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Mar 29, 2021

Working with an architect

ZED Lexington 013 Eric Roth Photography Alex Rabe

Image courtesy of ZeroEnergy Design. Photo by Eric Roth

An architect listens to you and serves as your advocate throughout your project.

He or she translates your wishes into buildable form, addresses compliance with state and town regulations, oversees the work of the builder, and coordinates all technical and aesthetic aspects of your project. Your architect solves space problems, manages your budget, protects your project from unreasonable extra costs, and assists in disputes that may arise with your town, other consultants, or your builder.

Your architect is responsible for:

Translating your wishes into plans for construction. Your hopes and dreams for your project may be vague and abstract, and are usually expressed in words. Your architect works with you to translate them into a visual and technical prescription for construction that is very detailed.

Designing custom work and installations. Each building has a special history; every site has unusual conditions; and every client has unique goals, desires, and requirements. Your architect seeks a design solution that unites all these elements and reflects your unique personality and style of living or working.

Preparing drawings and specifications. Drawings and specifications are the graphic and verbal descriptions of the project. They describe your preferences and wishes for the project you are building and are used to document decisions about the project’s size, function, organization, and aesthetics. They prescribe the engineer’s requirements for structural stability, climate control, drainage, and electrical service. These documents are submitted to your town to obtain a building permit so construction can begin; they are used by the town building inspector to determine that the project will meet local requirements.

Drawings and specifications prepared by your architect also are the basis for the relationship between you as the owner/client and your contractor (builder). They can be used for bidding by contractors so you can compare several builders’ estimated project costs, construction schedules, and logistics plans. Once you choose a builder, plans and specifications are used as “contract documents” (instructions to your contractor) and the basis of your written agreement with your contractor about exactly what work is to be done and at what cost.

Helping you meet building codes and regulations. Zoning regulations, which are published by every town and vary from one to another, concern the building’s use, size, relationship to the site, and parking. Building codes are published by the state and address how buildings are to be constructed—dictating, for example, door sizes and materials, window sizes and locations, structural lumber sizes, and stair and hallway dimensions.

Coordinating the work of consultants. Your architect may coordinate the work of specialty consultants your project may require, including structural, electrical, and mechanical (heating, plumbing, air-conditioning), and civil (drainage and site utilities) engineers.

Helping you secure a builder. Labor generally accounts for more than half the cost of a building project. Materials also represent significant costs. Your architect can help you through the process of selecting a contractor.

Administering the construction contract. On any project, there are myriad small details and opportunities that require resolution. Your architect serves as your advocate, working to ensure that your project is built as it was designed and specified. Your architect analyzes and helps you make decisions about “change orders” that could affect your project’s costs.

Helping you manage your budget. Having a single, complete set of architectural drawings to present to several prospective contractors allows you to choose among comparable bids. When your contractor knows at the start what will be built, costly delays and changes during construction are minimized. During construction, your architect helps determine if proposed changes are responsibly priced and in keeping with local costs and methods of construction.

ZED So End 021 Eric Roth Photography Alex Rabe

Image courtesy of Zero EnergyDesign. Photo by Eric Roth

Why Work with An Architect?

  • Architects provide cost-effective design solutions. Architects primary job is to listen to you. They can think provide alternative designs and explore cos-effective solutions.
  • Product research. Licensed architects are required to complete continuing education, keep up to date on building materials and products, and use that knowledge to specify products that can save energy, lower maintenance cost, or provide the solutions you require.
  • Architects can solve construction details. In construction, time is money. Your architect can work out tricky construction details on paper before the first shovel hits the ground, minimizing questions and decisions made in the field and helping to avoid delays.
  • Your architect is your representative during construction. The architect’s role during construction is to ensure you design and budget expectations are met.
This article is one of many resources in the Homeowner's Project Handbook. The Homeowner’s Project Handbook (HPH) provides a directory of AIA architects working in Massachusetts, while highlighting the value that architectural expertise brings to new construction and renovation projects. Explore this free, sus­tain­able, search­able dig­i­tal resource for home­own­ers and small busi­ness own­ers con­sid­er­ing ren­o­va­tions, addi­tions, or new con­struc­tion projects.