What Architects Do
There are many ways we help clients. Usually, we touch on most of these in the course of a project. Sometimes, we do more. Other times, we help with specific problems. There is no set, cookie-cutter way of working with an architect – it all depends on where you are in the process, and what you are looking for.
Helping decide whether a project should go ahead
You might be considering buying a piece of land. Or you might be weighing the costs of adding to your existing house. An architect can help by assessing your needs and making simple determinations of the likely extent of construction. We can present the pros and cons of different options, and we can calculate ballpark construction costs to help you make a decision. We can frequently spot either strong hidden potential or major stumbling blocks right at the outset, which can have a big impact on the whole project direction.
Defining your program
The program is the set of ingredients you want your house to include. On the most basic level, it might be the list of rooms. But everyone also has more detailed wishes: a fireplace or a roof terrace, particular privacy for some areas, or particular proximities, a herb garden, or a special rug. We collect and collate all your ideas and desires as a separate exercise, before beginning design work. Then, we can usually tell you whether or not it all fits in your budget, whether some ideas are at odds with others, and perhaps help you filter and combine things, or re-imagine priorities.
Making the most of your site
One of the valuable skills an architect has is the ability to make the most of your site. Although we design buildings, we think as much about their context, and the land around them as the buildings themselves. We carefully consider the views, daylight, gardens, privacy, access, wind (and storms!), passive solar, soil, drainage, and so on. We also ascertain all your setback, density and other permit requirements. With our experience, we can usually see possibilities way beyond the box in the middle of the lot, or the addition tacked on the back.
Design is the core of what we do. What are the most beautiful, functional, and economical ways to realize your ideal program on your site? We work with an open mind, testing and judging many different concepts. Then, through drawings, sketches, and models to help you visualize things, we present options to you, and re-think and revise ideas based on our discussions, until you are absolutely happy. Good design only happens when architect and client are on the same page.
We develop the whole house design at increasing levels of detail, starting with overall layouts and orientations, and working down to detailed design of millwork, stairs, and the like. Sometimes we are asked for big-brush “concept design” ideas only; other times just for detailed millwork or window designs in an existing house.
Choosing systems and materials
You may be looking at alternative heating technologies, and wondering whether they really make sense applied to your project. We can assess big-picture benefits against project-specific parameters to help you decide what makes sense. For example, a geothermal heat pump might save thousands in an old home renovation, but the payback in a super-insulated new house might be 40 years. How about solar panels, in-floor heat, storage heaters, and insulation types – and what are the grants available? An architect can help navigate these options. And this is true for many different areas of the building: what are the durable countertops? What kinds of windows, flooring, lighting or steps will work best for you? An architect becomes your impartial advisor in all these questions.
The detailed construction drawings we develop from your finalized design become the contract with the builder. They can be comprehensive or more brief, but ideally they capture everything necessary to build exactly the house that you know you want, and that the architect knows will work, right down to the doorknobs, including all the fixtures and finishes, the hidden details, thermal performance, building code compliance, and overall building quality and durability. With methodically developed and comprehensive construction drawings and notes, there are no surprises down the road: rickety fittings, poor finishes, boxed-in pipes or hidden switches, moisture build-up or draughts, awkward corners or wasted spaces. With a set of construction drawings there are verifiable standards to be met; without them, quality depends on builders’ assurances.
Overseeing the construction
An architect normally visits the construction site regularly, and is in close contact with the contractor. When the architect sees any part of the construction not being built according to the construction drawings, he/she informs the contractor, and ensures it is corrected. When changes arise, whether from hidden site conditions or new client requests, we codify the revisions, establish the costs, and make sure they don’t cause unforeseen issues elsewhere.
Managing the project
There are myriad other ways in which an architect will assist you. We welcome hearing from you any needs, concerns or ideas at any point; and we report back the salient project status and information. We keep a continuous, informed eye on projected costs, in keeping with the budget parameters you gave us. We may negotiate permits such as heritage certificates, or planning approvals. We provide plans to lenders. We research areas of interest for you. We design outbuildings or site features, or new components for existing buildings. We collect product and finish samples and compile material palettes. We create computer models or photo-realistic renderings. We work with local materials and craftspeople. We find good builders and good suppliers. We may bring in trusted engineering firms to resolve technical issues; or we may know ways to avoid doing so, to save money. All along, an architect is your agent and your advisor.