Once you have moved beyond the question as to whether your project warrants the participation of an architect, the next issue is picking which one. Some have compared finding the right architect to finding a spouse; it’s important that you find an architect whose design “philosophy” is in keeping with yours; that is to say that there is something about the architect’s work, their flexibility in how they work with their clients, their design process, and their overall style that resonates with you, the homeowner, so you will be comfortable working with them over the course of the design process and construction. Given that timelines for projects can be measured in weeks and months, it is important to find an architect that you are comfortable with and you feel confident will address your needs as you see fit.
The question of flexibility is a reference to the architect’s willingness to work with a homeowner to tailor their process to your needs. Most firms are capable of providing the full spectrum of design services; however some may not be willing to provide less than their full service. There are potential issues of liability and quality control that come up when an architect agrees to limit their involvement in a project as a means of reducing the costs of their services to a client; the more work that an architect is contracted to perform, the more control that architect will have over the process and the more likely the finished product will be consistent with the quality represented in the drawings. However, in smaller projects, it may be possible for a homeowner to take on more responsibility for the finished product as a means of controlling design costs; it will be a matter of finding an architect who is willing to relinquish some control to enable the homeowner to take on this challenge should the homeowner wish to do so.
Another area of the work that can have cost implications would be the “design process”; simply put this is the means by which an architect comes up with the design concepts and develops them into a build-able solution. Design processes, though follow some basic outlines, are about as individualized as the people engaged in them and may call for the construction of physical models, computer models, drawings, sketches, or more artistic renderings and the like. The purpose might be to simply visualize and demonstrate how the final product might appear, or it might be to stimulate ideas toward finding an appropriate aesthetic to develop into a final solution. Whatever the reason, these visual tools will mean additional fees. As such, the homeowner is encouraged to find an architect whose work is likely to provide the kinds of visual feedback they need to feel comfortable with the resulting ideas. Any disconnect between architect and client in which these visualization tools are used too much or too little can be a source of conflict.
Finally, there is the issue of style. Style is a loaded term, but essentially what I am referring to in this context is the identifiable “look” that a given firm may have after years of practice. There are architects throughout history who have cultivated a style and with study their work can be identified readily. This can also be said of a number of residential firms in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This style comes to represent the firm in a similar sense that a logo can represent a brand, or a company. Homeowners should not be discouraged from choosing an architect on this basis; however, it is important to keep the firm’s style in mind when doing so. This particular issue comes to the forefront when considering an addition to an existing home. A homeowner may wish to blend the old and new elements to make them seamless, or it might be interesting to create an addition that starts a dialogue with the existing structure; contrasting styles that form a symbiotic whole. In either event, it is important to find an architect that can fulfill the desire to take either of these directions.
Though finding the right fit with an architect is a little more complicated than finding a handyman or finding someone to provide any number of home maintenance services, the payback for the effort is the opportunity to resolve issues you might have with your current home or finding that resolution in an entirely new home built specifically for your needs.