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What Can an Architect Do for You? - Part V

Updated on November 13, 2017
DanDnAZ profile image

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

Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix, AZ

Review from Previous Part

Well here we are with the final installment. It is now time to summarize all that has been covered in this series, and as an added bonus, you as a devout follower of this series, you will leave with two things. First, added knowledge that you did not have, and second, a handy dandy checklist. This checklist will help you step by step through a project, providing information that an Architect would do, so if you as an owner want to perform any phases you can have a guideline as to what you need to watch out for. The checklist provides you with what to look for and what to ask. How about that, bet you did not think you would have received anything!

Part I - The Basics

Both the buyer and seller of Architectural services possess a good, the buyer has the money and the seller has the service. There are three components to the commodity being sold; they are time, cost, and quality. When equilibrium is obtained, an exchange of goods occurs between the buyer and seller. Always remember the fundamental principle that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Absolutely everything has some sort of a cost. It is because of this associated cost that the three components of the commodity being sold must also be balanced (time, cost, quality). Two of these must be placed in priority and the third moved to establish balance.

No matter the size of, type of, or scope of the project, an Architect will be able to provide the best guidance for any project. This is an opinion that will always be an investment that will have a return. The Architect selected should have a command and proficiency in construction and jurisdictional processes, and the building code, being sensitive to any long-term impacts of the project for the owner’s costs as well as the neighborhood’s context and character. The Architectural practice or firm will gravitate towards a “design” practice or firm, or a “production” practice or firm. Each has its place, but one may be more suited for a particular project than the other, the owner must be discriminate to realize which one is better suited for the project. No matter, which type is selected, the Architect still, must have a technically sound approach to the project's details.

Part II – Architectural Services

There are three basic delivery systems for the project’s Architectural Services. They are:

· Conventional

· Construction Manager (CM) / Project Manager (PM)

· Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR)

· Design Build (DB)

The cost impacts must be analyzed for suitability to each project and the project’s goals. The appropriate delivery system will help control project costs. Another project cost control method would be through limiting Architectural services; however someone else, on the team, will have to be able to fulfill those skill areas or expertise, or the Architect could provide those areas on an “as needed” basis. The phases of Architectural services are:

· Site Selection

· Site / Master Plan

· Programming

· Preliminary Design

· Design Development

· Construction Documents

· Bidding Services

· Construction Administration

· Project Closeout

With this, all parties must have reasonable expectations. Failed expectations often lead to litigation. No project is perfect, or without problems. How those issues are resolved tell the story of how successful the project will be. Historically the Architect has been the “Master Builder” and a good Architect would tend to follow that tradition. Cross training becomes the Architect’s ally.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax Building
Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax Building

Part III – Experience is Everything; Experience is Nothing

Water becomes as clear as mud when we start to evaluate an Architect’s experience.  It is not as simple as ten years of experience, or one year of experience ten times.  Does your project require a special type of use?  Will this specialized requirement transcend to the selection of the Architect, or will an Architect with a different background be capable of helping as much?  Remember a specialized Architect may cost more in design fees.  Will you have to deal with intellectual property issues with the approach to the project?

All buildings have four basic spaces to deal with:  private spaces, public spaces, service spaces, and the circulation spaces that tie those together.  These remedial concepts may be all that your project needs to address, and dealing with these at a more rudimentary manner may allow the design to go “outside the box” for even more optimal results.  This is where the general experience issue is most important.  The Architect's most valuable tool is experience, a tool that cannot be taught.  With experience, many aspects of specialization can be equalized, especially when the Internet can be used so very effectively as a research tool.  In most States, after an Architect has been Registered for ten (10) years that Architect is viewed as a Senior Practitioner, and reciprocating Registration becomes much more portable.  Even States have recognized the value of general experience in the regulation of the Architectural practice.

Hyatt Regency, Kansas City 1981
Hyatt Regency, Kansas City 1981
World Trade Center, New York City 2001
World Trade Center, New York City 2001

Part IV – What Skill Set(s) will be Need for your Architect

Before you look at the type of project you have, there are three basic skills the Architect must have command of, for every project.  First, the capability to learn and adapt to new technologies, this is exhibited in an individual that places a high value on continuing education.  Secondly, the Architect must have command knowledge of the building code; this is exhibited by additional certifications, or code development experience.  Lastly, the Architect must show good stewardship of the owner’s resources; this will often be found in the form of LEED, AP, or some other additional training in energy and environmental design issues, not just the ability to market this skill.  These three skills are required for all projects no matter the type.

