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What Can an Architect Do for You? - Part III

Updated on November 13, 2017
DanDnAZ profile image

Registered Architect, 40 years experience, investigative forensic specialist, engineering trained, college teacher, NCARB mentor, MBA.

Review from Previous Part

As we now embark on our next topics, let us briefly review what has been covered in our last session. First, there are basic services that an Architect can provide. All successful projects have these services provided by someone on the team, primarily by the Architect or, in lieu of the Architect, the owner. The Architect provides these services by a "delivery system", these systems are primarily called "Conventional", CM or PM, and DB. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, with the conventional usually the least expensive but allows the owner some exposure to finger pointing, while the DB provides the best coverage for the owner but will usually increase costs to some degree.

Historically speaking, the Architect has always been the "Master Builder", traditionally building what is designed. However, today, the Architect is seldom a builder either because of liability or licensing or both. There are many different component services in the design of a building, and each component service must be completed to ensure that the building is completed successfully. One method of controlling project costs is to limit what services that an Architect provides, however, someone else will have to be able to pick up those lost skills, or the project's success will be imperil. Projects can be jeopardized from the beginning through even the most minor of mistakes. The land that is purchased may not be capable of serving the intended use all because of an easement, or open space requirement. I have seen a client purchase a parcel to expand a building, and the entire parcel was sold as a blanket easement, making the entire parcel virtually impossible to build on. Another client had a 14-acre parcel, and the jurisdiction would only allow about 6 acres to be built on.

Expectations need to be very clear, especially for the first-time builder. No project goes "perfectly"; all have something unexpected happen to it. It is how these are addressed that really shows if the team is capable of overcoming, and still make the project successful. It is always best to resolve conflicts without lawyers. Once introduced into a situation, the lawyers will be the only ones to profit. For more details on the information previously covered in this series, please refer to Part I and Part II.

To move on, let us look at what skills you should look at when you are selecting an Architect for your project.

Experience is Everything; Experience is Nothing

Here is where the water becomes as clear as mud, where clarity and obscurity both come into focus making the selection even more complicated. It is not unlike the dirty window. When clean, vision is clear and true, but when dirty, vision is less precise and defined. You only have refrence based on what the known view is, so ignorance of that information creates some very creative interpretations for what is being seen through that dirty window. Unfortunately, as I told my students when I was teaching, I cannot impart my experience onto the inexperience, but I can impart examples of what happens when the appropriate steps are not followed.

Experience is that double-edged sword. If you have a highly specialized use, operating room, clean room, or other HIGHLY specialized use, you may need an Architect that has experience in that occupancy and use. You need to make sure that your needs do in fact require that highly specialized knowledge and skill for your specific project. You need to realize that if you limit your pool of resources, fees for those services will increase for that work just because of the law of supply and demand. Look carefully at the project to determine if the specific project really needs to expend those resources for such services. For instance, if your project is a police or fire station, however if you will be re-using a design from a previously built project, you may not require the experience of a firm that has designed a lot of police or fire stations, because the design has already been designed, so why pay for the design a second time? In this case, an Architect that has extensive experience in re-use of designs may service the needs sufficiently, and the cost for this will be less, as most firms with this type of experience is a production type of firm that was discussed in Part I of this series. However, when reusing plans, there may be copyright overtone that must be cleared out or your selection may become limited to the original Architectural design firm, and that may not be a palatable choice, especially if that firm did not perform well. To help get started on some of those overtones, refer to the hub I wrote concerning copyright issues.

So, experience is vitally important, but the type of experience is not always that obvious. The advent of the Internet has vastly expanded the horizon to anyone that knows how to use it as the high-power research tool it is. For example, in a very short time (a half-hour at most) I was able to download over 15 references on the design of classrooms. This was information I was able to turn over to the staff of an elementary school to assist in the design of a new education building for that school. Now each teacher became able to inform the design team, what would be best for his or her classroom needs. Some teachers even discovered an alternative arrangement for their current classroom, increasing their own abilities, even before they moved to the new facility. The true power of the Internet is the ability to access huge amounts of information in a relatively short time. So, while programming, new information was introduced to the staff that not only helped the design of the new facility, it helped utilize the existing facility in the interim.

The Basic Components of Design Are the Same

When one sits down to eat, there are only three utensils required, i.e. fork, spoon, knife. Each utensil is used for something, and has some sort of a variant for a specialized use. Take the fork. In a formal setting, there is a salad fork and a dinner fork. Consider the knife. There is a butter knife and steak knife. The differences are not that great. The fork has prongs, and the knife has an edge; one fork has long prongs while another has short prongs; one knife has a dull edge while another has a sharp edge.

Almost every design has four basic components. Those components are public spaces, private spaces, service spaces, and circulation between the spaces. For example, public spaces can be defined as reception, waiting, living, dining, den, etc. Examples of private areas would be offices, certain types of storage areas/rooms, laboratory rooms, examination rooms, bedrooms, etc. Finally, examples of service areas would be kitchens, electrical rooms, mechanical rooms, fire riser rooms, restrooms, bathrooms, etc. From this list you can see that these definitions fit both commercial and residential uses.

In most projects, it is desired to keep these component uses separated. Most of the time, you do not want these uses intermingled, as that will create conflicts with occupants. For instance, it is not good to have a bedroom adjacent the kitchen, as use of the kitchen may disturb a person sleeping. Or another example, you do not want the restroom adjacent to the dining space. Hearing a toilet flush while eating a meal does not leave the most positive dining experience in a restaurant.

As one can see, the real experience in most designs concern just a small number of factors, well balanced and in equilibrium. Just like when you eat dinner. You do not need to set out every piece of silverware, just the ones that will be needed for the meal. Why would you set a shrimp fork, if you will only serve a salad and dinner?

What Skill Set is Needed in an Architect?

In Part IV of this series, we will discuss what skill set(s) should your Architect have for your project.

© 2009 Dan Demland


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