If you’re looking for an architect you’ve probably read the 20 things to ask an architect New York architects article published by the AIA by now. While this is a good list, it doesn’t address all the issues that need to be considered today. Architecture is a rapidly changing profession, especially in the realm of software. Many firms have yet to make the significant investment necessary to be at the forefront of their industry.
It is also a profession that balances art and science, and requires good communication and organization skills. While it’s difficult to assess whether a particular architect will meet your needs, here are nine ways to help: An architect’s office can say a lot about their design aesthetic and creativity. Typically, though, first meetings with a client will be at their project site, so you may not have an opportunity to see the architect’s office. Consider scheduling a visit at the architect’s office within a few days of the initial meeting.
An architect has to organize hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of information, and a disorganized office might be a big red flag. However, don’t confuse artist creativity with disorganization. Models or model building supplies, trace paper and sketches can be a sign of real creativity, but project information is normally stored in binders and filing cabinets. Large piles of unsorted paper are probably not a good sign.
The latest architectural software is called BIM (building information model) and the more sophisticated architects are using this. A house or project designed in BIM is completely or almost completely designed in three dimensions (3D). In addition, in many cases the software can help eliminate errors in coordination of drawings since the two dimensional drawings are all ‘extracted’ from the 3D model. The software also keeps track of things like sizes of each door and window, and when a size is changed in one drawing, it is automatically updated in another. This can be a real help in reducing errors.
While attending a good school can help assure your architect has a good foundation to build upon, usually a better indicator is how an architect did in the school they attended. Many architecture instructors will tell you that 10%-20% of students are really talented designers and few students who weren’t got significantly better as they went through school. To get a sense of how an architect performed in school, ask about design awards they may have won or exhibitions they may have participated in. If you ask about academic performance, differentiate between design studio classes, and non-design studio classes.
If you are hiring a multi-person firm, find out who you will actually be working with. Many times the person you are interviewing with won’t actually be doing much work on your project. If the person you are going to be working with isn’t in the interview, ask to visit the architect’s office and meet the person or people who will be on your team. Ask to see the credentials of those team members as well.