Important Things to Consider when Choosing an Architect

Charles Eames once said the designer who sells her client on experience is doomed to lose because there will always be another with greater experience; the designer who sells on ignorance is both humble and trustworthy because no one can know everything.  A little experience leads to assumptions and assumptions are the termites of relationships.  Ignorance, on the other hand, is limitless and causes the true designer to ask questions without fear of appearing ignorant.  In this way the designer earns trust.

Architects are visionaries who are responsible for creating design concepts, understand spatial relationships and have an ability to appreciate how aesthetics and structural make up translate to a building or space that is successful.

Clients/Owners should think of the relationship with an architect as being ‘married’ for a term of 6 months to 3 or 4 years depending on the scale and scope of the project. So, what should you consider when choosing an architect? Here are some tips from professionals who commented on the subject in a LinkedIn discussion group:

Experience is only one element and does not always relate to quality or a good project in any manner. Your architect must understand how to build a good team that listens first before anything is completed.   An architect can help with several project related elements from site selection to financing assistance to building design to post occupancy reviews.

Dynamic communication skills cannot be underestimated.  Clients don’t always have an understanding of design terminology, but ultimately they need to know some very fundamental things such as scope, timing, cost and how they relate to their organization’s vision as well as the architect’s vision.  This is not an area solely for the project manager to navigate – the architect should also be able place their design vision within the context of a project as well.  Good track records with construction managers goes a long way to prove their dynamic ability.

You want your architect to be a team member that will listen to you and become a real project partner.  If they can, the other important factors, such as trust and competency, can quickly be determined in order to help clients thru the selection process, and sets the project up for success from the beginning. They need to understand the client’s key objectives–and yes, often that is best deal and lowest cost.

If the architect proposes something, are they prepared to give a general idea of costs and local permitting issues, etc. that may be expected? Architects and vendors shouldn’t make the client fall in love with something and then tell the client how far outside the budget parameters it is. Sort of a champagne taste on a beer budget!  It does nothing when the architect proposes finishes or solutions that are on the high-end cost spectrum, when something more conservative will work very well for the clients needs – both functional and aesthetic.

Architects must ensure their combined commercial, creative and technical skills and experience fit with the specific project needs. To what degree do they understand the industry might be a decision factor. They should demonstrate the ability to show the client they understand their industry and their special requirements. Is the culture of the company open space, or more individual office.  That initial process could then help in site selection where the architect is helping select a site, building, or lease space.  If you are looking at multiple spaces, architects can perform test fits which will show how the program will fit into multiple space, the pros and cons of each space, as well as determine the impact of building codes to the design.

Practical experience – not just designing stuff on paper, but the old-fashioned style of going on site and actually seeing these designs built is important to many.  Like the old-fashioned clerk of works role, protecting the clients and the architects interests from the builders tendencies – but at the same time seeing where designs and drawings can’t be actually created and solving the problem.  This sort of practical experience from architects is becoming rarer and yet more valuable.

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