What do architects do?
Just as a sun dial is a simple time-keeping device and a chronometer is not, whether to use an architect depends on whether one’s building ambitions are simple or challenging. Architects have the technical skill and experience to advise and guide owners through the design and building process. We translate your ideas into clear and actionable plans, work with you to save money hiring a contractor, and make sure you get what you expect, and paid for. For those starting out, the following might help guide you through your first construction project.
- Architects design buildings that safeguard the health, safety and welfare of the public;
- they translate the wishes and needs of clients into inhabitable space;
- they tailor buildings to suit and enhance the execution of specific tasks or ways of living;
- they represent clients during construction.
We hope our answers to some frequently asked questions help you hire the right architect in Maine. For an in-depth discussion on construction in Maine, see our White Paper on the subject.
What makes an Architect a good fit?
If you are starting a home or business construction project., search for an architect with strengths in your type of project, and who appears stylistically compatible with you. We hope to be candid with you about whether we are a good fit for your project.
A good architect will be versed in the wide range of facets that make up architecture: code compliance, durability, energy efficiency, stylistic compatibility, the ability to translate an idea into a building. At the same time, the right architect will be versed in the specific type of building you require. If you are new to the design and construction process, your architect will be a valuable resource to explain things, and to represent you during construction. Thus, look for an architect who is adept at explaining things, and can represent your goals.
How do Architects differ?
Architects differ in their basic level of competency, their commitment to customer service, and in experience. In this way, the architecture profession is no different than the legal or even dental professions. Some lawyers specialize in corporate mergers and acquisitions, others in family law. A good divorce lawyer will not be the right choice for a company going public. Likewise, some dentists do oral surgery, others do not. If you are in the market for a high-end residential home, choose an architect who knows that market.
Architects also differ in their knowledge of certain construction types. Some are good designing in wood, others in concrete or steel. Some have strengths in energy efficient or green design. Some work with non-profits, others are good at retail. For every area of specialization, there is an architect who is familiar with that specialization.
What are your strengths?
Our backgrounds are in residential design and construction, as well as educational, science-based, and multi-stakeholder (committees and boards) projects. We are very good at working on projects that have input from several sources and at producing solutions through a consensus approach.
Our recent project experience includes college and university, public K-12 schools, historic buildings, life safety and accessibility improvements, civic and municipal buildings, non-profit institutions, and religious facilities.
Our experience in general contracting gives us a more than usual understanding of the construction process. This makes us relatively unique among design firms.
We embrace design technology, such as state of the art design software, in order to produce better designs and contract documents.
Our work tends to be visually contemporary. We approach design problems with the goal of finding cost-effective, unique solutions to unique program goals. We believe good architecture has the ability to spark joy, and reflect the individuality of our clients.
How much does a design cost?
Candidly, house plans can be purchased online for a couple hundred dollars. We think you get what you pay for. Buying plans off the internet is…not a good idea.
Architects in Maine generally have similar fee structures. We charge fees for design based on market rates for similar design services and the value we believe we bring to a project. Our hourly rate of $100 per hour is in line with other licensed architects in the area. We can often propose a lump sum for a design, based on the number of hours we estimate the design will require. In general, our lump sum fees equal about 10 percent of the cost of construction, also in line with other licensed architects in the area.
How does the design process unfold?
Some people just starting out want to design their own home. When you work with an architect, your are designing your own home. You just have an expert sitting at your side.
A good design provides a satisfying solution to a goal. One must determine the correct steps to reach the goal, and then test the result to see if the goal has been achieved. Architecture, or the design of buildings to satisfy a goal, is similar in this way to the design of smart phones or automobiles. If you want the project of your dreams, whether it is a modern house design or a very functional commercial space, it is important to be open and communicative with your architect, and to find an architect who understands and appreciates you.
The goal in architectural design is to answer the needs and wishes of the client. Thus, the design process begins by articulating these goals. Architects call this the “building program”, or “design brief”. For a residence, the program states the number of bedrooms needed, the type of kitchen, private spaces, views, energy and sustainability goals, storage needs.
The next step is to look at precedents. Are there examples that resonate with you? These could be actual houses, images from books or online, or prior works of ours. Keep in mind the two-dimensional quality of images, whether in print or online. Your building will be three-dimensional and experiential. A kitchen that photographs well is not always an enjoyable cooking environment.
Next, we sketch out possible design solutions. These sketches might be a combination of hand drawings and computer models. Each sketch is a particular solution to the program. Design solutions often have a central theme or organizing principal. This theme is also called the “parti”. Think of the parti as the singular insight that organizes a wide range of program needs into a coherent and well-formed solution.
