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What an Architect Does

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Yesterday I was informed of two of things:

1. A residential renovation/addition project I interviewed for was not going to be- the potential client selected another firm.

2. The Schematic Design of a new custom residential house will stay just that, schematic design- the clients will possibly build in the future.

Not the information an architect wants to receive. However, before you start feeling sorry for me and sending pies, mountain dew, and skittles to cheer me up, know this- I’m okay with the news. My clients and potential clients informed me of their decision. While I’m not excited about it, they had the decency to inform me of such. I respect the fact that these clients/ potential clients trusted me and were comfortable having open honest communication. However, that’s not always the case.

As an architect I am constantly marketing and providing information in hopes of securing clients. Several times a week I receive emails like these:

“Hello,

We stumbled across your site on the Internet and hope to speak with you in detail about our farmhouse renovation project. My contact is 123-456-7891 and my husband, ‘Male Potential Client’, can be reached at 123-456-9876.

 

Thank you,

‘Female Potential Client’

Sent from my iPad”

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Or

 “I sent you a quick note via Houzz earlier today and we are interested in talking to you about our project.

I am looking for an architect to design a ‘garage’ attached or adjacent to our house. This garage will have some features of a ‘man cave’ including an area devoted to a ‘gumball arcade’. We would like to invite you to come to our property and look at the possibilities and discuss your ideas and fees for creating a drawing for us. Home is farmhouse style on 14 acres.  

 ‘Male & Female Potential Client’

Cell:  123-456-1234”

 

I respond to such inquires with a few questions to get the conversation started. I forward a Residential Design Guidebook that I have developed over the years- it’s a 20 page book outlining the process of working with an architect and the phases involved. I provide project cut sheets that are in sync with the client’s vision for the project. I research property tax records, applicable codes, and zoning requirements. In total this accounts for about 1-2 hours of my time, I consider it due diligence and it affords me the ability to talk realistically about the potential project. I keep the dialogue going via email and/or phone. If all goes well I meet the client, discuss the project, propose a fee/agreement, client is agreeable and we have a new client and new project… * air high fives and pistol gestures* whoo hoo! Sometimes clients say no. For a good read on when clients say no, see Lee Calisti’s post on think | architect when they say no.  However, my issue is when there is no response. What causes a potential client to be unresponsive? Nothing, nada, zip, the sound of chirping at dusk. Calls stop being returned, emails unanswered, no response.

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As a potential client, typically you initiate the conversation and request some sort of information. I am more than happy to respond and provide you with information to help you make an informed decision, but please let me know your decision. I don’t spend an enormous amount of time during the initial conversations or creating the information I provide. However, I do spend enough time that warrants a response. As an architect I deal with bad news regularly, it’s part of the profession and I can handle it. No news, well that just drives me crazy!

Is this just me venting due to losing some projects this week? Possibly. However, I’ve thought about this frequently, it’s an issue of common decency. When you are provided with information the least you can do is respond, even if it’s a no, just say “thanks, but I’m not interested.” I respected you by offering a bit of my time and expertise, afford me the same. Inform me, good or bad, such that I can focus my energies accordingly. As a potential client, you should know that it’s okay to say “no” to an architect- we don’t like it, but we can accept it and move on… on second thought, just say yes to your architect, it’ll make things easier for both of us!

 

Design On,

** cricket photo from Paul Albertella’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)  

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The past decade sat witness to an ever expanding frenzy for ‘green architecture,’ or sustainable design/ building. The ever growing interest in environmental responsibility and sustainability provides us the ability to have a positive impact on the environment. However, sometimes clients get lost in all the jargon employed when discussing ‘green design’ and sustainability and what it all really means.

 

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Sustainability is comprised of people, the earth, and costs. Sustainability involves evaluating a buildings impact on the environment from a ‘whole building’ point of view, not just specific pieces, and then designing accordingly. At minimum, and regardless of project scale, a design striving to reduce its environmental impact should address the following aspects:

– Site analysis to minimize/maximize solar gain, winds, views, etc.

– Minimize/ control water consumption

– Passive solar and day lighting

– Reduction of waste, during construction and the life-cycle of the building

– Use of recycled materials and finishes

– Maximize floor plan efficiency

– Energy efficient doors and windows

– Renewable energy sources

– Employ high efficiency mechanical systems

– Well-designed insulation systems/methods to reduce the need/use of mechanical systems

– Control or elimination of Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are typically dangerous to human health or cause harm to the environment.

