If you’re like most homeowners, you probably dream of one day completing a major home-remodeling project. And I’m not talking about retiling a tub here. This is the once-in-a-lifetime renovation — the kind that dramatically changes how you live, energizes the entire household and makes all the neighbors really jealous.
Perhaps your dream is to build a two-story addition with a family room below and a master bedroom and bath above. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to expand the kitchen and install French doors leading to a wraparound deck. Regardless of what your dream entails, all major remodeling projects can benefit from the expert design help of an experienced, licensed architect.
I know what you’re thinking: Architects are way too expensive and only necessary when building multimillion-dollar homes — and the current economic roller coaster isn’t helping any. The truth is, architects are well worth the extra cost on large remodeling jobs because with thoughtful evaluation and design, they can meet — and often exceed — your expectations. In fact, depending on the size or complexity of the remodeling, calling in an architect might be the only way to get the project off the ground, and to ensure your dream comes true. Here’s why you should consider taking the plunge if you’re gung-ho about a large-scale remodel of your house.
1. To see the big picture
An architect has the training and skill to produce a detailed design based on your particular needs and desires — a design that’s sensitive to the architecture of your existing home and scaled to the proper proportions. However, what truly makes an architect valuable is the ability to develop and refine a vision of the completed project that you can see and understand. And architects are experts at seeing not only the big picture, but also the hundreds of tiny steps between concept and completion.
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After the initial consultation, and once you and the architect have defined the scope, features, purpose and functionality of the project, the architect will develop a set of preliminary drawings, sometimes called schematics. These drawings are just the first of many that you should expect to see.
“It’s important for the architect to spell out in advance what each set of drawings will include,” says Richard Hayes, architect and managing director of the American Institute of Architects. Don’t be concerned if the preliminary drawings seem lacking, because each subsequent set will contain more and more detail, including written specifications. In fact, Hayes recommends asking the architect to show you a final set of drawings from a recently completed job, just to give you an idea of what to expect at the end of the design phase.
But before you settle on a candidate, carefully consider the firm’s past designs and gauge whether its vision for your house meshes with your own. If you want to incorporate salvaged stained-glass windows and antique brass doorknobs, for instance, don’t choose an architect whose past work features floating drywall over recessed fluorescent lights.
2. To handle the paperwork
When most of us think of an architect-designed project, we envision the aesthetics of the building: its size, shape and finished surfaces. But behind the pretty face are the bones of the building. It’s the architect’s job to design the project to satisfy building codes and meet specific structural demands. And striking that balance between aesthetic beauty and structural safety is no easy feat — it requires a vast knowledge of various building materials and construction techniques. Hiring a pro makes sure your renovation plays by the rules.
“A good architect knows the building code and alternative ways to solving structural problems,” explains Marc Olivieri, a Connecticut construction manager. “Architects also prepare most of the documentation necessary to acquire all the various building permits.” And those services can ultimately save you time and money.
3. To hire the muscle
No one understands the design of your project better than the architect, which is why he or she is the perfect person to coordinate the various construction professionals before the work starts in earnest. For example, an architect will meet with structural engineers or HVAC mechanics prior to construction to discuss the design, answer questions and ensure everyone knows their job.
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The architects’ plans make all the difference in translating your dreams to the details a contractor needs. If a problem should arise, which often happens, the plans will act as a record of what should have been done, and the architect will find a solution without compromising the design, your needs or your wallet.
4. To oversee the job
Once the design phase is completed, you can decide how involved the architect is in the actual day-to-day construction of the project — if at all. You can hire an architect just to design the project and create all the necessary drawings, and that’s it. He or she then has no further involvement. However, for an additional fee, some architects will manage the project by hiring subcontractors, establishing the work schedule and confirming that all work is done properly and according to the final plan.
Another common practice is called contract administration, or “CA” for short. “When you sign a CA,” Hayes explains, “the architect will check in on the construction from time to time to answer questions and ascertain if work is adhering to the intent of the design.”
A third level of supervision is available through design-build firms. These one-stop shops will design and build your project, providing supervision throughout every phase of construction, including hiring subcontractors. This option also saves you the trouble of negotiating and signing two contracts — one with an architect and another with the contractor. But be aware that some design-build firms employ home designers, not certified architects.
It’s also important that you be involved during the construction process, even if it’s just to consult with the architect from time to time. That way, you’ll be able to express your concerns as the project takes shape. “Working with an architect is a bit of a balancing act,” Olivieri says. “You want to make sure your needs and desires are satisfied, but without surrendering all control to the architect when changes or refinements to the design are necessary.”
5. To go green
More and more architects are starting to design buildings that are environmentally sensitive to both the planet and the homeowner. Considering sustainability in concept and construction will ensure your investment lasts a long time, limits its consumption and saves you money through efficient design.
The options available vary widely depending on the experience of the architectural firm and the circumstances of your project. Even if you’re not plunging into a photovoltaic array or a backyard wind farm, smart choices can make significant, smaller gains. Consider using recycled and nontoxic materials, solar or passive water heaters, efficient insulation and a trustworthy thermostat. Because many of these measures involve whole-house systems, it’s critical to plan for them.
For more information about green architecture, visit the American Institute of Architects’ Sustainability Resource Center and the U.S. Green Building Council.
With everyone going green in the construction industry, why is it that the Philly airport requires so many copies of each drawing submission? I currently have 14 sets of drawings in my office totaling 4,032 square feet of paper for a restaurant that is only 2,200 sf in total! And this is the third such submission for this project!
