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If you’re looking for an architect you’ve probably read the 20 Questions to Ask your Architect article published by the AIA. While this is a good list, we wanted to add a few more questions and suggestions to help your selection process. Some of these suggestions are from our insight gained from working in actual offices and interviewing with hundreds of potential clients. Other issues arise from knowing how a good office functions and what technology is used by the best firms. Here’s our list:
1. Visit the architect’s office
An architect’s workplace can say a lot about their design aesthetic and creativity. However, many first meetings with a client will be at their project site, so you may not have an opportunity to see their office. Consider scheduling a visit there within a few days of the initial meeting.
2. A disorganized architect’s office might be a red flag
An architect has to organize hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of information, and a disorganized office might be a big red flag. However, don’t confuse artist creativity with disorganization! Models or model building supplies, trace paper, and sketches can be a sign of real creativity, but project information is normally stored in binders and filing cabinets, or better yet, electronically on a server. Deep piles of paper are probably not a good thing.
3. Ask your architect if they are using 3D software (the answer should be ‘yes’ – then ask them if they are using BIM)
The industry standard architectural software uses BIM (building information modeling). A house designed with BIM is a complete 3D computer model, built with geometry representing real-world construction materials and assemblies. In many cases, the software can help eliminate errors in coordination of drawings, since the 2D drawings are all generated from the 3D model. The software also keeps track of things like sizes of each door and window, and when a size is changed in one drawing, it is automatically updated in another. One of the most helpful features of today’s latest and greatest architectural software is its ability to generate realistic perspectives–so you can get an accurate preview of how your project will look once completed. This can greatly reduce the number of (expensive) changes that happen during construction. Learn more about BIM by reading our article The Benefits of Using a Building Information Model (BIM).
4. Education is the foundation of an architect’s experience
While attending a good school can help assure your architect has a good foundation to build upon, usually a better indicator is how an architect did in the school they attended. From my experience in school and teaching, only 10%-20% of students are really talented designers and very few students got significantly better as they went through school. To get a sense of how someone did in school, ask about design awards they may have won or exhibitions they may have participated in.
5. Know who you are going to work with
If you are hiring a multi-person firm, find out who you will actually be working with. Many times the person you are interviewing with won’t actually be doing much work on your project. If the person you are going to be working with isn’t in the interview, ask to visit the architect’s office (see #1) and meet the person or people who will be on your team. Ask to see the credentials of those team members, as well.
6. Architects communicate with drawings as well as words
Look at the architect’s drawings and ask questions about them. It may be challenging to read or understand drawings if you haven’t done that before, but if you can’t understand them after an architect explains them, then either the drawings are not very good, or the architect has a hard time communicating – either might be a red flag.
7. A complete set of construction drawings includes specifications
Not all information is communicated within drawings. Plumbing fixtures, electrical fixtures, finishes, expected quality levels, and other information that is easier said in words than in drawings are communicated in written specifications. If your architect doesn’t prepare specifications, then you’ll likely be answering many questions during construction and may be hit with change orders.
8. Look at the architect’s website
A well designed, well laid-out website can communicate that an architect is organized and can assemble information clearly. On the other hand, if their website is out of date, or they don’t have one, this might be a hint that they are behind the times.
9. Find out how well the architect works with building departments
When you or your architect submits your drawings to the building department, they are typically reviewed and a revision/correction notice is issued. A good architect can easily get a residential or small commercial project through with no revisions or one round of revisions. Since each round of revisions takes time to pick up drawings, revise, resubmit, and re-review, fewer rounds of revisions means you get your permit sooner. This could hold up construction. If you’re trying to get your project framed and weather-tight before the rainy season, this could push the project into a season with unfavorable construction conditions.