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  Nine Things to Consider when Hiring an Architect
by: Nazim Nice
How to Work Effectively With a Contractor
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If you are in the process of selecting an architect you've probably read the twenty things to ask an architect article published by the AIA (American Institute of Architects) by now. While this is a good list to start from, there are some additional questions and suggestions that are important to add to your selection process. Some of these suggestions are from insight gained from working in actual offices and interviewing with many potential clients. Other issues arise from knowing how a good office functions and the technology that is used by the top level firms. So here's the list:

1. Schedule a trip to see the architect's office.

An architect's office can speak volumes about their design aesthetic and creativity. Unfortunately many first meetings with a client will be at the project site, so you may not have an opportunity to see the architect's office. Consider scheduling a visit at the architect's office a few days after the initial meeting.

2. A messy architect's office might be a red flag.

An architect has to organize hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of information, and a disorganized office might be a big red flag. However, be careful not to confuse artist creativity with disorganization. Models or model building supplies, trace paper and sketches can be a sign of a creative architect, but project information is normally stored in binders and filing cabinets. Large piles of paper are probably not a good sign.

3. Ask if the architect is using 3D software.

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 3D. In addition, in many cases the software can help eliminate errors in coordination of drawings since the 2 dimensional drawings are all 'extracted' from the 3D model. The software also keeps track of elements like sizes of each door and window, and when a dimension is changed in one drawing, it is automatically updated in another. This can be a real help in reducing errors.

4. Education is the foundation of an architect's experience.

While attending a good school can help assure your architect has a good foundation, usually a better indicator is how an architect performed in the school they attended. From my experience in school and teaching, only 10%-20% of students are really talented designers and very few students got significantly better as they went through their education. To get a sense of how someone performed in school, ask about design awards they won or exhibitions they may have participated in.

5. Know who you are going to work with.

If you are hiring a firm with several staff members, find out who you will actually be working with. Sometimes the person you are interviewing with won't actually be doing much production on your project. If the person you are going to be working with isn't at the initial meeting, ask to visit the architect's office (see #1) and meet the person or people who will be on your team. Ask to see the credentials of those team members as well.

6. Architects need to communicate with drawings and words.

Review some of the architect's drawings and ask questions about them. It may be challenging to read or understand drawings if you haven't done this before, but if you can't understand them after an architect explains them, then either the drawings are not very clear, or the architect has a hard time communicating - both may be a serious warning sign.

7. A set of construction drawings includes both drawing and written specifications.

Not all information is communicated within drawings. Plumbing fixtures, electrical fixtures, finishes, expected quality levels, and other information that is easier said in words than in drawings are communicated in written specifications. If your architect doesn't assemble specifications, then you'll likely be answering many questions during construction and may be hit with change orders.

8. Take a look at the architect's website.

A well designed, clearly organized website can communicate that an architect is organized and can assemble information in a clear format. If their website is out of date or they don't have one, this might be a hint that they are behind the times.

9. Ask how well the architect works with buiding departments.

When your architect submits your permit drawings to the building department, they review the submitted drawings and issue a correction notice. A skillful architect can easily get a residential or small commercial project through the building department with no revisions or a single round of revisions. Since each round of revisions takes time to pick up drawings, revise, resubmit, and re-review, fewer rounds of revisions means you'll likely get a building permit sooner. This could hold up construction. If you're trying to get your project framed and weather-tight before the rainy season, this could push the project into a season with unfavorable construction conditions.

About The Author

Nazim Nice is a Seattle architect at He also is the owner of Lumen ID: which makes custom engraved switchplates. You can read his blog at

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