Frequently Asked Questions

Architecture is a multi-faceted profession. Architects design buildings that safeguard the health, safety and welfare of the public; we translate the wishes and needs of clients into inhabitable space; we tailor buildings to suit and enhance the execution of specific tasks or ways of living; we represent clients during construction. These are questions we have heard from potential clients. We hope these answers help you in retaining the right architect for your project.
What is the first step in hiring an architect?
The first step in hiring is deciding which architect to hire. We know our strengths, and hope to be candid with you in whether we are a good fit for your project. So ask us, are you a good fit for this project?
If you are considering a building project, look for an architect who is versed in the range of facets that make up architecture. At the same time, look for an architect who is versed in the 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.
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 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?
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 often will propose a lump sum for a design, based on the number of hours we estimate the design will consume. 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?
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.
The goal in architectural design is the needs and wishes of the client. Thus, the design process begins by articulating these goals. Architects call this the building program. 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.
Next, we sketch out possible design solutions. These sketches might be a combination of hand drawings and computer models. Each design 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 the virtual 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.
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 chosen 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 may be interviewed before the contract documents are produced in order to choose a contractor to 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 with 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 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.

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Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.