Hopefully one or more of these conceptual sketches will resonate with you. We can then refine and add more detail to the successful design. The refinements and detail should strengthen the parti. They also reduce the ambiguity in the design, and dictate construction quality to the contractor. A completed design is virtually equivalent to the intended building, down to the wall color and wood species of the flooring. Contract documents are the collection of graphic and written descriptions of the intended project, refined to the point that a firm dollar value can be given in order to build the project. In fact, the term “contract documents” specifically means drawings and specifications that are precise enough to be the basis for a contract for construction.
How long does it take to design a building?
A mid-size house can be designed in two or three months. About half of a project’s design time is usually spent allowing a client to review the design and make the decision to proceed. House plans are more than just a floor plan. They are the complete instructions to construct a specific home. This cannot be done a few hours.
Who owns the drawings?
We generally do not run into problems with copyright, but the short answer is “we do.” Architectural drawings are called “instruments of service” when talking about copyright. On most private projects, the architect owns the intellectual property documented on the drawings. Printed drawings are the means to express this intellectual property. The right of owners to use the drawings is limited to the specific project for which the architect was hired and compensated. Use of the drawings or ideas depicted on the drawings on another project is a violation of the architect’s copyright.
We generally provide owners and contractors with PDF versions of the drawings, recognizing that most owners and contractors are going to use the drawings solely for the project at hand. In return, we ask that owners allow us to use photographs of the completed project in our marketing materials. Contractors will generally want to do the same.
What does a general contractor do?
A general contractor is an entity that holds a contract for construction with an owner. General contractors may do the building work themselves, or hire subcontractors (plumbers, electricians), or do a combination. In residential construction, many general contractors are carpenters, doing the majority of framing themselves. Foundations, plumbing, electrical, drywall, roofing and site work are typical subcontracted trades.
A general contractor is not just the holder of contracts, though. They are the party responsible for the overall quality of the work. They are responsible for maintaining the project on schedule. A good general contractor is an essential part of a successful project.
How do we choose a contractor?
We help choose a contractor, although this can happen in several ways.
With competitive bidding, we produce a list of contractors, each of which would be suitable in terms of technical and teaming ability. The bidding contractors receive the contract documents and have a deadline to provide a bid. The bid period may be two to four weeks. We review submitted bids to make sure they are “responsive”, and include everything we believe is required by the documents. In general, we recommend choosing the low bidder, although there is no obligation to do so.
In negotiated bidding, one or more contractors is interviewed before the contract documents are finished. This contractor can then provide pre-construction services during the design phase. A single contractor is chosen, and that contractor provides cost estimates- the pre-construction service- while the design is developing. The contractor is often asked to provide suggestions to the design that can save money. This type of critique is called a constructability review.
Some contractors are willing to provide cost estimating for free, compensating themselves in their bid price. In effect their cost estimating service is a marketing expense. We advise owners who choose negotiated bidding to compensate the contractor for the pre-construction service. By paying a contractor for pre-construction services, no obligation to hire that contractor exists. This allows an owner to part ways with the contractor if the desire arises.
Some owners feel comfortable acting as their own general contractor. We advise owners to recognize the implications of doing so. General contracting is a skill that comes with experience. Compensating a general contractor for their skill and expertise is worthwhile.
What do architects do during construction?
We are a firm fully engaged in Building Information Modeling technology and the concept of virtual design and construction. One of our goals is to remove as much ambiguity from our design as possible, so there is only one possible building that can come out of a construction project using our design documents. Nevertheless, errors in translating drawings into reality occur. Sometimes we are not as clear as we could be. Sometimes the contractor simply interprets our drawings in an unexpected way. One major task we perform is answering questions from the contractor. A few sentences can go a long way in clearing up the intent of a design drawing.
We also monitor the relationship of work put in place and the invoices, or pay requisitions, coming from the contractor. Contractors usually submit requisitions every two weeks or monthly. Requisitions are broken out by trade. In one month, the electricians may bill the general contractor for 20 percent of their total contract. The contractor then bills the owner for 20 percent of the electrical contract. We verify that 20 percent of the electrical contract has actually been put in place.
We also monitor the quality of the work installed. General contractors do this monitoring also, and some general contractors are better than others at setting and achieving appropriate quality standards. We find that contractors often rely on us to be the bad cop because we are the authors of the contract documents. This authorship position, and our position as the owner’s representative, gives us influence on the job site that the general contractor sometimes lacks.
Lastly, our position as your representative means you have an experienced, knowledgeable design professional looking out for your best interest on the job. We can see and report issues that are still in the making. We can advise on changes you might desire in terms of their impact on cost and schedule. And, we are the final arbiters on construction completion. Paying a contractor their final payment before the work is actually finished is risky. We make the determination that the project is complete.