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As architects, we need to safeguard our natural resources for future generations- this is by far one of the, if not THE, primary responsibilities we have as architects. Sustainable design must be flexible to change, reduce consumption of resources, and still possess strong design acumen and contribute positively to the built environment. As an architect, sustainable design should be an extension of our goal to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our clients and those who use our buildings- now and in the future.

 

Design On,

** For the architects reading this, I tried, The AIA won’t credit any HSW LU credits from reading this post.

What is the best house? Is it a mid-century modern? Perhaps it’s a contemporary? Is it a Georgian Revival? Is it a Craftsman Bungalow? Is it a 100 year old renovated farmhouse? Or is it something else? Yes, it’s all of these; the best house is the house that works for you and your lifestyle! However, without an architect, achieving the best house for you is challenging.

Most people have lived in houses of one sort or another their entire lives. Typically we take our houses for granted and do not appreciate just how many decisions have to be made prior to constructing a new house, or renovating/adding to an existing house. At some point, someone had to think through the entire design and construction process- address needs, wishes, budget, schedule, and comply with local building and zoning codes- all while ensuring that the resultant house was structurally sound, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing. The best ‘someone’ for the task is an architect. Architects are educated to help you define your needs, present options you may not have considered, prepare documents that instruct how your house is to be built, and assist you in the myriad of decisions inherent in the design/construction process… all while making it fun!

 

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Your house may be the most expensive project you will ever undertake. If you are making such an investment, and you want your house to reflect who you are and how you live, hiring an architect is a must. An architect will help you design/discover a house that works for you and fits your individuality and preferences. This house, your house, will be vastly different than one designed for someone else. Your house will fit you like a glove. An architect will assist you in bridging the gap between your vision and reality.

We architects take the opportunity to work with you on such an important aspect of your life very seriously. One of the most enjoyable aspects of our work is that we are hired to create wonderful places for daily living. It is a very rewarding experience for both architect and client. What is the best house? Easy, the best house is the house that works for you and your lifestyle! How to achieve the best house, well that’s a bit more challenging and should involve an architect.

What is the best house for you? Talk to an architect and begin the journey, it’ll be a great experience!

 

Design On,

** I really need to get to the post about house vs. home.

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I’ve been involved with client based single family residential design for over nineteen years. I’ve worked on single room additions, five million dollar+ custom houses, and everything in-between. Each house has its own unique set of circumstances that need to be resolved or addressed. No two clients have the same set of circumstances or needs for their house. However, one issue is always prevalent- value. Usually value is associated with a monetary amount, but that’s not always true. Clients talk about wanting to add, increase, and maintain value… but typically they’re not sure what value they’re talking about or how it applies to their house.

So how does one address value in a house? It’s actually pretty simple; value in a house comes down to common sense and avoiding excess frill. Real value comes from things that make sense and enhance ones comfort and enjoyment of living in a house. A valuable house should employ as many of the following as possible:

1. Location/ Orientation house should be located within a reasonable proximity to the client’s daily needs. Ideally, the house should be in a mixed-use community that offers various amenities with-in walking distance. The less dependent on a vehicle the better for the environs and one’s health. A house should be orientated to take advantage of the sun, prevailing winds, and site specific features. In addition, the house interior should have a connection to the outdoors, both visually and physically.

2. Sustainable house should take advantage of both passive and active sustainable building practices. There are numerous exterior and interior strategies/ methods that can be employed to reduce a house’s impact on the environment. However, the best thing is to construct only the spaces necessary.

3. Floor Plan should meet your needs and how you live. Do not design for what you are told is needed to re-sell the home or include whatever the latest trend is, i.e. “man cave.” You don’t want rooms that you never use- not only will you have to furnish them but you will also have to heat and cool them- these monies are better spent elsewhere. Efficiency can be achieved by the minimization of the plan and simple building volumes.

4. Rooms/ Spaces all rooms and spaces should have ample daylight, sufficient applicable storage, and logically accommodate the intended furniture. Dedicated hallways and circulation spaces should be kept to a minimum. (*note entries to the house should be ‘spaces’ not just doors)

5. Kitchens + Bathrooms should be well organized, have efficient layouts, and provide ample storage- all of which can be achieved in a compact or moderately sized space.

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6. Mudroom minimum should include a washable floor, floor drain, and utility sink with a hose attachment. Ideally each occupant of the house would have their own cubby/locker for storage. The mudroom should be located wherever the family foot traffic passes on a daily basis. (* pssst… pssst… it’s usually not the front door)

7. Garage cars are a reality that is not going away any time soon. However, a garage should not be the dominate element on a house. Ideally the garage should be set-back from the main elevation, or even better, if the site allows, the garage should be located on the side and underneath of a house.

