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What Do Architects Do

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Ideally I would provide full architectural design services for every project. Let’s be honest, that’s the want of every architect for every project. However, for several reasons, I realize this is not always an option, nor is it always necessary. Cost is typically a primary issue on every project, and usually the first thing to be eliminated is professional design services of an architect. However, as a client you need to be aware of options that do not eliminate the services of an architect.

The primary means of reducing the design fee is to reduce the level of service provided. However, that in turn will result in more responsibility for you and it becomes crucial (even more so) to have a competent contractor. Obviously, the greater amount of detail included in the drawings, the clearer the procedure for construction. The design drawings are vital in assuring you that your house is built the way you want it. The more detail in the drawings the more control you have over the resultant house. Anything not included in the drawings is at the discretion of the contractor. You’ll have less control over the final outcome of the house because you have given the contractor fewer instructions/information to follow.

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In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I address typical levels of service available from an architect. Keep in mind not all architects are willing to work on a project where their services are limited- and there are some projects I won’t either. However, it does afford potential options to a client who is not in a position to hire an architect for full services, but does realize the value of an architect in the design of their home. Outlined below are differing Levels of design service available to you:

LEVEL 1: SCHEMATIC DESIGN DRAWINGS

This level uses an architect’s special training to problem solve, but the task of producing drawings for permitting and construction is the responsibility of others and is hired by you. This level is appropriate for simple designs. This level of service is appropriate if you want a house designed for your particular needs, but want to either draw the plans yourself or to have the builder, or a drafting service perform the drafting.

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These drawings are by no means enough for permitting or actual construction. The drawings indicate the design intent of your home. Prior to building, you will need to hire someone to think through how the house will be constructed, and to document those decisions in a set of drawings, suitable for obtaining the permit and building the house. This approach is appropriate if you wish to have standard finishes and details. Services typically include the following phase and associated deliverables:

Schematic Design (SD)

Schematic Design Drawings provided. Room sizes will be indicated but not dimensioned. The Schematic Design Drawings will be formatted at a size of 11×17, hand drawn, and consist of the following:

– Floor Plan(s)

– Roof Plan(s)

– Exterior Elevations- at each exterior façade

LEVEL 2: SCHEMATIC DESIGN + SCHEMATIC DESIGN RESOLUTION PACKAGE

This level of service is appropriate for those seeking a house with standard construction and finishing details. Like Level 1, this level of service is recommended for simple designs, where everything is straight forward. This level of service is the same as previously described in Level 1. However, once a design is agreed upon, a Schematic Design Resolution Package is provided.

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The Schematic Design Resolution Package contains additional information to lessen the burden on someone else completing the drawings. Even though you will still need to hire someone else to complete a set of drawings, suitable for obtaining the permit and construction, major dimensions will have been determined to aid in the creation of drawings. Services typically include the following phases and associated deliverables:

Schematic Design (SD) + Schematic Design Resolution Package

Includes services and deliverables as indicated in Level 1 , in addition, a  Schematic Design Resolution Package is provided. The Schematic Design Resolution Package will be formatted at a size of 24×36, created via AutoCAD/BIM software, and consist of the following:

               –  Floor Plan(s)

               –   Roof Plan(s)

               –   Exterior Elevations- at each exterior facade

               –   Two (2) Building Sections

               –   One (1) Wall Section

LEVEL 3: SCHEMATIC DESIGN + DESIGN DEVELOPMENT DRAWINGS

This level of service is the same as previously described in Level 2. However, once a design is agreed upon, a set of Design Development Drawings is created. The Schematic Design is developed so it more precisely fits your desires and needs. Preliminary materials are indicated/selected for your house.

