How to choose an architect
Choosing the right architect is the single most important part of successfully accomplishing your residential, commercial or institutional construction project.
The right architect will not only help you realize the design of your dreams, but will also work with your contractor to make sure the job is done right, helping you avoid unnecessary costs, and making the design and construction process enjoyable.
Many people make the mistake of ignoring personal chemistry when choosing an architect. Over the course of a project, you will spend hundreds of hours in conversation and communication with your architect. Choosing an architect you feel comfortable with and can trust to creatively complete your project is essential.
Here are a few suggestions for helping choose the right architect.
Step 1: Narrow the list
There are many architects in the Boston area, each with different specialties and belonging to firms of different sizes. To narrow your list, talk to friends, neighbors or business associates who have undertaken similar projects. Ask for references from the architects you find, and narrow the list to 3-5 architects whose experience closely matches your needs.
Step 2: Ask a lot of questions
Meet with each architect or firm in person and ask these questions:
"May I see your portfolio?"
It's good to get a sense of the kinds of projects an architect has worked on, but don't make the mistake of just looking for your project in their portfolio. Instead look for quality and variety - you won't get fresh ideas from an architect who churns out cookie cutter projects.
"May we see some of your work?"
If you are interested in working with the architect, ask if it is possible to visit some completed projects. Seeing buildings in person is always the best way to get a feel for the quality of the design work.
"How do you approach design?"
What types of design projects does the architect most like to work on? Does the architect have a specific design style? Will they be amenable to your input and desires?
"What's your process?"
How will the architect identify your needs and desires? Will the architect show you more than one design solution? How will they share their ideas with you - through models, sketches, computer drawings or all of the above?
"What distinguishes you from others?"
A good architect should have a sense of their strengths. Check with their references to see if they agree.
"Who will be our day-to-day contact?"
In smaller firms you're likely to work with the people who you meet during the sales process. In larger firms your job may be handled by a junior associate on a daily basis. Make sure you meet and establish rapport and trust with the person who'll be working with you on a day-to-day basis.
"How will you manage the process?"
Good architects are not only good designers, they are also good at managing the complicated construction process, advocating for you to make sure your interests and needs are met.
"What are your design fees and how are they handled?"
While fees should not be the primary criteria in choosing an architect, they are important. There are many different approaches to fees, both in amounts and structure. Make sure you understand how charges work, what happens when there are changes to the design or if the contractor's bids exceed your budget.
Step 3: Answer these questions
After you've interviewed each architect, ask yourself these questions about each candidate.
- Do they communicate well? Do they listen well?
- Have they completed projects similar in scope to mine?
- Will they manage the construction process well for me?
- Do I like them? Will I enjoy working closely with this person?
- Do I like their work? Do I trust that their aesthetic will work for me?
- Are they responsive? Do they return my phone calls promptly?
- Is their firm the right size? Will I be working with a senior architect?
If you don't feel strongly about any of your initial candidates, don't be hesitant to start the process over again with a new set of possible architects. Of the many decisions you'll be making over the next year, choosing the right architect is undoubtedly the most important.