually financially related) between the contractor and owner/client, which are inevitable. By hiring an architect for this phase you are ensuring a professional with a knowledge of construction practices will be on site at various times during construction to verify things are being done according to the documents. They may observe and review things such as the overall layout, proper installation methods, use of specified materials and can evaluate the quality of the work being performed. They act as the owner's representative on site to ensure the documents are being followed and the quality is of the level anticipated.

It is also common for architects to be involved with payment requests and distribution of funds during construction phases. The biggest potential risk (not related to the construction itself) during construction is paying too far in advance. You want to make sure that you provide the general contractor with enough to pay for materials and for their sub-contractors while still retaining enough money so that there are sufficient funds if someone else has to be called in to finish the project. At the very least, it is usually wise to retain at least 10% of the total fee until the completion of all work.

Since there are always unexpected changes that need to happen in the field, change orders are often handled and approved by the architect before the work in question is done. The architect will verify the need for the change and the materials and processes needed to make it happen and then determine of the amount requested (or refunded) is reasonable given the change that is necessary.

There are numerous other advantages to hiring an architect to perform these services. Your decision to hire them should be based on your knowledge of construction, trust in your architect and contractor and your budget. For this stage you're spending a tiny fraction of the construction price to ensure the construction goes up as designed and with the level of quality that will ensure its longevity.

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