22 Jan 2010

Working With an Architect

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Maybe I’ve taken it for granted because I’ve worked with architects and other design professionals my whole adult life so I know what architects do; but I’ve learned most people (builders included) have never worked with an architect and have no idea what an architect does. The general public receives their architect exposure vicariously through movies or a friend’s experience. Movies often cast characters as architects, but rarely in an architect’s role to tell an architect’s story. Everyone has a friend or friend-of-a-friend who used or knows an architect, but second-hand knowledge is scarcely enough to unveil the mystery behind the architect-experience. As you prepare to choose your design-partner, allow me to share a first-hand experience from someone who knows what it’s like to work with an architect many times over as architect, client and colleague.

Are you interviewing architects, but don’t know where to start or what to expect? You’re not alone because most of my clients have a design project and need help. They believe (rightfully so) they need an architect, but don’t know what architects do or how they work. Allow me to explain what you can expect from Your Architect.

what do architects do?

We provide living solutions! That means we listen to your ideas, discover what ails you, resolve your design dilemma and create a beautiful place to live, work, shop, worship and play that works! Whether it’s new or a remodel, residential or commercial, inside or outside. If you live in it or around it, an architect designs it. We have immense fun creating inspiring spaces and want to perform this talent for you. If you don’t believe me, ask and you’ll immediately learn an architect loves what they do and craves inspired clients who appreciate what we do.

what don’t architects do?

We don’t convert your sketches into functional floor plans. We don’t meld floor plans you found on the internet into a plan you like and we rarely draw speculative homes. We don’t transplant designs made for others on your lot. We don’t modify other’s designs without permission and we don’t stamp drawings someone else designed. Each of these compromises our creativity or ethics so don’t ask us to do it, but we will gladly create a unique design for you based on your personal criteria.

how do architects work?

At first we’re learners; then we’re teachers and we’re always leaders. In the beginning we’re learners because we learn how you live and how your land accommodates nature and man. Then we’re teachers because we teach you how we combine competing lifestyle, environment, regulatory and infrastructure goals to create your design. We’re always leaders because we maintain a comprehensive vision and advise you and the builder how to maintain design intent and get what you paid for. We want to be as involved in your design, construction, site selection, builder selection and consultant service as you allow and we offer full architectural services. We request compensation for the time and expertise required to develop your special space and communicate your desires to builders.

what can you expect from Your Architect?
  • I rarely dictate solutions. I describe options and recommend solutions with the advantages and disadvantages of everything we discuss, but you have the ultimate decision providing your choice conforms with codes and ethical behavior.
  • I will always explain what I did and why. Nothing I do is arbitrary and I will remind you why we made certain decisions and its significance to the overall design concept to help you make the best design decision.
  • I will ask lots of questions and when you think I’ve asked everything, I’ll ask more questions. Sometimes you wish I wouldn’t ask so many questions, but when we finish design and construction you’ll be thankful I did.
  • I won’t put anything in the design I’m uncomfortable sealing. A seal is the architect’s quality assurance stamp that the project meets the state’s professional practice standards. You may ask me to reduce the service to reduce the fee and I’ll explain why I won’t compromise your project or my professional obligation.
  • I will bill @ milestones and will request prompt payment. My work is never about money but I’m running a business that needs cash flow to survive.
  • I will slow down if I think you’re making decisions too rapidly. This approach saves you money because if you rush ahead I can charge you for re-work. I’m flexible and willingly revise and experiment within reason but may charge a modest fee for untimely requests especially later in design.
  • I will explore several scenarios, often at my cost and sometimes at yours. I believe the first solution is rarely the best solution and true creativity requires digging beyond the obvious solution. Don’t be surprised if you think we’re finished designing and I offer you several more options.
  • I like to experiment with different ideas. You will see things you love and others you hate. We will experience some setbacks, but mostly triumphs. Experimentation and refinement is part of design.
  • I will resolve countless conflicts (orientation, lifestyle, function, zoning, regulations). The solution will look different than you expected, but take the time to understand how we derived it.
  • I will be mindful of your budget and will advise you when you stray, but won’t argue with you about it. I’ll advise you and let you make decisions, but you have to take responsibility for them.
  • I believe in earth stewardship and will explain the benefits of solutions and products as well as their impact on your budget and the environment. I don’t sell products, so I endorse them because I believe in them and not because I profit from suggestions. I will gladly advise you which solution or product best satisfies your goals.
  • I have several trusted industry-partners (engineers, builders, suppliers, installers, realtors, consultants) and may refer them to you if they provide a service that will benefit you. I don’t collect referral fees because I believe it’s a conflict of interest.
  • I’m good at interpreting your ideas, but i don’t read minds. If you have a question, ask it. I’m happy to answer questions because I know you’re curious and want you to know what we’re doing and why.

Does that help you understand what architects do, how they work and what you can expect? I’m trying to simplify the architect’s role, but personalized design is complicated because it involves competing variables and strong emotion. Creating your design is very important, but I want you to know what to expect and what I expect to prepare you for a memorable and enjoyable architect-experience.


About the Author

Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 29 years experience in design, construction observation and life.