8. Roof complicated gables, hips, gambrels, etc. can be very distracting to the overall design of a home- they’re even more difficult to flash, vent, and properly waterproof. A roof should be simple in design and shed water. (** shed water ** hint hint **)

9. Materials use low-maintenance long lasting materials.

10. Quality should take precedence over quantity. This applies to the entire house- overall size, rooms/ spaces, finishes, etc. Employ fewer elements executed to a higher degree of proficiency.

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The most valuable houses are the ones located in mixed-use walkable communities. Ideally the house is close to the owner’s daily needs. Houses that rely on an efficiency of space and are well designed in simple forms and details. Houses designed to meet the needs of the owners, minimize the life-cycle costs of operating and maintaining the house, a house designed for you– these are characteristics of a valuable house.

 

Design On,

** Notice I used ‘house’ and not ‘home’… a future post on that is in the works.

In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I address the most common question I’ve heard over the years from potential residential clients- “What? Me, hire an architect?” In my experience what they’re actually asking is;

“Can I afford an architect, aren’t they expensive?”

“Can’t I just by a builder house or buy plans from a book and still end up with what I want?”

“Isn’t an architect just going to design what they want and ignore me?”

These questions weigh heavily on clients, in reality; they couldn’t be further from the truth. However, hiring the services of an architect is not for everyone. Not everyone is building a custom home or taking on a significant renovation/addition. If you are considering/making such an investment, why not hire an architect to assist you in getting what you want? If you want your home to reflect who you are and how you live, hiring an architect is something you cannot afford not to do.

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People often don’t think about the cost of a realtor or contractor. Engaging their services costs thousands of dollars. However, you realize the value that they bring to your home and I doubt you would attempt to buy/sell or build your own home without them. Architects should be viewed in the same light. We aren’t as expensive as you might think, our fees are as flexible as the type of project you have in mind. Your home is in all likelihood the most expensive investment you’ve made/will make. Wouldn’t you want to enhance your return by hiring an architect to help guide you through the design and construction process?

Hiring me an architect is not something reserved for the wealthy. The majority of my work is working with ‘every-day people’ with moderate budgets- much like me. No matter the scale of the project, be it a garage addition or a new million dollar custom home, architects offer services for a variety of budgets and project types. An architect’s value is problem solving, addressing clients’ needs/wishes/budget/schedule, and complying with local building and zoning codes- all while designing an aesthetically pleasing efficient home. I help clients design/discover a home that works for them and fits their individuality and preferences. The value of our services 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 design- which ultimately results in cost savings to the client. This in turn enhances our affordability.

Builder Mitten

You could buy a builder house or build a house from a ‘plan book’ or on-line source. Going that route will allow you to build someone’s house, it won’t be your house, but it will be a house. These houses and plans are typically designed for what the ‘masses’ want or what some market analysis determines they want. Either way, it’s not going to be a home tailored to how you live. You’ll be able to choose paint colors, flooring options, fireplace surround, etc. However, for the most part you’ll be locked-in to a floor plan that appeals to mass buyers. If that’s all you want in a home, than this may appeal to you. The best option is a home designed specifically for you. This home will be vastly different than one designed for someone else. I like to equate it as a builder/’plan book’ home fits you like a mitten while an architect designed home fits like a glove.

Architect Glove

When it comes to designing your house, an architect will have strong preferences and recommendations. However, ultimately it will be up to you to make decisions. An architect will not force a design on you which you don’t want; if they do try, than you didn’t follow this series about ‘Hiring an Architect.’ It goes without saying (typing isn’t saying, is it?), we will make recommendations; present differing options, and offer our professional opinion- which is why you hire us. However, ultimately you make the decisions- we work for you. Working with an architect will allow you to make well informed decisions. Architects will listen to your needs/wants and in the end you’ll have the home you wanted because your architect was able to assist you in bridging the gap between your vision and reality. You’ll end up with a home that fits you and your lifestyle.

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Armed with this series, a potential residential client should feel a bit more at ease about hiring and working with an architect. If you still have reservations or questions fell free to comment below or send me and email.

All of the previous posts in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series can be found here:

Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search

Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself

Hiring an Architect: Part 3- Ask the Architect

Hiring an Architect: Part 4- A is for ‘Architect’

So the next time you find yourself asking “What? Me, hire an architect?” Be sure to answer with a resounding YES!

