Architect’s Value? 60 to Contemplate.

This is not a rant… well, maybe a slight one. As a member of my neighborhood Architectural Review Board, I see a vast array of projects for review. A recent submittal- one by a ‘designer’- prompted this post. The submittal was for an in-law suite addition to an existing single family home. Now, before you start sending me emails and such, I have seen competent house designers and I know they exist. I even know some designers who can design circles around architects- why all the circles in your designs? However, in my experience, this post is the norm and not the exception. This isn’t to belittle house ‘designers’- they are typically not trained to the extent an architect is and simply don’t know any better.

The ‘designer’ had a copyright notice on the drawings which I will respect and not post the original drawings. However, I do provide diagram sketches of the construction drawings. The diagrams ** wink wink ** aren’t that far off from the ‘construction’ drawings. After review, the following questions/comments come to mind about the proposed addition- this is going to be long, but please read through in its entirety:

1. What is the property zoned?

2. Provide a site plan indicating setbacks.

3. Provide a site plan indicating how run-off will be contained during construction and the extent of the silt fence.

4. What code(s) apply?

5. Do you have any general specifications or quality/procedures expected of the GC?

6. What is the project schedule and the payment draw schedule?

7. Are any allowances provided to the owner? If yes, amounts and descriptions?

8. Provide a demolition plan.

9. Provide information as to how construction debris will be contained/minimized from entering the existing portions of the house during construction.

10. Provide a foundation plan.

11. Is a vapor barrier required in the crawl space?

12. Does radon gas need to be addressed in the new foundation?

13. How do the new foundation walls and footings tie into the existing?

14. Provide a first floor framing plan.

15. How does the new floor structure interact/tie-in to the existing?

16. Is it a vented crawl space? If yes, where are the vents and vent calculations?

17. How does the new foundation impact the existing foundation in terms of ventilation?

18. Is it a sealed crawl space? If yes, provide details.

19. How is the crawl space accessed?

20. How is the existing gas fireplace vent addressed, it currently vents on the exterior wall where the new addition abuts.

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21. The new bedroom shares a wall with the existing family room- do you anticipate soundproofing that wall?

22. The new bedroom shares a wall with the existing family room- do you anticipate a Solid Core door accessing the new bedroom to lessen sound transmission?

23. The first floor exterior wall is in-line with the brick foundation below. Has the brick been designed as load bearing? If so, provide details. If not, provide floor framing details addressing the bearing of the framed wall above.

24. What are the floor finishes?

25. Provide door specifications/schedule.

26. Provide window specifications/schedule.

27. Provide hardware specifications for both doors and windows.

28. Is any casing anticipated for the doors and windows? If yes, provide specifications and details.

29. Is any baseboard and/or shoe molding anticipated? If yes, provide specifications and details.

30. Provide toilet specification.

31. Provide bathroom sink specification.

32. Where is the existing waste line and where is the new piping run?

33. Is the millwork shown in the bathroom field built or standard cabinetry? Provide specifications.

34. Provide bathtub specification.

35. Bathtub is indicated as ‘accessible’ but there is no accessible path/clearance to tub, please clarify.

36. Provide interior elevation drawings of all walls in the bathroom.

37. Is the millwork shown in the bedroom field built or standard cabinetry? Provide specifications.

38. Provide bedroom sink specification.

39. Provide interior elevation drawings of all walls in the bedroom.

40. Is any flashing anticipated for the windows? If yes, provide details.

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41. Is any insulation anticipated for the floor, walls, and ceiling? If yes, provide specifications and locations.

42. Provide building section drawings.

43. Provide right side exterior elevation drawing.

44. Provide wall section detail drawings.

45. Provide floor assembly detail drawings at both bedroom and bathroom.

46. Provide a roof plan.

47. Provide a roof framing plan.

48. How does the new roof structure interact/tie-in to the existing exterior walls?

49. How is the new roof vented?

50. Provide roof vent calculations.

51. Provide soffit/eave details.

52. Are gutters, downspouts, and splash blocks anticipated?

53. Provide exterior material selections.

54. Provide interior material selections/schedules.

55. Is any flashing anticipated for the roof? If yes, provide details and locations.

56. Is any electrical provided? If yes, provide power and switch location drawings (indicate any switched receptacles).

57. Is any hard-wired lighting provided? If yes, provide lighting and switch location drawings.

58. Are any smoke detectors provided? If yes, show on lighting drawing.

59. Is there a new HVAC system for the addition? If yes, where are the supply and return locations, and duct run layouts?

60. Are you tapping into the existing HVAC system for the addition? If yes, where are the details, supply and return locations, and duct run layouts? Have load calculations been done to confirm that the existing system can handle the additional load?

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There are more questions/comments but the point is made. As a client are you willing, or even capable of making these decisions? Do you want to make and be responsible for these decisions? As a contractor, are you willing to assume the additional responsibilities and risk associated with making these decisions? I assume the answer from both client and contractor is “No!”– at least it should be. So, who do you expect to figure this out? An architect, that’s who… architects figure this stuff out, that’s what we do.

