What does an architect do?

Homeowners are often curious what an architect actually does. Some even think that architects construct buildings. An architect has many responsibilities, but this one is typically for the contractor. Basic responsibilities of the architect include: designing a building/space for a client, reviewing design drawings with clients & completing construction documents. Architects are also responsible for other items related to getting the project done, some of these include: Zoning analysis, code research, material research, corresponding with clients, contractors & manufacturers, drawing review, etc. Once a set of drawings is complete, the architect’s job is complete. Unless, a client would like the architect to perform construction phase services; such as observation of the construction, field reports, change orders, and inspections. These services are usually for commercial building projects, although clients could ask for these services for residential projects. Another service architect’s offer is bidding phase services, where they put together bid packages, and help the client choose which contractor will be the best fit for the project at hand. Programming, services can be completed by an architect, but the owners are usually responsible for this. They know their needs the best, and know how they need their buildings to function as a whole

When should I hire an architect?

It is best for you to hire an architect as soon as they are ready to begin planning for a construction project. The earlier in the process an architect is hired, the better. Even if you just want to kick the tires and see how much your project could cost, most architects are happy to provide an estimate of architecture fees & rough estimate cost for your project budget. There are many factors that affect both of these numbers. Some clients feel going to a contractor is better, but contractor's don't typically know the building code architect's need to follow, and certain items on a project will need to be done a certain way to follow that code. In addition, the architect will be able to provide a preliminary design to ask a contractor for a ballpark figure, to make sure the project will be feasible, and on budget. Final construction documents are more definite will their notes and detailing they provide, and a contractor can give a closer number on your project. Another situation that comes up sometimes is if you are shopping for a new home to purchase. Hiring an architect for consulting would be good in this situation to know if you can make modifications to a property for adding decks, porches, 2nd floor additions, etc. This will help you decide if the house improvements would be financially feasible for your needs.

When is the best time to get architectural plans? The worst?

Location is one key factor that affects the best time to get architecture plans. In New York, the best time to get plans is in the winter. This is because the architect will then be able to get your construction plans completed before spring; the best time to build when the weather is not too cold or too hot. The worst is in the fall; by this time, it is too late. You will not be able to start construction until the spring. The only benefit to having plans completed during the fall is if you would like to beat the winter rush for drawings. In other locations, the best time to get plans would be depending on the weather patterns & temperature of that region. Another factor would be financial reasons, affected by time. In some projects, time is a huge factor. A building might need to open at a specific time. ie a mall would aim to open in time for holiday season. When time is a factor, there is usually a larger budget, to ensure the project will be completed on the date it needs to be open for business.

The right budget for the job depends on many factors:
  1. scope (siz) of the project
  2. Project quality
  3. material & labor
  4. Affordability
Affordability being the most important factor. You should always build a project you are comfortable about with the cost/financing. There are many ways to finance including saving, loans, or investors. Scope of project is determined by the budget of the project. Average construction costs are around $110-200+ per square foot for new construction, with this these averages your architect should be able to give you a rough number to work with to determine the project scope. The quality of a project will be determined by three factors; time, cost & scope. All three must be juggled to achieve the desired project quality to fall within the project budget. One of these factors must be fixed, while the other two can be flexible. In different situations, there will be different fixed factors. Sometimes you need to finish a project sooner, so the cost might need to increase, where others, the time is not an issue, and you need the project to be less expensive. Materials & labor can vary in cost by a wide margin. For example, a vinyl siding residence is much less expensive than a brick veneer residence. If the budget allows, you will be able to use better, more expensive materials, such as granite, brick, trim work & tile work. It’s better to balance the materials and the budget to achieve the desired finished result. Architects can suggest alternate materials that will fit the budget.
An architectural fee is calculated in four different ways. Percentage of the Cost of Construction, hourly rate, cost per square foot, & Negotiated Fixed Fee
An architect will create a preliminary design drawing before completing final construction documents. A preliminary design drawing will have a minimal amount of information on the drawings. Information such as the wall/room dimensions, room names, door sizes, window sizes, roofs, decks, porches, balconies, and fixtures, so the client can see exactly what the design will look like. This stage is where changes should occur before going to final drawings. Once the preliminary design is approved, the architect completes final construction documents. This is where all the relevant building information goes. They show all notes, construction, dimensions, materials, etc. These drawings are for the contractor to build from, they are also used to obtain bids/estimates from contractors for the cost of the project
A typical set of residential drawings will include the following:
  1. Site plan
  2. Foundation plans
  3. Floor plans
  4. Elevation
  5. Sections
  6. Details
  7. Energy
  8. Plumbing, strapping, general notes
Depending on the size of the project, and the project scope of work, these drawings will be less or more. A typical project will include all of these. Detailing will vary based on the architect and the architect fee. Some add more, some add less details. The main point of the construction documents is for building the building, to code.
The construction process will vary based on:
  1. size & scope of project
  2. Contractor availability
  3. Materials used for the project
If a contractor is hired, and is very busy, the start date will be farther than a contractor who is not as busy with work. The materials used will vary the time frame based on the degree of labor intensity. A brick house will take longer to build than a vinyl siding house; more labor intensive, the longer it will take to build. Commercial projects are longer than residential, and small projects are shorter than larger projects. A typical residential addition on a house can take about 2-4 months to complete. A commercial project will take anywhere from 3-4 months to 3-4 years! Framing for a typical house or house addition can go up relatively quickly. After the foundations are poured, the contractor will wait 1 week for the concrete to cure, for the correct strength of concrete. Most framing can take a couple of days to 1 week depending on the size of the addition/house. Installing Sheathing, windows/doors, flashing, a day or two. Siding and insulation, another 2 days. The largest time frame on a residential house is the interior. There will need to be rough plumbing, electrical, HVAC installation, which can take 1-2 weeks. There will be sheet rocking, & painting, which will take nearly 1 week. Trim work, Cabinetry, installing fixtures, tile work, wood flooring or carpets, etc. Can be another 2-3 weeks. Adding decks, porches, patios will add more time to the project.