The next step is for the owner to decide what skills other team members for the project can bring to the table.  Any skill that the owner, or other team member, is willing to take over, in a competent manner, can be removed from the Architect’s services, thus possibly saving money or reducing costs from the project’s budget.  The cautionary note here is that all the Architect’s service phases must have coverage by someone with expertise to avoiding placing the project’s outcome in jeopardy.

Checklist Page 1 of 4
Checklist Page 1 of 4
Checklist Page 2 of 4
Checklist Page 2 of 4
Checklist Page 3 of 4
Checklist Page 3 of 4
Checklist Page 4 of 4
Checklist Page 4 of 4


For this section, you will have to have a copy of the checklist, and we will note certain items that you will need to pay attention to.  The first item on the list, is do you really need an Architect?  It is useful to have an Architect review the specific project to see if any flags come up immediately.  Determine if the project exempt from the Registration requirements, by statute.

Next determine the economics of the project.  What is the project's budget?  What is the project's completion date, opening date, or timeline milestones?  Does the schedule drive everything?  Does the budget constraints allow for additional costs?  Does the final cost have an absolute maximum?  These types of questions will allow you to zero in on what components (time cost, quality) will carry the most weight.  The key here is to be realist and remember that no more than two of these can carry some sort of a priority; the third will be forced into its own slot or level to balance the needs of the project.

Now, what delivery system is best suited for those parameters.  Remember that initial costs are usually less with the conventional delivery system, but there are always cost overruns that an owner must maintain a contingency fund for.  Then there will be those times when fingers will point to others and the owner will have to be able to determine where the line really falls.  Will Partnering help enough to keep the project on track in a conventional delivery system?  Finally, will the conventional delivery system's contingency fund force the price to the point that it will actually be higher, in the end, than other delivery methods (CM/PM/DB) will cost?  The CM/PM/DB will afford a more stable cost control system and may even provide a positive schedule impact.

Determine who will be providing all or part of what phases.  It is imperative that each phase is accounted for in its entirety or the project may ultimately be jeopardized.  If the project is going to be a LEED certified building make sure to note what the commissioning requirements of what systems will be required in the closeout phase.

If the project is a re-use of another design, be sure to get the required releases so as not to infringe on someone’s intellectual property.  That can be a very costly mistake if overlooked.  Please refer to my hub concerning intellectual property.  This decision may also help with the determination of a specialized Architectural practice or if another type of practice could accomplish the same project goals, while reducing costs through less specialized skills.

Now you can focus on a specific Architect.  How many years of experience does the Architect have?  How many years has the Architect been Registered?  How many years has the Architect been in the specialized area of practice, i.e. educational, justice, etc.?  Regardless of the type of the project the first three skills you want to review are:

·        Does the Architect have any specialized training or continuing education credits?

·        Does the Architect have expertise in the building code, i.e. code development experience, experience with any Jurisdictional Boards or Commissions, special classes, etc.?

·        Does the Architect have any training or practice in LEED, solar design, or any other sustainable practice?

After looking at the big three experience areas, it is time to look at the rest of the experience the Architect brings, and from what other types of projects.  The checklist lists many types of projects; take note of the types of projects and the amount of experience in each.  The years may not necessarily add up because an Architect may do many types of project in a year.  It may also be advantageous to consider how project types overlap.  For instance, often times you will find a commercial type of kitchen within the confines of a school, church, institutional, or even a grocery store, making all this experience complimentary to a restaurant, where at first glance they would have no apparent connection.  If your project is going to be built in an existing space, then remodeling / renovation projects are complimentary to tenant improvements, as the experience of field surveying becomes a dominant project skill.  Now it should start to make more sense how the 4 basic spaces in a building becomes the uniting thread in any project type.

