Why and How to Hire an Architect

Stephen Hassell

By Stephen Hassell

(Editor’s note: Stephen Hassell is Vice President of Business Development at SGA.)

Architects are trained professionals who also bring the needed expertise of associated engineering consultants for Site, Structure, HVAC, Plumbing and Electrical disciplines. An architect with experience in the project type anticipated will bring virtually instant advice concerning two important issues: Budget and Schedule based upon size and location.

In addition, an architect is aware of local building codes and other authorities having jurisdiction such as fire departments and public utilities and permitting requirements.

Architects are also trained to confront and solve problems, avoid errors, and ultimately save money by eliminating false starts and assisting with product selection and appropriate building systems. Moreover, architects are familiar with most local contractors (both good and bad) and can make recommendations for a bid list that will orchestrate the competition that drives cost savings immediately.

Based upon above information the question of WHEN becomes self-explanatory: the sooner, the better!

The size and complexity of the intended project will dictate the need for upfront study. Generally, all the above issues can be identified and addressed in a low-cost feasibility study, which can be expeditiously prepared to give a lens into the design and construction planning required.

Finally, there is the question of HOW to hire an architect? An excellent first step is contacting the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, also known as AIA. This organization will list member firms and their associated areas of expertise and building types, be it Housing, Retail, Healthcare, Academic, Corporate, or Interiors. Also procuring copies of AIA sample design and construction contract forms will orient the client to the services to be expected when engaging an architectural firm.

The next step involves reaching out to a number of appropriate architectural firms to inquire regarding project interest and availability. Following the assembly of a list of qualified firms, the next step is solicitation via a Request for Proposal, or RFP. This step may sometimes require the assistance of a professional Project Management firm to write and distribute the RFP and assist with de-scoping responses and advising on completeness. Based upon the Project Management Firm’s capability the client may elect to engage them for further services or maintain this service with the architectural firm.

The next step is the interview process, which will confirm that goals and objectives for the project are understood, and the perceived personal chemistry with the proposed project team is acceptable. Once again, questions to be posed involve availability of the staff, a restate of experience with similar previous projects and lessons learned, anticipated design process and phases, frequency of meetings and forms of communication, and/or software platforms to be employed. This interview should also include or identify engineering sub-consultants and their applicable previous experience and staff availability. A review of the total project schedule for design and construction should be addressed along with the architect’s proposed services during the construction phase.

Finally is the question of fee structure; whether it be lump sum, percentage of construction, or by hourly rates with a budgeted upset. Within this discussion must also be included the process for changes in scope or unforeseen conditions in the case of a renovation. There also needs to be a discussion regarding reimbursable expenses for travel, printing, phone and supplies, and so forth.

As always with any professional services, undertaking references must be provided and checked for quality of design, responsiveness, continuity of staff participation, and timeliness of performance.

The diligence required with following this process should ultimately lead to a successful architectural engagement and project.

(Stephen Hassell is Vice President of Business Development at SGA. He received a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Northeastern University and a Master of Business Administration from Babson College in Wellesley, MA. He is a frequent guest lecturer at both institutions, as well as at Wentworth Institute of Technology and the University of New Hampshire.)