How to Select the Right Architect

You can think of an architect as your advocate throughout the entire construction process. But hiring the right advocate for your project requires more than just finding someone with experience building commercial projects.

Here are a few things to consider that will help you find the right architect for your project.

Is the architect mindful of long-term considerations?

You and your architect will focus on the many immediate considerations that are central to the design phase of any project: the building’s purpose, its size, meeting relevant certification requirements. But look for an architect who also asks long-term questions or brings up “big picture” issues.

Will you eventually want to build expansions on the building? Are you considering incorporating more buildings into the lot? Do you foresee the purpose of the building ever changing? Make sure you work with an architect who keeps these things in mind.

Do their completed projects impress you?

An architect may impress you with their pitch, but how do you feel about the buildings they’ve designed? Their completed projects will not only give you a great sense of the quality of their work; it will also show you their personal style. Make sure they match the purpose of the building—a cold and austere style might work for a military base but you will want something warmer and more inviting if you’re designing a preschool.

In addition to style, there are some practical considerations that should come into play. If your building project is focused on a particular value, like security, comfort or sustainability, look for an architect who has successfully incorporated these features into previous projects.

You can also reverse engineer this process by finding the names of the architects who designed buildings that impress you. The architect’s name is a matter of public record, which makes it easy to track them down.

How well does your project's unique requirements match the architect's experience?

Your project may be unique, but there are general aspects of its design that most architects have encountered before. To make sure that they're a suitable architectural firm for your building type, ask how they have addressed similar structures during previous projects. If you want to build an office park but the firm has, up to this point, only been building schools, then they probably won’t be a good match.

You also need someone who is up to speed with the latest local planning changes and building codes, and an architect who has experience with your particular building niche will probably know upcoming changes in regulations as well as the changing design trends.

For example, if you are planning to build a building in Texas, you want to work with an architect who has experience in Texas. They will not only understand the local building codes but also how to design a building that performs well in the local environment.

How compatible are you with the architect and the project manager you'll be working with?

It's important that you can communicate your ideas openly with the architect and the manager overseeing your project. It takes a certain level of chemistry to ensure that your concerns are taken into consideration. A good rapport with the project manager will help you work through challenges during the design or construction phase.

Hiring an architect means that you're entering into a professional relationship. That relationship will be much better if you're working with someone you're compatible with. Architectural designs are implemented over the course of a long building project—you'll need to work with this person closely for perhaps a year or longer. Any architect you hire should be prepared to listen to you and your feedback.

Does the plan they propose fit within your budgetary guidelines?

Good design is much more than just pleasing aesthetics. You, as the client, must work with the architect to fit as much into the design as possible while staying within your budget. The architect you hire should keep an eye on the bill to make sure the project stays affordable. If you have either a tight budget or timeline, make sure the architect you hire communicates a plan to work within your constraints.

What other services do they provide?

Architects can provide a range of services that extend beyond just designing a building. These services might include:

  1. Site design.
  2. Construction documents.
  3. Contract administration.
  4. Site observation.

These services can add to the cost, but they could help save time and the headache of coordinating with outside contractors and design professionals.

Are they licensed and insured?

You need to take this step to ensure that you’re covered in case anything goes wrong. The architect should not only be licensed, but they should have insurance as part of their professional practice. Regardless of the size of your new construction project, make sure your architect has E & O (Errors and Omissions) insurance.

Additional questions

You'll likely only learn most of the information above from actually interviewing your candidates. To do that, you'll need to ask the right questions. So here are a handful of sample questions that you can use to help you get the information you need as quickly and easily as possible:

  1. May I see some examples of your work? Specifically any examples of the building type you’re wanting designed.
  2. What new products and innovations have you incorporated into your newer buildings?
  3. How would you approach this project?
  4. What are some of the largest obstacles for a project like this?
  5. How do you charge, and what are your fees?
  6. How long will this project take for design, building permits and construction?
  7. Can you give me referrals for contractors you like?
  8. Can you give me references from recent projects?
  9. Are there any red flags with what I want to do?

No one can tackle big projects on their own; that’s why it’s crucial to get the right professional for the job. If you ask yourself these questions and gather all the relevant information before making your selection, you will find the architect best suited to oversee your project’s design.

Where to look

The first step to finding the right architect is building a pool of candidates that you can consider more closely and select from. There are a few standard places to start your search.

Check the internet

This one is so basic you might have overlooked it. The internet has radically simplified the process of finding a commercial architect. Not only will a simple Google search come up with a lot of names, but you can also access sites that match quality architects with builders in need of their services. The American Institute of Architects and the Commercial Architects Directory are two great places to start looking.

Ask around

All that networking you’ve done within the industry will come in handy. Ask people who had similar projects what firms they worked with and how smoothly the collaboration went. You’ll get the name of an architect and an unbiased, first-person reference all at once.

Trade shows

Think outside of the box for this one (or, at least, think inside a different box): don’t just look for architects at trade shows geared toward building. Architects attend shows based on their specializations, so if you want to find someone experienced in designing hospitals, you might just find them at a medical trade show. If you find an architect at these specialized trade shows, you have the advantage of knowing you found one with a great deal of knowledge about the industry you want to serve.

A Final Thought

If you want a building that provides state of the art performance, you will want to look for an architect who keeps up with the latest changes in building materials, products and systems. New solutions are being developed every day that improve the performance of buildings while potentially reducing construction time and costs.

An example of this type of innovation, in construction, is the innovative Bautex Wall System that improves the performance of one to three story buildings. As building codes have changed, walls have become more complicated with more layers of products that must be installed by more different trades creating more chances for costly errors. The Bautex Wall System, simplifies wall construction with a single structural insulated product that can be installed by one trade. You can learn more about the Bautex Wall System here.