Many who reach out to me for architectural services are very familiar with construction and working with an architect, others are very new to the process. If you are the later, this is for you.
The process of construction and hiring an architect may be an overwhelming one.
What is the process?
How much does an architect charge?
How long will it take?
If you want to learn more, please read on…below are some questions I am frequently asked by new clients.
Frequently asked questions
I’m just starting and don’t even know where to begin. What is the process?
When you make the first call, we will discuss your project, timeline, and other parameters in broad terms. Depending on the outcome of the conversation, we will schedule a meeting to meet in person, ideally at the site.
How much does an architect charge?
Though it, obviously, varies from project to project, it is a good idea to budget somewhere between 4% and 12% of construction cost of the project. Yes, this is a wide range and here are a few reasons why.
- Smaller projects may end up being a higher percentage as they still require much of the “basics” that larger projects may require.
- Conversely, larger projects with a much higher budget may be toward the lower percentage.
- If you already have a good idea of what you are looking for, maybe even have a floor plan sketched out, and are able to respond very decisively throughout our collaboration, the process may go more quickly. In these cases, the fee may be toward the lower end.
- Some projects are very “basic”, requiring minimal design work, whereas others require much more detailing, design coordination, and drawings to aid in construction. These projects may be toward the mid to higher end.
- Renovation and/or addition projects typically take more time as we are working together to design something that “works” with an existing building or home leading these projects to lean more toward the mid to higher percentage range.
I typically charge for services on an hourly basis, though it may vary based on the project. In the proposal, I will offer an estimate of time I expect each phase to take. This method has proven to be the most equitable approach for clients and myself alike. When we work together in this method, we are each driven to be efficient in our process.
Who do I hire first, a contractor or an architect?
It is usually recommended that an architect be engaged first. Though you can certainly begin talking with contractors and getting a sense of their availability and interest in the project, the architect will most likely be your first step.
Many clients, understandably, are eager to know how much their project will cost and will want to ask a contractor. Yes, the contractor is the best source for providing construction costs, however, they will need to have some basic parameters on what it is that they will be constructing before they can offer a budget. An architect can collaborate with you to provide those basic parameters fairly early in the design process so that you can obtain some realistic numbers and be able to more confidently move forward with your project.
Working with an architect first is also a good way to narrow your project scope. As an experienced architect, I may be able to help you economize the size, construction type, or build-out of the project. You might think that you need a 10,000 square foot building, but after analyzing your current needs and future goals for the building, we may find that, with an efficient layout, you can get what you want in a more modest building size. Or we might realize that by phasing the project, we can get what you need near term, while planning for the expansion in the future. We also may be able to help find more effective ways to construct the project than one in which a particular contractor may want to build.
With a previous client, for example, they wanted to build a large 2-story addition for offices above an existing and functioning day care center on a very tight site. You can imagine the challenges this presented. After logistic discussions with the client and researching different building methods, we discovered that a local pre-engineered metal building company was able to rise to the task and have the entire shell erected, enclosed and weather tight during the two week allotted timeline when the day care center was closed. Though their original contractor with whom they had consulted did not do pre-engineered buildings, they were able to be brought in after the shell was complete. The project came in on budget and on time with the collaboration of the entire team.
Will I need any additional design professionals or consultants, other than an architect, to help with the project or for permit?
Generally, yes. On almost every project on which I work, there is at least one partnering consultant involved, if not more than one. I have great collaborative relationships with such consultants that I can bring on to the project team. Depending on the jurisdiction and the requirements for applying for approvals, none, some or all of the following may be required. Usually the client will contract directly with the consultant, however, I will provide project coordination throughout.
Though there are other consultants we may need to bring in to aid in your project, some of the more typical may include:
Structural Engineer – will design the foundations and footings, provide details for connections, provide sizing for structural elements of the project, etc.
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing Engineer – Typically referred to as the MEP Engineer, these professionals design the mechanical systems (heating, cooling, ventilation), provide the electrical and lighting design as well as the design for the plumbing in the building. Generally, MEP engineers are engaged for commercial and multi-family projects, however, may also be instrumental in providing energy efficient design for residential projects as well.
