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10 Things Architects Want You to Know About What They Do

Learn about costs, considerations and surprising things architects do — plus the quick route to pinning down their style

Architects plan and design buildings and coordinate construction. Most U.S. states require licensed architects to have specialized education and experience and to pass a rigorous exam.

What Architects Want You to Know About What They Do 1. We want you to be an active participant in the design process. While it’s true that the actual work of design is the architect’s responsibility, it is your responsibility to be upfront about your budget and expectations and to give candid feedback. Finne, who has worked for many years with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Seattle on a program called “How to Select and Work with an Architect,” dedicates a section of his seminar to what architects and clients should expect from one another. In the workshop materials, he says the ideal client is “honest, open, flexible, realistic and decisive.” Being open to your architect’s ideas and making decisions in a timely fashion will help your project run much more smoothly.

2. We can oversee your project from beginning to end. If you have a major home project to tackle, whether it’s a large-scale renovation or building your dream home from scratch, you may be wondering where to begin. Well, wonder no more — the first call to make should be to an architect. These pros have the skills and training needed to keep your project running smoothly, and they can coordinate the work of your entire design and construction team. “Architects can have a role in all aspects of the project, from site selection and feasibility studies through construction observation and project closeout procedures,” says Coates. “Homeowners can negotiate the level and scope of services they are looking for with their specific project. At a minimum the architect is usually responsible for design, documentation and permitting.”

3. Our work takes us everywhere. “We have about 50 percent of our work out of town,” says Finne, whose office is in Seattle, “so every month I take several trips to visit jobsites and meet with clients and contractors.” So if you’ve been limiting your search to pros in your immediate area, you may be able to widen that circle. See pros whose work you admire on Houzz? Don’t be afraid to contact them and ask if they take jobs in your area.

4. We do a little of everything. “Rarely are two days alike,” says Coates. “Some days I am traveling to a jobsite to look at design opportunities or to inspect ongoing work. Other days I spend in meetings with clients, contractors or engineering consultants. Most architects do spend a lot of time at their desks, and I am no exception. We do a lot of emailing and computer drafting.” Finne adds, “I work on design at home every day for about one and a half hours. Then I am in the office talking with clients, contractors and my office staff. I review drawings, mark changes and corrections etc. I write the specifications for all projects. I often visit the shops of special fabricators such as steel or cabinets, and I also visit jobsites in the Seattle area. Finally, I try to spend some time on marketing every day, sending photos to various design sites, talking with magazine writers, etc."

5. Looking for insight into our design sensibility? Ask who our architectural role models are. Ask any architects you are considering hiring for your project who their design role models are, or who inspires their work. Their responses will tell you a great deal about the look and feel they aim for in their own work. Finne, who grew up in both Norway and the U.S., is inspired heavily by the architectural traditions of Scandinavia. “Sverre Fehn, the renowned Norwegian architect, was my friend. I believe he has had a profound influence on my work,” says Finne. “I will never forget the afternoons I spent sitting with Sverre in the living room of his house on Havna Alle in Oslo. Sverre lived in a classic functionalist house designed by his teacher, Arne Korsmo. He had an uncanny ability to understand construction and materials and then imbue a certain poetical dimension to those elements.” Finne adds, “He was also a very unassuming person and was amused when the Americans awarded him the Pritzker Prize (the Nobel Prize equivalent for architecture). ’Oh, yes,’ he said. They sent ‘top secret’ faxes and then flew into Oslo on their private jet. ‘But then, there was so much snow in many places that they could only manage to visit a few of my buildings!’”

“If Sverre Fehn has been my compass, then Alvar Aalto, the Finnish architect who is one of the giants of 20th-century architecture, has been my North Star,” Finne says. “In 1985 I lived for a year in Helsinki on a Fulbright grant and managed to see all of Aalto’s buildings several times. The Finnish architect and critic Juhani Pallasmaa was my mentor and shared many of his insights on Aalto and Finnish design.” He continues, “Seeing Aalto’s work taught me enormous amounts about the mysteries of handling natural light and the creation of what Aalto called the interior landscape within a building. I even spent the night in a tent right next to Aalto’s church in Vuoksenniska at Imatra. The morning light was incredible!”

6. We are inspired by nature. Architects design buildings that bridge the private, safe, interior world of home and the outside world. So it makes sense that no matter which style your architect works in, nature is almost invariably an inspiration. “Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are surrounded by some of the most magnificent topography and natural surroundings in the world,” says Finne. “I am inspired by the natural world every day.”

7. We may be able to offer design expertise even on smaller jobs … but not always. Homeowners are more apt to hire a contractor than an architect for smaller jobs, but are there times they should reconsider? “It depends on the job, and it depends on the architect, as you might expect,” says Coates. Most architecture firms with less than 10 people do tend to take on smaller projects, but larger firms may not. “In general, an architect or structural engineer is required for any work, regardless of size, that affects a building’s structure or other permit-related issues, such as stairs, railings, windows etc.,” Coates says. “Regardless of the size of the job, it is important for homeowners to realize that most contractors have absolutely zero training in design. Further, it is always a good idea, no matter how large or small the job, to have someone with experience looking over the work and ensuring that it is being built correctly and in accordance with the design intent. I would encourage homeowners to hire an interior designer or an architect for any job, regardless of size.” And from Finnes: “Architects can do very small projects, but there is a point at which the architectural fee becomes disproportionate to the construction cost. Of course, I design furniture, but that is one of my passions.”

8. We do our best to provide a pricing structure that is transparent. Architects charge in a variety of ways: hourly (around $100 to $160 per hour, or $60 to $90 per hour for support tasks like drafting); a lump sum; a percentage of construction costs (typically 10 to 25 percent); or some combination of these methods. Most also include an initial estimate of total costs for the project. Early costs are estimated on a per-square-foot basis, with projects averaging around $200 to $500 per square foot for construction costs only. Of course, the costs also depend a great deal on average prices in the region. Both Coates and Finne work on an hourly basis. Coates says, “I prefer this method because it allows our client the flexibility to request other services, such as more design refinements, interior design etc. without an amendment to the contract. Additionally, I prefer an hourly fee basis because I feel it is most fair to both parties. I feel it is very important to be an advocate for our clients and for them to trust that we have their best interests in mind throughout the project, and this is difficult to achieve when our fee is based on how much the project costs.”

9. We are here to translate your needs into a functional, beautiful structure that also suits the site. In the workshop Finne teaches in conjunction with the AIA, he explains that you should turn to an architect when you want ensure that your project has beauty, utility, and economy. Architects can work with challenging sites, listen to your needs and wants, and express them in a unique design perfectly tailored to you. Choosing to go with an experienced architect from the beginning, rather than entrusting a large project to someone without design expertise or trying to DIY it can help you avoid a lot of heartache … and potentially save you money, because otherwise you may need to have faulty work redone.

10. We are with you on your journey. “I would say choosing an architect is a bit like choosing someone to go for a long hike with you,” says Finne. “There needs to be trust, empathy, common vision, good communication and mutual respect. When you are halfway done with the hike and many miles from home, you don’t want to be thinking, ‘How do I get rid of this person?’” Tell us: Still curious about architects? Post your thoughts and questions in the Comments. Or you cand sen us an E-mail. ORIGINAL POST:

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