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The Design Development drawings illustrate and describe the refinement of the design of your house. They establish the scope, relationships, forms, size, function, and aesthetic character of the house. These documents will outline the major materials and the building systems proposed. While these drawings are still not suitable for permitting and construction, they do start indicating additional information that assists in alleviating the contractor making assumptions. Services typically include the following phases and associated deliverables:

Schematic Design (SD) + Design Development (DD)

Includes services and deliverables as indicated in Level 2, in addition, Design Development Drawings will be created. The Design Development Drawings will be formatted at a size of 24×36, created via AutoCAD/BIM software, and typically consist of the following:

– Preliminary Architectural Site Plan in CAD (plot plan provided by Owner)

– Floor Plan(s)

– Roof Plan(s)

– Exterior Elevations- as needed

– Building Section(s)

– Preliminary Wall Sections and Details

– Preliminary Electrical Plans- locating outlets, telephone and cable only

– Preliminary Ceiling/Lighting Plans- locating lighting and switching only

– Preliminary Schedule Sheet(s)- including door and window schedule, interior finish schedule and interior elevations as required

– Preliminary General Specification Sheet- major materials and systems and establish their quality levels

 

LEVEL 4: FULL SCOPE OF ARCHITECTURAL SERVICES (psst… psst…this is the one you want)

This level of service is the same as previously described in Level 3. However, once Design Development is complete, a set of Construction Documents is created. These drawings are also used for obtaining a building permit and for construction of your house. All of the information obtained throughout the previous phases of work are incorporated and coordinated to create a set of drawings and documents that set forth in detail requirements for the construction of your house. This also includes structural engineering of your house.

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This level of service offers you the greatest amount of specificity regarding your house, and consequently the greatest amount of control over the end ‘product.’ The resultant home will reflect who you are and how you live. Services typically include the following phases and associated deliverables:

Construction Document (CD)

Includes services and deliverables as indicated in Level 3 , in addition, Construction Documents consisting of Drawings and Specifications setting forth in detail the requirements for your house, including Drawings and Specifications that establish the quality levels of materials and systems required for your house, will be created. A typical Construction Document set will include:

– Cover Sheet

– General Specification Sheet(s) or Book Specifications

– Architectural Site Plan

– Foundation, Floor, and Roof Plan(s)

– Exterior Elevations

– Building Sections, Wall Sections, and Details

– Electrical Plans- locating outlets, telephone and cable only (circuitry by electrical subcontractor)

– Ceiling/Lighting Plans- locating lighting and switching only (circuitry by electrical subcontractor)

– Schedule Sheet(s)- including door and window schedule, interior finish schedule and interior elevations as required

– Selection sheets indicating what fixtures, appliances, lights, etc. that you need to select.

– Structural Framing Plans and Details as required (services provided by a structural engineer)

CONSTRUCTION OBSERVATION

This is the construction phase of your project. Basically, we are involved during this process to see that the builder is following the Construction Documents during construction. Ideally, at a minimum, visits to the site would occur at; Foundation and Footings, Substantial Completion of Framing, Pre-Electrical, Before Drywall, Trim work approximately 50%, and Substantial Completion. This service is only provided if Level 4 is selected. There are far too many liabilities to be involved with the construction unless we are the author of the Construction Documents.

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HOURLY CONSULTING

For any other services not indicated, and for any situation where our experience in residential design and construction would be of value, we are available on an hourly basis.

 

Ideally you would select Level 4. However, even limiting design services, there remains inherent value in employing the services of an architect. As a future client, you need to be aware of the options available such that you can realize your dream home. 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.

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’

Hiring an Architect: Part 5- “What? Me, hire an architect?”

Armed with this series, a residential client should feel at ease about hiring and working with an architect. 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 budget, your vision and reality. You’ll end up with a home that fits you and your lifestyle. If you still have reservations or questions fell free to comment below or send me an email!

 

Design On,

** Even limiting services an architect will bring value to your home, it won’t come with large fries or a super size drink, but it will be value.

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I don’t get to draw all day. I’m not a cartoon maker. Honestly, I’m getting tired of hearing clients and architects say “Isn’t that great, you/ I get to draw all day and get paid!” I know it’s typically stated flippantly, but we, or at least myself, need to really think about that. That’s not what we do and it’s part of the perception problem that the public has with what we architects do. “Don’t you architects just do some drawings?” No, no we don’t. Now before you get up on your soap box and start calling me out, I admit… I’ve been guilty of stating the same thing. However, I’m making a conscious effort to not say that anymore, it marginalizes what we do. Part of our role as architects is educating the public what it is we really do… we fall short on doing so, I know I do.

