Ask ten architects to design a project and you’ll get ten completely different designs. These designs (and their budgets and construction limitations) could make your project a resounding success or could make it something less than successful.
Architecture, by the nature of the business, is a service-based profession. Architects provide design services and typically bundle other administrative, planning, and construction services into their fee. So if you get ten different designs from ten different firms, how do you decide which architect is the absolute best fit for your development endeavor?
Each architecture firm is structured differently, has varied design aesthetic preferences, and is skilled at different subsets of the profession. While not exhaustive, here are a few ways to better understand who might be the best architect for your next project.
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Get multiple quotes
Unless you are dead-set on a specific architect/firm, multiple quotes give you the best understanding for how competitive the market is for architectural design services. Each firm will likely quote different services involved in their work. So, as best as you can, get an apples-to-apples comparison of the quotes submitted based on the services provided.
Talk to Previous Clients
Ask each firm for a list of clients (both current and previous) that have built projects with that firm. Interviewing clients can give you a high level of insight into the working relationship you’ll likely have with your architect/firm.
View Previous Work
Take a tour of the firm’s previous work. Look for similarities in design, material motifs, quality of design, and other aspects that give you a hint into how their finished products turn out. This gives you a great opportunity to talk with property managers as well. PMs often know their buildings in intimate detail.
Their insight can clue you in to the “nuts and bolts” of a building.
Is the HVAC integrated well into the building?
Does the facade on generate too much heat and cause high utility costs?
Are the bathrooms laid out poorly (or brilliantly)?
Are there bottlenecks in the egress or misuses of space (or the opposite)?
Are there brilliant design moves that make the building stand out?
These questions, which add up and can cost a lot when not well designed, might only be apparent when touring a building and physically inspecting the design decisions made by the architect.
Interview Team (not just leadership)
Architecture firms operate like any other organization. While leadership will likely be who you interact with on a day-to-day basis, the team behind the leadership can be just as important to know.
Tour their office (look for moments of design brilliance)
All architecture firms have the exact same opportunity to showcase their creativity, level of expertise, and design aesthetic–their office. When you tour an architect’s office, look for details that clue you in to their personality and design preferences. Side note: a messy office doesn’t always mean the firm produces messy work. Actually this can be quite the opposite many times. Architectural design is a messy endeavor!
Design Challenge – Charette
Design charettes are short design challenges that are meant to produce creative and inventive results. If your project is big enough and your budget allows for it, a short design challenge could be a way to see how different architects flex their creative muscles. It can also give you insight into how the firm operates under a quick deadline scenario.
Understand Firm Scale/Constraints/Ambition
Each architecture firm is structured differently, has different goals as an organization, and can provide different levels of service. It can be a tough decision to turn down a young, ambitious firm for a more senior one with years of experience. As best as you can, try to gauge the constraints your project will place on the firm.
Quick example: This decision came up on a project where one firm was a young, upstart group that oozed with ambition, creativity, and drive. Another firm had been around the block a few times yet had multiple projects in the pipeline. The decision between the two came down to the level of service one would provide (their only project) versus burdening the design team with bringing on more staff to man the project (could potentially cripple the firm if not managed properly). This decision is never easy because there are so many unknowns. But the end goal should be to maximize the value for your project.
Ask About Other Projects in Their Pipeline
This could be a sub-point to understanding the scale and constraints of the firm. If a firm has nothing on their plate at the moment, your project will be at the center of their attention. If they just won three proposals, the level of service for your project might diminish.
Hire a Third Party Architect to Act as a Consultant
This might only be feasible for large-scale projects because of the costs involved. Hiring a third party consultant to vet the process could provide insight into who’s the true fit for you. Ultimately though the decision should be in your hands.
An architect that’s a tremendous fit for you, your project, and your development team is a match made in heaven. Great architects often do subtle things throughout the design process that make them all-stars in their field. While architectural mistakes and blunders are easy to see, the aspects that set great architects apart aren’t always easy to detect. Hopefully the points above can help you find your all-star architect. Happy building!