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Working with an Architect

What is an Architect?

"Architects are licensed professionals trained in the art and science of the design and construction of buildings and structures that primarily provide shelter. An architect will create the overall aesthetic and look of buildings and structures, but the design of a building involves far more than its appearance. Buildings also must be functional, safe, and economical and must suit
the specific needs of the people who use them. Most importantly, they must be built with the public’s health, safety and welfare in mind."

                                                   - National Council of Architectural
                                                     Registration Boards (NCARB)

When do you need an Architect?

In Ohio, drawings for new buildings and existing buildings, other than 1, 2 or 3-family residential buildings, must be prepared by a registered architect.

Choosing an Architect

Typically, architects are generalists and produce a great variety of projects. There are no two projects that are alike, and each new building brings with it unique challenges. Successful projects result when architects and clients form positive relationships with each other. The most thoughtful architects are as careful in selecting their clients as owners are in selecting architects.

You should arrange interviews with several architects to review their capabilities, define the scope of the project, discuss their fees, and determine your compatibility to work together throughout the project. Here are some questions to ask prospective architects:

  1. What does the architect see as important issues or considerations in the project? What are the challenges of the project?
  2. How will the architect approach your project?
  3. How will the architect gather information about your needs, goals, etc.?
  4. How will the architect establish priorities and make decisions?
  5. Who from the architectural firm will you be dealing with directly? Is it the same person who will be designing the project? Who will be designing your project?
  6. How interested is the architect in this project?
  7. How busy is the architect?
  8. What sets this architect apart from the rest?
  9. How does the architect establish fees?
  10. What would the architect expect the fee to be for this project?
  11. What are the steps in the design process?
  12. How does the architect organize the process?
  13. What does the architect expect you to provide?
  14. What is the architect's design philosophy?
  15. What is the architect's experience/track record with cost estimating?
  16. What will the architect share along the way to explain the project? Will there be models, drawings, or sketches?
  17. If the scope of the project changes later in the project, will there be additional fees? How will these fees be justified?
  18. What services does the architect provide during construction?
  19. How disruptive will the construction be? How long does the architect expect it to take to complete your project?
  20. Do you have a list of past clients that the firm has worked with? Will they provide references?

And as always, you should check the license status of the architect prior to signing a contract. You may do so at the elicense center at https://elicense.ohio.gov or by contacting the Ohio Architects Board.

Architect Contracts

Ohio requires all architects to enter into written contracts with their clients unless the services prior to beginning work on the project. This is true unless the services are being provided at no charge, are services to a registered engineer or landscape architect, or are services of the same general kind which the architect has previously rendered and received payment for from the same client. 

Architects and clients can prepare their own contracts, have them prepared by an attorney, or use the standard documents sold by The American Institute of Architects (AIA). AIA Documents are available from local AIA chapters.

The contract is a legal instrument that binds the architect and client to certain obligations for the duration of the project. It should include the specific services that have been agreed to and the conditions under which these services are to be rendered. Without such an understanding, issues could occur that increase costs or cause delays in the completion of the project. Consumers of professional services have the right to question and change any of the terms of the agreement before signing.

Contracts should be reviewed by an attorney prior to signing. Clients should keep a copy of the signed contract. Both the client and the architect are responsible for carrying out the terms of the contract.

Professional liability insurance is only required in Ohio for publicly funded projects.

What to expect from the architectural project

Design and construction projects involve several steps. Typically, projects go through the following six phases. However, on some projects several of these steps may be combined or there may be additional ones.

STEP 1 - Programming/Deciding what to Build

The client and architect discuss the requirements for the project (how many rooms, the function of the spaces, etc.), testing the fit between the owner's needs, wants, and budget.

STEP 2 - Schematic Design/Rough Sketches

The architect prepares a series of rough sketches, known as schematic design, which show the general arrangement of rooms and of the site. Some architects also prepare models or renderings to help visualize the project. The client approves these sketches before proceeding to the next phase.

STEP 3 - Design Development/Refining the Design

The architect prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed design. Floor plans show all the rooms in correct size and shape. Outline specifications are prepared listing the major materials and room finishes.

STEP 4 - Preparation of Construction Documents

Once the client has approved the design, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications, which the contractor will use to establish actual construction cost and build the project. These drawings and specifications become part of the building contract.

STEP 5 - Hiring the Contractor

The client selects and hires the contractor. The architect may be willing to make some recommendations. In many cases, clients choose from among several contractors they've asked to submit bids on the job. The architect can help you prepare bidding documents as well as invitations to bid and instructions to bidders.

STEP 6 - Construction Administration

While a contractor will perform the actual construction, the architect can assist the client in making sure that the project is built according to the plans and specifications. The architect can make site visits to observe construction, review and approve the contractor's applications for payment, and generally keep the client informed of the project's progress. The contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules, and procedures.