AutoCAD is one of the top used software packages for architects and engineers in the industry and to prove it, Autodesk, the maker of AutoCAD charges whatever the hell price they want. One “seat” or license for standard AutoCAD (not the souped up versions) is, and I quote: “without Subscription, Electronic Download $3,975.00”. If you choose to get a subscription, which allows you to download new versions each time they are released, that’s another $500 or more a year! Per person!
With such a death grip on the market, you’d think Autodesk would use its vast fortunes to keep their product up to date and available to as many people as possible. This would certainly stave off competition, right? Half right. They are now, but there has been a wide gap in coverage.
For years (18 years to be exact!), Autodesk has not released a Mac version of the software, and since architects like to do a lot of graphic intensive work, we tend to like Macs. So as architects we were forced to either work on a PC, dual-boot or run a PC emulator on a Mac, or get the Mac we wanted and scrap AutoCAD for a competitor. This opened up a window for a slew of competitors to grow their market share little by little – everyone from TurboCad to MicroStation to MacCad to more.
Autodesk must have felt the pinch, because after a huge delay, AutoCAD for the Mac is back! But Autodesk took it even further – they released AutoCAD WS for mobile use (read iPad and iPhone)! So not only can you get back to your Mac, you can go to job sites with your iPad and pull up drawings on the touch screen – how freaking awesome is that?
Now the debate… since I will be upgrading my computer system again this coming summer, do I make the switch to a Mac w/ and iPad, which means paying an upgrade fee for CAD and buying new software for all the rest of my junk, or do I say screw it and switch to a Mac/iPad right now? Decisions, decisions….
While I decide, here’s something to make you smile (courtesy of my friend Rocio)
Forgive my absence, but the architecture business decided to pick up just when my wife had a new baby, so things have been hectic to say the least! So here’s what’s been going on at Design on the Square:
Propel Braddock Hills Charter High School, Pittsburgh, PA:
This project is now out to bid and permitting! This 46,000 sf charter school project for 400 students will start construction before the end of the year and be open for students by August 2011. Construction is estimated to be around $2.5 million.
West Hanover Condos, Trenton, NJ:
A new project that is moving very quickly – this abandoned building will be getting a new facade and a great deal of work inside to build it out as four high-end condos.
The client had a previous architect do some preliminary plans and was unhappy with the results which were mundane and typical apartment style units, excessive hallways that wasted space, uninspired facades, non-code compliant spaces, and, worst of all, bedrooms at ground level adjacent to the sidewalk.
By shifting the stairs away from the outside wall, moving the entry doors, and designing the units for maximum living space, each of the four units were able to grow by about 150 sf, enough to add a half bath to each unit. By creating a light well on the side of the building, we are able to create an enormous wall of windows in each room of the second floor and in all but one bedroom of each of the the first floor units.
The 11′ ceiling, large open living spaces (20’x24′), walls of almost all glass, wood floors and exposed duct work, these condos will definitely achieve the loft style that the client is looking for. Added amenities include a rooftop deck with work out room/party space and a view of the State Capitol! The clients are submitting this project for LEED certification, so use of recycled and recyclable materials, energy efficient equipment and high insulation values will all be included as this moves forward.
The Sterling Building, Trenton, NJ:
Unfortunately, the Sterling Building renovation is now on hold while the developer waits on the economy to catch up with the vision for the project.
According to a recent study (Page 6), Trenton is full of rich people! Who knew? 6th highest per capita income in the country! We do have a ton of people who live here who work in the city and save up their cash by commuting… Now if I can find out how to tap into those 6.2% of our population that are millionaires and get them to hire an architect!
So I’m going to court today to try to collect against a client who hasn’t paid me in six months… I’m trying to walk a fine line between not coming off as an a-hole and being able to make my mortgage payments.
So I tried to negotiate a payment plan of some ridiculously low amount each month over what seems like forever, and they didn’t even pay me that! Court is today and I got a call last night from the client’s husband saying he wants to meet me this morning to pay me half the money and will pay the other half at the end of the week. I debated what to do and this is my solution…
I think the American Institute of Architects (of which I am a member) tries to focus on “trendy” architecture to the detriment of the overall profession. The project shown here is a recipient of an honor award and I don’t know why… I mean, there are some features that may be great, but to me this looks like a 1950’s hotel that got a bad paint job. Really, why are these things being built? What client has the money to let this get designed and constructed and didn’t think about the way this would look 5 years from now? This type of fad laden design will appear as out of style in 5 years as your parachute pants and the lines cut into your eyebrows. Don’t you realize buildings are harder to change than your wardrobe? Why would you spend so much money on a project that you won’t be able to sell or rent when it becomes outdated before the first lease is up? Continue reading
To amuse myself on this, the thirty third anniversary of my arrival on this planet, I have brought together a collection of things that got past not only an architect, but got past the building review, the contractor’s site super, and ended up actually constructed somewhere! I always wonder why everyone involved lets the work get to this point without raising a red flag and saying “WTF?”
Architects in most states are required to take continuing education courses to maintain their licenses. For those who don’t, they still need those courses to maintain membership in the AIA. Currently that requirement is 18 learning units per year (about 18 actual contact hours). To meet these requirements, architects can attend lectures, go to the national convention seminars, complete mail-in tests from the AIA’s official magazine, or even have box lunch presentations in their own offices made by product manufacturers or distributors. However, there are times when the deadline is rapidly approaching and you may be able to eat 4 box lunches on the same day.