Civil Engineer – will design the layout of the site, including parking, drainage, documentation of utilities, stormwater mitigation, etc. Some will also have professionals on staff who can provide landscape and site lighting design.
Interior Designer – Though my work with you involves designing the actual building or spaces that will work best for your needs, we will bring on a collaborating interior designer when you need assistance selecting finishes, lighting fixtures, furnishings, etc.
Can you tell me how much construction will cost?
I always leave input on this very important question up to the contractors as costs can vary based on many factors. However, I can help you get to a point in the design process where you can begin getting some general construction estimates. Most contractors will want to see a basic floor plan, elevations (if applicable for the project), understand the type of construction, intended use, special construction or considerations involved, etc. to be able to offer an initial cost estimate.
Usually, I will work with a client through at least the Schematic Design phase where we will establish the general direction of the project. At the end of this phase, the drawings can typically be used to gain some general budget numbers. However, though these numbers will give you a ballpark figure, expect that they are not final. As we add more detail and information to the drawings in subsequent phases, pricing will be able to be adjusted and finessed accordingly.
How long will it take to design my project and get a permit? And then, how long will construction cost?
Again, it depends. Some simpler projects can be designed quickly and will require minimal time in building permit review. However, others may require planning and zoning review and approval before we can even submit for the actual building permit. In some jurisdictions, it may take months for a project to go through the planning and zoning review and approval process. Others may offer a more streamlined process, however, it also depends on the type of project, property, whether zoning changes are requested, etc.
In reference to the actual design of a project, I like to start out the process by providing as many different options as I can for a client’s consideration initially for the first schematic design meeting. This has proven to be a successful practice and allows us to “get there” more quickly. Though it may seem a bit overwhelming at first, once Clients are able to digest the variety of options I provide for their project, we can more quickly narrow down what works and what is not as successful. In some cases, design options can even be mixed and matched among the options
Do you charge for the initial meeting?
Generally, I do not charge for the initial meeting, unless I begin taking measurements or other documentation.
At this first meeting, ideally on site, it gives me a chance to meet you in person, learn about the project, the parameters, the goals, etc. Once I have this better understanding of a project, I am best equipped to offer you a proposal and an idea of the process moving forward.
What if we change our minds about the project, are we responsible for the entire architectural fee proposed?
Sometimes during the design process, we make discoveries that lead to something different than we had initially anticipated. Other times, those discoveries just serve to further solidify the original design direction and we continue to move even more confidently forward. Then, occasionally, it is discovered that the project just simply isn’t feasible for one reason or another.
Examples of changes that might happen could include:
- After the first code review, we discover that by combining sprinklers with a specific construction type, we can build a bigger building for less cost per square foot. Or…
- Once the initial bids come in, it is decided that the project is too far out of reach. Ok, we can either abandon altogether if it just doesn’t make sense financially or reassess and talk about phasing or scaling back. Or….
- The funding for your new building is being postponed and you have to put the project on hold. Ok, we pause the design process until other arrangements can be made. In the meantime, I can help with helping to find ways to potentially make the project more economical.
When things do change or a project is put on hold, for whatever reason, so can our work together. Basing most proposals on a phased, hourly basis allows flexibility to address things that arise in a more seamless way. One of the benefits of working through the design and documentation process in stages is that we are biting off a bit at a time. We start off with initial ideas and build on them, allowing us to pivot throughout as more information develops.
With respect to the design process and the fee amount estimated in the original proposal, if something comes up to cause the project to stop before we have seen it through to completion, you are only responsible for the total hourly fee for the design work completed up until that point. If and when the project resumes, we can pick up where we left off or I may offer a new proposal based on the new scope of work depending on the time lapsed or if the project is much different than where we began.
What is your design style?
Short answer…it’s yours.
