10 Questions to Ask When Interviewing an Architect

You’ve decided to build your dream space, whether that’s your forever home or a new office space, and you’re ready to move forward with the design. Any successful project will be the result of many conversations between you and your architect, and you want to make sure you have selected the right firm for the job. Here are several questions, and our firm’s answers, you should be asking when interviewing potential firms.

1. Do you have references?

This one is recommended by AIA. Ask your architect about past clients and contractors they’ve worked with, then follow up on the references they give. Knowing that you’re working with a dependable firm from the beginning will spare you potential headaches caused by an unreliable firm.

Our principals have nearly 40 years of combined experience in the field of architecture. We have hundreds of extremely satisfied clients. We will be happy to provide you with a list of referrals upon request.

2. How much time do I need to commit, and when?

Architects deal with clients that are hands-off and with clients who want to be involved in every decision. Be clear about the type of client you want to be, and ask your architect the kind of time commitment they expect from you. Not sure what type of client you are going to be, or how involved you will want to be with your architecture firm? Simply ask!

We understand our clients tend to be busy professionals with little time to spare between work commitments and travel, so we try to be considerate of your time. However, a successful design requires some level of commitment of time from the client. A well-administered programming period can answer many questions and can limit the amount of time required, although you will need to give a thorough review of materials presented during the schematic design and design development phases.

3. How can I be helpful in the process?

We get asked this question all the time by our clients at the beginning of the project, regarding what they can do to help us. Starting a new architectural project is and should be an exciting time for the client.

It is important to understand that careful planning takes time. Only after our planning session is complete, do we start the fun part – sketching the concept and talking about finish materials.

Understanding timelines and workflow helps set our clients at ease knowing they can anticipate certain updates or documents to be sent for their review at a certain time. We have a thorough conversation during the pre-design / programming phase with the client and develop a written “playbook” for the project. With a vision and a list of personal preferences on hand, we typically hone in on the right solution. You should have an understanding of what you really want and what you need for your project. Also, you should have a good idea of your budget because that will largely determine how we achieve your goals.

4. What’s your fee structure and what can I expect in costs for professional services?

Architects use different fee structures to charge for their services, and any reputable firm will be able to lay this out right away. You also want to make sure your architect is open with you about additional costs that may not be spelled out in your contract, such as additional construction administration hours or changes to the drawings due to changes during construction. If the client can anticipate these costs, then it doesn’t come as a surprise later, so it helps to ask the question and get a detailed response from the architect.

Our fees are based on a written scope of services agree upon by both the architect and the client, in writing. For a custom home or a commercial project with a well-defined project scope, we typically provide architectural services on a “lump sum” per phase, based on an agreed upon “lump sum” total to provide the defined architectural services. If the client requests a change be made to the agreed upon scope of services, a revised proposal will be prepared, agreed upon and signed by both the architect and the client and will be attached to the original agreement.

For other projects in which the project scope cannot be well-defined from the start, we typically provide architectural services on an “hourly” basis, until a point in the project where the project scope can be well-defined. At that point we will provide the client with a “lump sum” agreement for the remaining defined architectural services.

Additional costs for professional fees that are typically not spelled out in our agreements are fees traditionally known as “client’s consultants”. These consultants traditionally provide any surveying, civil engineering and geotechnical engineering services. We can assist you soliciting bids for getting these services performed, but the cost of the services will not be included as part of our services. We are happy to discuss the consultants that may be required as part of your project.

5. What are the important issues, considerations and challenges of my project?

The AIA recommends you get the big picture view from your architect, picking their brain about what particular elements stand out. They’ll have insight about construction, city approvals, and design challenges you may not have been aware of. It’s also worth asking if the firm has previously tackled a similar project to yours.

The main issues for most projects can quickly be determined in the pre-design / programming phase. It is during this time, we are reviewing requirements of the jurisdictions having authority over the project (i.e. the building and fire departments), determining if there are any special review boards (architectural boards), reviewing the codes enforced by these departments, identifying any subdivision trustees/indentures that differ from local zoning codes and by identifying the submission requirements to gain approval from the different departments.