Keep in mind, aesthetics haven’t even been discussed. In addition (pun intended), this is to be an in-law suite. The associated issues with designing for ‘aging-in-place’ have also not been addressed. Issues such as- lever hardware, rocker switches, removable cabinetry, wheelchair access, install heights, etc. All of the questions/comments, design aesthetic, and aging-in-place issues would have been discussed with the client and addressed in the construction documents prepared by an architect. It wouldn’t be left to chance, the client, nor the contractor.

An architect faces, and resolves, a myriad of issues on each and every project every day. In pointing out what we as architects do, my hope is that potential clients begin to further understand the value we bring to a project. Our value is occasionally related directly to cost savings. However, typically our value is in questioning, planning, clarification, detailing, and ‘solidifying’ numerous moving ‘parts’ into a cohesive, aesthetically pleasing, well designed house- which ultimately results in cost savings to the client.

Starting to see an architect’s value?


Design On,

** By Design On, I mean hire an Architect and than Design On!

  1. AJ Jones said:

    I believe your whole article needs to be retouched. 90% of your list doesn’t apply to a neighborhood ARB submittal. I have never met an ARB that asks you to: “34. Provide bathtub specification.”, or ” 54. Provide interior material selections/schedules.”, or “58. Are any smoke detectors provided? If yes, show on lighting drawing” …and that is just to name a quick few. No client wants to or needs for an ARB to know what their interior finishes are or what sort of hvac system they plan on installing. “7. Are any allowances provided to the owner? If yes, amounts and descriptions?”……are you insane? It’s none of your business.
    If your list had been a compilation of how bad the new structure looked from the exterior, it’s effect on the watershed, the need for retaining walls in the rear, the way it looks from the neighbor’s house, the lack of site plan, etc that would lend itself to a great comparison of designer vs. architect. Seems instead, you took a subject and stretched what it’s truth’s are to fit your agenda of making “designers” sound like idiots. After all, they “simply don’t know any better” right? But it’s ok, because at the begining of your article you said: “This isn’t to belittle house ‘designers’” So, you’re cool to say what you please with no consequence right? You know what would have been a heck of a lot better than this article? An article about a good designers vs. a good architect. There are completely crap designers out there and completely crap architects out there. It is easy to take both of those out of context and create a list about how shoddy their work is…

    • No, the article doesn’t need to be retouched. Where did I say that this applied to, and was required by the ARB? I didn’t. Yes it was an ARB submittal, but the post addresses what a client should expect to be incorporated into their drawings/design.

      I didn’t stretch the truth any further than you did in your comments. Well actually, I did less as you inferred many things I didn’t state.

      I didn’t take anything out of context, I had the drawings for an addition/renovation, looked at the property, and described what was lacking.

      I also stated that there are plenty of designers who are much better than architects, did you miss that?

      Do you not think that a well coordinated set of construction drawings, be them by an architect or designer, should contain the information I listed?

  2. AJ Jones said:

    A well coordinated set of CD’s absolutely should cotain all of the information you listed. But an ARB submission… absolutely not. Your subject of critique is an ARB submission as stated clearly and the vast majority of your article is detailing how that submission is lacking. The problem here, is most of the areas you say it is lacking in have nothing to do with the purpose those drawings are trying to fulfill.
    As read, the flow of this article is: 1) architects are valuable 2) designers don’t know much. 3) here’s a list of things they don’t do. 3) here’s some poor drawings I have that are proof they don’t do these things. Your list encompasses so many phases and aspects of the design process it’s unfair to use that when critiquing an arb submittal and using that as your example of designer’s lack of ability. If you are trying to compare designers to architects, use 2 good examples from each party and compare apples to apples, not CD’s/zoning/specifications/ vs. an arb submittal.

    • I don’t know how to be any clearer, but I’ll try again. Yes this was an ARB submittal, they submitted the final construction documents for their project. The critique is of the final drawings prepared by a house designer, yes they were lacking. The critique is NOT of ARB submittal drawings which of course would not require the information I stated.

      Had the drawings been by an architect, you can be sure I would have had the same post.

      To your points:

      1. Yes, architects are valuable.

      2. Yes, there are designers that don’t know much, there are also architects that don’t know much.

      3. Yes, I had proof with poor drawings by a poor designer.

      Nothing was unfair, these were the final CD’s. perhaps I was unclear in the post it was not a comparison between an ARB submittal and what would be expected on a set of CD’s. It was a review of CD’s submitted as the ARB application. Many ARB submittals are done by submitting the actual CD’s, such as in this case.

  3. AJ Jones said:

    If they truly were the final CD’s and represent everything that is the result of that person’s design process, then I am on board with you and agree 100%. Very poor indeed. That being sad, I still don’t agree with the overall structure of this article. It’s clearly an example of a shoddy designer, and you are comparing it to qualities of a good architect or a good designer. If I compare the work of a shoddy architect to a good designer and say “here is proof that architects don’t know as much as designers” is that a fair comparison? Give me a good architect vs. a good designer and tell me why one is better. That would be a fair article.

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