At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what my style is or what types of aesthetic appeal to me. What matters is that I can find out what YOURS is. I am not working with you to design my project, I am working with you to design yours.
Some clients are very visually driven. In these cases, I will task you with overloading me with images, narratives, stories, etc. to fully paint a picture of all of the things that you love, want and need in your project. Further, when it is helpful, I provide an extensive questionnaire about lifestyle, project wishlist, hobbies, family, etc. to help us further explore what we may or may not want to incorporate.
The better I am to fully understand the designs you love and then to solidify the goals for the project, the better I am able to collaborate with you on a successful design for your project.
Other clients, however, particularly my commercial clients, may be more driven by function, efficiency and economics. In these cases, I strive to learn as much as I can about the use of the building or a space, how it will function, how the function may change in the future, how we can design the project to be most efficient, etc. I also work within the codes to find the best solutions and alternatives for any given project.
I don’t even know if the project is feasible, can you help?
If it a question of budget, let’s get some preliminary drawings together and get them to contractors for initial cost estimates.
If it is a question of whether the use, building size/construction type, etc. will “work” from a code perspective, I can put together a code analysis for you and get some initial broad brush answers to you.
If it is a question of whether the use you are proposing is allowable in a particular jurisdiction or even in a specific building, I can do some jurisdiction and code research to help sort through those answers.
Though, certainly, the project is subject to final approval as it goes through the various jurisdiction review processes, however, we can work together to find some initial answers early on.
My neighbor’s cousin has a computer program that he uses to draw plans, why can’t I just use him? He said that he would only charge me a 12 pack of beer and a meatball sub. Why should I even hire an architect?
Experienced. Degreed and Licensed. Insured.
Though a licensed architect’s services may cost you more (and should) than a non-licensed draftsperson or designer, there are many reasons why it is a valuable investment. Nothing against your neighbor’s cousin – I am sure that he is a great guy, but there are reasons why a licensed architect may be better suited for your project.
An architect brings experience.
- I have been practicing for over 20 years – over 10 of which as the owner of my own firm. As such, I have vast experience in many different types of projects, construction, and clients. That experience brings with it design expertise, comprehensive knowledge of building codes (they are kind of my thing), and a wealth of mental data on what “works” and what I have seen that doesn’t.
- As an experienced architect, I can design a building or space that is more efficient (both functionally and economically).
- As an experienced architect, I have had years of researching, deciphering, and implementing building codes. Building codes can be a confusing web, depending on the complexity of the project. There are typically several that need to be considered for any given project as well as specific amendments put forth by each jurisdiction. As your architect, it is my job to navigate such applicable codes and to design the project accordingly.
- My drawings help permitting go more smoothly. Permitting can sometimes be a headache in some projects. The permit drawings I provide help permitting go more smoothly as they are detailed, clear and professional.
- Then, during construction, these clear, well-thought out drawings, resulting from an extensive development process, aid in construction and help reduce change orders, questions and revisions in the field.
- The investment that you spend on an experienced architect will surely pay for itself in a better overall design (leading to better fulfillment of why you did the project in the first place), more comprehensive drawings (leading to potentially quicker permitting and more efficient construction), less change orders (less unexpected costs) and many more.
An architect has a degree and is licensed.
I earned my Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture from The University of Virginia. After graduating, I returned to Maryland, began my internship with my mentor, and then went on to graduate with honors with my Masters of Science in Architecture from Morgan State University while working two jobs. I worked with my cherished mentor for 12 years. When he passed in 2009, I began my own firm.
An architect must not only meet strict educational and internship standards, but we also must take and pass a series of rigorous tests prior to being able to call ourselves an “architect”. From then on, we must maintain our license status by keeping our registration current in each state in which we are licensed. We also must meet the minimum number of hours for continuing education units every year for each state in which we are licensed. The continuing education helps to keep us current with evolving codes, materials and methods, life safety issues, etc.
For many projects, some residential and all commercial projects, it is actually required by the jurisdiction that a licensed architect has been engaged for the project. The permit drawings must be stamped and signed by an architect licensed in the state in which the project is going to be built.
