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.