Now we will move to the site issues.  Does the site under consideration require a phase I Environmental report, or even a phase II?  Do you even know what these are?  What information needs to be on the survey?  Is a soils report required, or can the project proceed without one?  How many boring(s) are required for the soils report?  Are the percolation characteristics of the soil required knowledge?  Does the parcel need to be platted or re-platted?  Does the deed or jurisdiction require that certain areas that cannot be built on?  As the owner, will this area be paid for in the price of the land or is it discounted as un-developable land?  What is the existing zoning?  Will the intended use be allowed by the zoning?  Will the parcel have to be rezoned?  What is the maximum height for a building by zoning and deed?  Where is the site accessed from?  What restrictions are included in the CC&R's and/or deed restrictions?  Does the parcel have utilities?  Is the parcel legally subdivided?  How is storm water to be retained / removed from the site?  How is the site accessed for pedestrians, vehicles, and emergency?  How will waste and refuse be removed from the site?  Is the site separated by uses, and do they have impacts on other uses or the neighborhood?  Is the site accessible?  A preliminary code analysis should be completed verifying allowable building areas, building heights, zoning and deed restrictions.

The next phase is programming.  Will as-built drawings be required?  If the project is a remodel or renovation, a survey will be required to confirm what exists so that the renovation can be completed in a more accurate manner.  What consideration(s) should be made for future expansion(s)?  The actual end users of the facility should be consulted for their input.  Does the parcel afford any specific view that need to be taken advantage of by the design?  Note specific areas that must have direct access to parking or loading areas on the site.  If there are specific aesthetic goals, these should be identified as a programming element so as to be achieved in the preliminary design phase.  Identifying those bodies that will have jurisdiction over the design, would be beneficial at this time and gathering submittal requirements for those bodies as well will prevent delays later on.  This will provide a main stream so there will not be as much re-designed late in the project because of a forgotten oversight review.  That type of re-design may even have additional charges by the Architect, so it is always best to make sure that there are no major changes late in the project.

The preliminary design phase will present to the owner at least a site plan (if required), floor plan(s), and exterior elevations.  Depending on what the owner's expectations are, building sections might even be created at this time.  All design review submittals should be made at this time, not forgetting reviews such as hillside, HOA, sub-division or association design review, etc.  It is important to identify what permits will be required to build the project.

Design development phase will be next and might include deliverables to the owner such as outline specifications, building and/or wall sections, finish / paint schedule, interior elevations and details, initial engineering layouts (structural, mechanical, electrical, ceiling, fire sprinklers, etc.)  Initial building code analysis should be completed.

The next is the grind and go stage.  This is the construction documents phase.  This phase will see the actual construction drawings completed and submitted for permits.  If the correct permits were identified, then all those permits should be issued at the completion of this phase.

Next comes the construction administration phase.  This is where the physical construction begins.  At this time, the first real tangible fruits of the entire project begin to take shape and form.  During this phase, the Architect can make site visits to confirm that the work is being performed in accordance to the design and construction documents.  Usually photos will be taken to document the progress, as well as areas that will be of special interest or concern to the owner.  These should show up in a report to the owner that will document progress of the project and all changes made by the owner.  It is not unusual to see the Architect review pay applications submitted by the contractor, verifying the progress of the project. Many times the Architect may review change orders to provide the owner with an opinion that the contractor is not overcharging or double charging.  Towards the end of this phase the Architect may make a final walk-through the project for what is called a "punch list".  This is the final corrections the contractor needs to make to be complete with the work on the project.  Sometime the Architect may submit notification of substantial completion.

After that, the project closes out with the transfer of all the warranty and operational manuals from the contractor to the owner.  There may or may not be a commissioning of the equipment and system, however if the project is to be LEED certified, this will be required.  With the final steps being the submission of the paperwork for LEED certification, if this is required.  Other documentation should be transferred to the owner, include testing reports, and the Certificate of Occupancy issued by the jurisdiction.


At this time hopefully you will have discovered that the Architect is a vital cog in the wheel of development, but like all things, it requires the right individual with the appropriate tools and skills.  The Architect is the conductor of a very complex orchestra, and with appropriate skills, will make building a smooth and positive experience for the owner.

© 2009 Dan Demland


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