I am currently licensed in Colorado and Maryland, however, have been licensed in several other states across the country in the past. As I have a national reciprocity status, I can apply for and obtain a license in all states within a very reasonable amount of time and with a small fee.
An architect is insured (or at least should be).
No one is perfect, though we certainly may all strive to be.
Mistakes happen. Accidents happen.
Insurance policies are there if/when such unfortunate and unforeseen events happen.
My firm is insured and I can provide specific policy details and limits as/if required for your project.
When I hire your firm, with whom will I be working?
SCD Architecture, Inc. is a one-woman firm. I am the chief cook and bottle washer. I am the one who will meet with you, write the proposal, and work with you throughout the process. I draw the project, make adjustments along the way, and talk with you or your contractor when questions arise.
How do I choose an architect?
Do some research. Talk with others who have used an architect in the past. Talk with contractors, Realtors, commercial brokers, and others who have experience working with architects and ask for names from them. “Google” and look for reviews.
Once you have gathered some names, I recommend that you talk with a few of us. Make initial phone calls, set up an initial meeting, and see if you “jive”.
Though certainly the proposed fee may be a driver of your choice, I highly recommend that you take into strong consideration other key factors like experience, recommendations from past clients, and the ability to communicate with you. Like so many things in life, the relationship you will have with your architect is an important one. You may be working with your architect for months, if not longer. It is vital that you are able to communicate with each other effectively. If you don’t feel like you are being heard or understood or vice versa, the design process may not be an effective or productive one. Personally, I also think that it is also important that you find an architect you actually like. I love what I do and want to work with clients who want to enjoy the process as well.
How do I find a contractor?
As with finding an architect, do some research. Ask around. Reach out to folks who are involved in or who have done a similar kind of project you are undertaking and ask them for referrals. I am also able to provide some names of a few who might be appropriate for your project.
Once you have some names, I advise that you talk with at least 3 contractors. Before making final decisions, it is extremely important to do your research. Talk with past clients and ask them about the contractor’s ability to meet deadlines and budget as well as question their satisfaction with the process, details, communication, end product and the like. Consult organizations like BBB, trade organizations, etc. to assess the record, satisfaction and viability of the contractor you choose. The more you can find out, the better as you want to be as sure as you can that your investment will be a sound one.
What is your relationship with the contractors on the projects on which you work?
A word you will see a lot on my website as well as hear in our conversations is “collaboration”. Collaboration between everyone on the project is key as we all bring vital pieces to the process. When we work together on a project, we all have the same goal in mind – a project that is a successful one. Though what that looks like may be slightly different for everyone involved, we can all agree that we want a project where the client is happy at the end of it and where everyone walks away feeling as if it was a fair and equitable process throughout. One where we treat one another with respect and one where we would want to work with one another again or recommend one another in the future.
Clearly, as with all things, construction is never perfect. Mistakes may happen, disagreements may arise, expectations may not be fully met – but in order to be successful, we all need to be on the same “team” and sit on the same side of the figurative table. We need to be able to communicate, to respect and appreciate everyone’s perspective and input and be able to listen and respond accordingly.
For me, I value the input of the contractors on all of the projects on which I work. If and when they find something in the drawing that is a mistake or a detail that can be constructed better, tell me! Though I am extremely good at what I do, I am not perfect. I am learning better ways to do things every day and would much rather learn than continue to draw something a certain way that leaves contractors scratching their heads.
I also value input in the field. If, during construction, a contractor has a suggestion that is better, for one reason or another, than what is on the drawings, I’m all about it. If the client likes it better and it meets building codes, let’s work to incorporate it into the project.
I don’t find myself limited by much of an ego and welcome the team approach in all things. We all have such an important voice that will lead to a project’s success as we all have our important and complimentary expertise. The better we are all able to work together – client, contractor, and architect – the better the result.
What do I do next?
Get in touch. Call me (303-325-7642) or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I can’t wait to learn about your project and how I can help