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.