 

Design On,

** Another way to look at is that a builder house is like wearing a friend’s underwear, it’ll work, but it just feels icky!

485px-Architect

In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I provide some general terms and definitions that a residential client should be familiar with when involved with a construction project. I know, I know… I hear you asking “But Keith, what happened to the funny sarcastic posts? I mean this series seems pretty serious.” Well, rest assured the sarcastic humor shall return. Read the post WWJD and other architectural abbreviations for some not-so-serious abbreviations and associated meanings. However, once and a while I feel the need to write posts that help in educating clients what is we architects do and what it’s like working with us.

Keep in mind, these definitions/terms are not all encompassing. However, they do give you a good foundation (*pun inserted*) of terms you should be familiar with. When in doubt or you don’t understand a term, phrase, definition, etc., ask your architect for clarification.

Allowance(s)
A sum of money set aside in the construction contract for items which have not been selected and specified in the construction contract/construction documents. The contractor will be responsible for purchasing these items when they are chosen by the client. If the client selects an item which costs less than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive a credit equal to the difference in cost. Similarly, if the client selects an item which costs more than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive an extra charge equal to the difference in cost.

Approved Equal
Material, equipment, or method proposed by the contractor and approved by the architect for incorporation in or use in the work as equivalent in essential attributes to the material, equipment, or method specified in the contract document.

Architect
A designation reserved, usually by law, for a person or organization professionally qualified and duly licensed to perform architectural services.

Building Codes
Ordinances governing the manner in which a structure may be constructed or modified. Regulations, ordinances or statutory requirements of a government unit relating to building construction and occupancy, generally adopted and administered for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare.

Builders Risk Insurance
A type of property insurance which indemnifies against damage to buildings while they are under construction. It is usually bought by the owner of the building but the general contractor constructing the building may buy it if it is required as a condition of the contract. If the project involves renovations or additions to an existing building, the owner’s existing property insurance may cover the work under construction, obviating the need for builder’s risk insurance. However, in the case of new buildings under construction, the owner may not have an existing policy that provides coverage.

Certificate of Occupancy
Typically referred to as a ‘”CO.” This certificate is issued by the local municipality and is required before anyone can occupy and live within a home. It is issued only after the local municipality has made all inspections and all monies and fees have been paid.

Change Order
An amendment to the construction contract signed by the owner, architect, and contractor that authorizes a change in the work or an adjustment in the contract sum or the contract time or both.

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Construction Administration
In this phase, your architect observes the pace and quality of construction. As your agent, your architect looks out for your interests, keeping you informed of the project’s progress and overseeing any changes or problems that may arise. Construction phase services are helpful in keeping your project on track and within budget.

Construction Budget
The sum established by the owner as available for actual construction of the project, including contingencies for bidding to contractors and for changes during construction.

Construction Contract
A legal document which specifies the what-when-where-how-how much and by whom in a construction project. A good construction contract will include:

1. The contractor’s registration number.

2. A statement of work quality such as ‘Standard Practices of the Trades’ or ‘according to Manufacturers Specifications’.

3. A set Construction Documents/Drawings.

4. A construction timetable including starting and completion dates.

5. A set of Specifications.

6. A Fixed Price for the work, or a Time and Materials formula.

7. A Payment Schedule.

8. Any Allowances.

9. Clause(s) which outlines how any disputes will be resolved.

10. Written Warrantee(s).

11. Certificates of insurance (builders risk, general liability, workers compensation, etc.)

Construction Documents
Drawings and specifications created by an architect that set forth in detail requirements for the construction of the project.

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Contractor
A company licensed to perform certain types of construction activities. In most states, the general contractor’s license and some specialty contractor’s licenses do not require compliance with bonding, workmen’s compensation and similar regulations. Some of the specialty contractor licenses involve extensive training, testing and/or insurance requirements. There are various types of contractors:

General contractor– a contractor who enters into a contract with the owner of a project for the construction of the project and who takes full responsibility for its completion, although the contractor may enter into subcontracts with others for the performance of specific parts or phases of the project.

Remodeling contractor– a general contractor who specializes in remodeling work.

Specialty contractor– licensed to perform a specialty task e.g. electrical, septic/sewer, asbestos abatement.

Sub-contractor– a general or specialty contractor who works for another general contractor.

Design/Build
A method of project delivery in which the owner contracts directly with a single entity that is responsible for both design and construction services for a construction project.