Other items we will flush out early on may be identifying any site issues, is the building site full of rock? Does the site have poor soil or built on fill? Are there views we want to maintain? Views we want to discourage? Are there trees to maintain? Utilities to the site? Each of these plus additional items will be addressed by our firm prior to beginning any design work.

6. What will you show along the way to explain the project?

The AIA suggests that you ask your architect how he or she will be showing your project to you before the construction process starts. Will there be models, drawings, computer animations? This is a good time to bounce around ideas, express critiques, and make adjustments.

Deliverables will vary depending on the complexity of the project. As part of a typical project, we will provide scaled sketches throughout the schematic design process. The sketches allow for ideas to be quickly conveyed and to flush out alternate ideas to the client and allow these ideas to be easily be built on or discarded as need be. Once a concept has been presented and accepted, the client can expect more detailed rendering both black and white and color, computer-generated plans, elevations, building and wall sections, written specifications, detailed cost estimates and other instruments/representations to best describe the design intent for the project

7. Are you insured?

You will want to know, very simply, if your architecture firm is insured. If so, what level of insurance do they have? It is a good idea to ask if the architect has “any open claims against you or your firm.”

We carry both professional and general liability insurance with coverage commensurate with the industry standard for similar type projects.

There are no open claims against our firm.

8. What’s your role with the contractor?

Once construction starts, much of the project will be in the hands of your contractor. Many architecture firms will recommend contractors they have a good track record with, but you’ll want to ask how the firm plans to work with them during your project. What role does the architect plan to take on with the contractor, or will you be expected to deal with the contractor directly?

We prefer to be employed as the client’s agent throughout the project and therefore take lead of the project team. Under this agreement, we work during construction through scheduled site visits with the contractor to evaluate work for compliance with the drawings and specifications; reply to the contractor’s questions in written form to clarify and interpret the plans and the design intent; review shop drawings, materials and product samples, review documents and payment requests to the client from the contractor, handle requests for design changes during construction and administer the close-out process of your project.

9. Who’s on my team?

Very often you will meet a principal that you love, but end working with a project manager that is too junior or that you don’t gel with.

The AIA lays this out with a few specific questions: “Who from the architecture firm will you be dealing with directly? Is that the same person who will be designing the project? Who will be designing your project?”

Our firm is purposefully small. We want to create a boutique experience for our clients. You will work directly with the same person you met with initially all the way through construction. In doing this, there is nothing to be lost in translation as can happen when your project gets bounced around a larger office. You will also be able to work with the same person that you met with initially, who designed the concept for your project and knows what the goals and design intent is for your project.

10. How can you ensure the project remains within budget?

It is crucial that you be open about your budget. Cost limitations are extremely critical, since quality work can be very expensive. Ask your architect regarding their experience with cost estimating and completing projects within budget and what their response is to projects when the project comes in over budget.

Remaining in budget is of utmost importance to our firm and having a frank discussion of your budget is crucial to a successful project. You have hired us to act as your agent throughout the project and therefore lead the project team. The team consisting of the client, the architect and their consultants, the interior design consultant (if the client chooses to utilize as a consultant for the project) and the general contractor. Knowing your budget will influence all of our design decisions from the beginning and leading the project team is critical to remaining in client’s budget.

Beginning in the pre-design phase we will discuss your budget in “cost per square foot” terms based on historic numbers. During the schematic design phase we will refine the discussion and provide a more detailed cost opinion, still based on historic numbers. As part of the design development phase we will make selections, refine the design, determine items that will not be selected and determine a proper allowance cost for the item, then even further develop and detail our cost opinion beginning to use actual numbers for the items we can now quantify. Finally, after construction document phase, we can prepare a final cost opinion or in most cases, have the general contractors send the plans out as part of the bidding and negotiation phase.

We believe that as architects and leaders of the project team, there are multiple times in the design process where we may need to change direction and make recommendations to remain within the stated budget. We have found that in providing cost opinions early on, our projects typically come in within 10-15% of the actual cost of the final builders bid. Therefore, we feel comfortable in backing this up by redesigning or making alternate material selections at no additional cost to the owner in order to get the project within the stated budget if necessary.

Ready to start creating your dream space? We’d love to connect with you. Get in touch with us by emailing info@schaubprojects.com

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