We architects get excited about meeting new clients and voicing our thoughts on the design problem and the solutions we have. We prepare awesome drawings that represent the vision for the project, with any luck the client loves them… and… pause…that right there is part of the problem. The problem is quite simple; it’s the ‘awesome drawings’ the client sees. Even worse, if we’ve been good at the design solution, the resultant drawings look effortless and as if that was the only solution. While awesome drawings are… well, awesome, they can also be a detriment. We need to do a better job at explaining the architect’s value to our clients lies well beyond the drawings created… and that we don’t just draw all day.

 

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An architect’s value is lost on the client if they only see the drawings and aren’t fully vetted as to the process/experience that ‘created’ the drawings. It’s the drawings backed by such that instills value. Yes architects draw. However, drawing is part of a larger process of architecture. A process backed with experience and expertise. The process involves problem solving, addressing your needs/wishes/budget/schedule, and complying with local building and zoning codes- all while designing an aesthetically pleasing efficient structure. Architects help you design/discover a structure that works for you and fits your individuality and preferences. The value of an architect’s 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 you. This in turn enhances the value we bring to a project. Drawings play a supporting role in the overall process.

Drawings themselves do not bring value to architecture. It’s the due diligence, experience, role of the architect in the design/construction process, and the thought(s) that created the drawings that bring value. Many people seem to be under the impression that drawings are cheap, and they’re right. Drawings themselves are cheap. However, it’s the thought and expertise that ‘back’ drawings created by an architect that’s going to cost. You can have cheap drawings; you’re just not going to get them from me or any other architect who has your best interests in mind. As a client, you need to look past the architect’s drawings and be cognizant of the process that created the drawings. The drawings themselves are cheap, heck I’ll even pay* for the paper myself. What you’re paying for is the architect’s expertise that created those drawings.

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No, I don’t get to draw all day everyday, my typical day looks more like this- Drawing Baths and Architecture. Yes I do get to draw, but my drawings are more than graphic representations. They are a wealth of knowledge and are backed by a solid thought process. Architects offer a service in which drawings are a tool to reach a conclusion… a conclusion that ultimately brings value to your project. Drawings are a product; architects provide a service, a valuable service!

 

Design On,

* Offer only applies when my services are rendered for the project, cannot be combined with any other offers unless Neutra comes back to life and wants to collaborate.

2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 1Within the architecture profession, design competitions have a love hate relationship. Many architects either love them or hate them. Me, I don’t cut it so black and white, I prefer an off gray stance. I don’t enter many design competitions, perhaps a future post as to why. However, when I do, I look at them from my own ** insert pun ** perspective and I win every competition I enter.

Every.

Single.

One.

How? Simple, I enter them with a specific challenge for myself to achieve. I don’t care about ‘winning’ in terms of Charlie Sheen, or the competitions definition of winning. Sure, it’d be great to win and receive the accolades from peers, or a quart of tiger’s blood, but I’m in it for more than that. I win by using competitions as exercises to further my knowledge of the architecture profession and/or add new design tools to my arsenal. There are two, and only two criteria to meet if you want to guarantee a win- and in reality one of them is optional.

The two critical tips to win every competition you enter:

1. There needs to be an entry fee. It’ll force upon you responsibility and commitment. If you’re anything like me, you expect to get something out of the monies you pay- I’m looking right at you AIA, sorry, that’s another post.

2. You need to commit to learning a new technique, trying new software, testing a new concept, investigating a new material or new usage of a typical material, etc. the key here is ‘new’ as the only way to win is doing something new.

You can win without meeting tip number 1. However, your winnings will be greater if you do. Keep in mind, there is no way to win if you don’t adhere to tip number 2

2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 3One of my most recent projects was the design of a new residential house. The clients are great and it’s been a fun project. The design was done via SketchUp and the design package was presented via renders right out of SketchUp. The graphic results for the schematic proposal were good. At the schematic stage, I try not to get caught up in materials and color selections- I want clients to focus on form, massing, and layout. I’ve used SketchUp for several years, the renders are good but a bit cartoonish. If you’d like to learn the basics of using SketchUp, check out my post SketchUp 101. I’ve tried a few other rendering plug-ins with Sketchup in the past, while the results were better than the standard Sketchup, they were cumbersome to achieve. I knew there were better Sketchup plug-ins. Time to go win a design competition.

