Every architecture firm brings its own combination of skills, expertise, interests, and values to its projects. The challenge is to find the one that aligns most closely with your project’s needs.
Some of the most frequently asked questions regarding architect selection include:
When should I bring the architect into the picture?
As early as possible. Architects can help you define your project in every respect and may also do site studies, assist in securing planning and zoning approvals, and provide a variety of other predesign services.
Should I meet with more than one firm?
Usually, yes. One obvious exception is when you already have a good relationship with an architect.
How do I find suitable firms to contact?
Talk to individuals who have developed similar facilities and ask who they interviewed. If there are projects that you have admired—whether similar to your own or not—find out who designed them. And your local AIA component will be able to help you identify firms appropriate to your situation and budget and may also maintain referral lists (www.aia.org).
What can I realistically expect to learn from an interview? How can I structure the interview to make it as informative as possible?
You can learn how the architect’s team will approach your project by talking to key members. Review buildings the firm has designed that are similar in type and size to yours or that have addressed similar issues. Find out how the firm will gather information, establish priorities, and make decisions, and what the architect sees as the important issues for consideration.
You also might want to inquire about the ability of the architect to stand financially behind the services to be provided. For example, you might ask if the firm carries professional liability insurance, much like that maintained by doctors and lawyers. Indeed, you should choose your architect at least as carefully as you would any other professional provider.
Why are formal inter views desirable?
An interview addresses one issue that cannot be covered in brochures: the chemistry between you and the architecture firm.
Should I expect a firm to deliver all the services necessary to complete the project?
Not necessarily. You may have considerable project-planning, design, and construction expertise and may be capable of undertaking some tasks yourself. Alternatively, you may find it necessary to add other consultants to the team. Discussion with your architect will establish who will coordinate owner-supplied work or other services.
What is “green” architecture, and do I need to discuss it?
“Green” or sustainable design refers to the increasingly popular and important practice of creating architecture that is friendly to both the environment and the end user. This can be as simple as using recycled, non-toxic materials or a more comprehensive program involving such elements as green roofs, photovoltaic cells that capture sunlight, and air and water treatment systems. Although many firms are generally familiar with green design, you will want to question prospective architects closely about their level of experience in this regard and examine past projects that incorporated sustainable strategies.
How many firms should I interview, and how should they be selected?
Typically, three to five firms—enough to see the range of possibilities but not so many that an already tough decision will be further complicated. Treat each firm fairly, offering equal time and access to your site and existing facilities.
Factors such as experience, technical competence, and available staff resources will be important to your decision. Thus, if you are approaching more than one firm, make sure that you can provide all the information required to ensure that the proposals you get offer the same scope of services so that you can evaluate them on a consistent basis.
How should I follow up?
By soliciting references. Ask past clients to assess the performance of both the firm and the resulting architecture. Notify the selected firm or short-listed firms as soon as possible to ensure their availability.
On what should I base my decision?
Personal confidence in the architect is paramount. Seek also an appropriate balance among design ability, technical competence, professional service, and cost.
Selection is a Mutual Process
The most thoughtful architects are as careful in selecting their clients as owners are in selecting architects. Be prepared to answer questions about your project’s purpose, budget, time frame, site, and the team of players you anticipate being involved with the project.
And don’t be afraid to be frank. Tell the architect what you know and what you expect. Ask for an explanation of anything you do not understand. The more you put on the table at the outset, the better the chances are for a successful project. As client and architect jointly evaluate alternative approaches to the project’s direction, priorities are clarified and new possibilities emerge. There is no substitute for the intensive dialogue and inquiry that characterize the design process.