Design Development
The architect prepares more detailed drawings and finalizes the design plans, showing correct sizes and shapes for rooms. Also included is an outline of the construction specifications, listing the major materials to be used.

5 DD

General Liability Insurance
Helps protect businesses in the event they are sued by customers or other third parties for injuries or damages.

Life Cycle Cost Analysis
The architect calculates expected future operating, maintenance, and replacement costs of desired designs and features to assist homeowners in developing a realistic design and budget estimate.

Payment Schedule
A pre-agreed upon schedule of payments to a contractor usually based upon the amount of work completed. Such a schedule may include a deposit prior to the start of work. There may also be a temporary ‘retainer/hold back’ (5-10% of the total cost of the job) at the end of the contract for correcting any small items which have not been completed or repaired.

Penalty Clause
A provision in a contract that provides for a reduction in the amount otherwise payable under a contract to a contractor as penalty for failure to meet deadlines or for failure of the project to meet contract specifications.

Percolation Test
Typically referred to as a ‘perc test.’ Tests that a soil engineer performs on earth to determine the feasibility of installing a leech field type sewer system on a lot. A test to determine if the soil on a proposed building lot is capable of absorbing the liquid affluent from a septic system.

Permit
A governmental municipal authorization to perform a building process such as; zoning/use permit, demolition permit, grading permit, septic permit, building permit, electrical permit, plumbing permit, etc.

Programming
The architect and homeowner discuss the goals, needs and function of the project, design expectations and available budget, pertinent building code and zoning regulations. The architect prepares a written statement setting forth design objectives, constraints, and criteria for a project, including special requirements and systems, and site requirements.

Program

Project Budget
The sum established by the owner as available for the entire project, including the construction budget; land costs; costs of furniture, furnishings, and equipment; financing costs; compensation for professional services; cost of owner-furnished goods and services; contingency allowance; and similar established or estimated costs.

Punch List
A list prepared by the client or their authorized representative of items of work requiring immediate corrective or completion action by the contractor- a list of discrepancies that need to be corrected by the contractor.

Punch Out
To inspect and generate a punch list.

Schematic Design Phase
The architect consults with the owner to ascertain the requirements of the project and prepares schematic studies consisting of drawings and other documents illustrating the scale and relationships of the project components for approval by the owner. The architect also submits to the owner a preliminary estimate of construction cost based on current area, volume, or other unit costs.

Septic System
An on-site waste water treatment system. It usually has a septic tank which promotes the biological digestion of the waste, and a drain field which is designed to let the left over liquid soak into the ground. Septic systems and permits are usually sized by the number of bedrooms in a house.

Specifications
A part of the construction documents contained in the project manual or included within the construction drawings consisting of written requirements for materials, equipment, construction systems, standards and workmanship.

Standard Practices of the Trade(s)
One of the more common basic and minimum construction standards. This is another way of saying that the work should be done in the way it is normally done by the average professional in the field.

Square Footage
Can be calculated as both gross and net square footage. No uniform standard for computing a residential square footage yet exists. Architects, builders and Realtors each measure square footage differently. Square footage is not always an indication of the livable space available in a structure. Clients are encouraged to ask for an explanation of which spaces were included in the square footage calculation and how it was calculated.

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Substantial Completion
Refers to a stage of a construction or building project or a designated portion of the project that is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the construction contract documents, so that the owner may use or occupy the building project or designated portion thereof for the intended purpose, without undue interference.

Time and Materials Contract
A construction contract which specifies a price for different elements of the work such as cost per hour of labor, overhead, profit, etc. A contract which may not have a maximum price, or may state a ‘price not to exceed’.

Warranty
In construction there are two general types of warranties. One is provided by the manufacturer of a product such as roofing material or an appliance. The second is a warranty for the labor. For example, a roofing contract may include a 20 year material warranty and a 5 year labor warranty. Many new homebuilders provide a one year warranty. Any major issue found during the first year should be communicated to the builder immediately.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance
A form of insurance that provides compensation medical care for employees who are injured in the course of employment, in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer for the tort of negligence.

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As a bonus, download your own PDF definitions cheat sheet and insert into your project/idea book- or make paper airplanes, your call –> Working with an Architect

If you missed the previous posts in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, they can be found here:

Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search

Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself

Hiring an Architect: Part 3- Ask the Architect

Next up in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, Part 5- What? Me, Hire an architect? Stay tuned.

 

Design On,

** Go find yourself an architect and define your project, it will be worth it!