My local chapter of the AIA was having their annual design awards competition, a perfect one to enter. As previously mentioned, there was an entry fee and the new software I was going to learn was Maxwell Render. I wanted to learn a new software to enhance the Sketchup renders. In addition, I was looking for a technique to better render grass, and Maxwell fit the bill on both counts. The free version of Maxwell is a plug-in that runs within Sketchup. While you’re limited to certain functions and output resolutions, it greatly enhances renderings of your Sketchup models. I chose Maxwell because Evan Troxel raves about it and if he does, trust me it’s got to be good. So Maxwell it was. I won’t go into specifics about the usage of Maxwell, perhaps a future post, but honestly you’re better off checking out Evan’s get Method site.

Here are some of the images created- the original SketchUp image is followed  with the Maxwell Render below. Keep in mind these were created from one SketchUp model with minor tweaking in Maxwell. The people, trees, and sky were done in Photoshop:

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So there you go, my latest win at a design competition. I won by learning a new software and technique. I was extremely happy with the results and haven’t even begun experimenting with Maxwell materials… maybe I’ll save that for my next winning entry. If you care to forgo an entry fee, be sure to check out Bob Borson’s Life of an Architect annual Playhouse Design Competition, its for a great cause.

So go out there and win yourself a design competition, you’ll be happy you did!

 

 

Design On,

** Seriously… you’ll win… do it!

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It’s always exciting meeting a potential client for the first time. Excitement. Nerves. Possibilities. That’s how I feel as the architect. Once I’m in their house I don’t get on the sales pitch soap box. The great thing about the modern ‘online world’ is that clients can do vast amounts of research before calling an architect. They’ve seen my work and know what I can do. I don’t need to sell myself at this point… well, I’m always selling the virtues of an architect, it’s just covert at this point.

 

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We start walking through the house. The clients go on and on- in a good way- talking about their project. I spend most of the time listening shaking the dog off my leg, checking out their medicine cabinets and nodding my head… after all it’s their project that they wish to share with me. I see the glitter in their eye as they discuss wishes and goals for the project. Really good clients have binders full of images they like. The best clients can describe why they like them. Finally they’ve exhausted themselves. Then it happens. They turn to me and ask, “So what’s the answer? What will it look like when it’s done?” They seem to be waiting for me to snap my fingers, toss my cape back over my shoulder (I should start wearing a cape) and exclaim “A-ha, I’ve got it!” However, my typical response is “Yes. No. Something. I don’t know.” To which I’m greeted with a blank stare for two minutes… than a nervous laugh… then the client says “ No, really, what’s it going to look like?”

 

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Sometimes it’s a bit of a let down to the client that I don’t have an initial grand vision for their project. If I did, it would be my vision and not theirs. I don’t work that way. The bad thing about the modern ‘online world’ is that clients want answers instantly. I explain how I approach each project by striving to define the inherent design issue(s) at hand. I need to figure out how they ‘live’ life on a daily basis and what is or isn’t currently working for them in their house. I don’t approach a project with a preconceived notion of an aesthetic- style if you wish. I strive to absorb a client’s beliefs and wishes and respond with an appropriate design. This doesn’t happen at the first meeting. I may even have them fill out a questionnaire in an attempt to further solidify their goals and wishes for the project. Then it happens. They look at me and exclaim “A-ha, so we’re going to be involved more than we thought. We have a say in what this will look like, nice. This sounds like a lot of fun!” Trust me, its barrel of monkey’s kind of fun.

 

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My initial meeting with a client involves a vast amount of listening, looking, and investigating the root of the design issue(s) at hand. Good design is listening and investigating, only after doing such can an architect respond appropriately. I suspect a majority of architects would agree.

A client’s project starts as theirs, but if it’s successful it doesn’t end that way. I like the give and take between architect and client, it makes for a rewarding experience and project for both of us. The most successful projects start as a client’s project and end as our project. It never becomes my project. So take on me (see what I did there) as your architect and we’ll come up with a project that’s not yours or mine, but ours

 

Design On,

** Come on A-ha and a barrel of monkey’s… in one post… never done before, couldn’t have been.

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.