When you interview your architect you should like them and feel comfortable with them. Since you will be working with them, a lot can be said for how well they communicate and if working together will be a good fit. The architect should have a portfolio of past projects. It is very important to like their work. They will explain their process and you will get a feel for the creative aspects of what they do.
Architects must first gather information in order to begin designing. They will visit the site, take measurements of the existing house or site and coordinate getting a survey of the site.
Then they create a set of “as built” drawings. If it is a remodel, these are a minimal set of plans and elevations showing only what is there. The documents from the surveyor are included in these as builts. They will also research the development restrictions of the site at the city or county building department. Land use restrictions such as the height limit, setbacks and square footage are reviewed. They will research prior permit history, code issues, and find out the permit submittal requirements and processes for that jurisdiction.
The architects generate 2-3 preliminary designs that incorporate the site restrictions as well as the scope of work the client has requested. Concepts for how it will look and function will be explained with the sketches. There may be a feature or quality of the site that could be enhanced, or other opportunities that appear when the architect studies the site. They study how you approach the building, the sequencing and the flow. This information and the general locations of spaces are presented in a graphic diagram, otherwise known as “the napkin sketch”. These drawings are diagrams and illustrations, they are not architecture. Windows may or may not show; at this stage, the plans and elevations are exploring the bulk of the form and its proportions. The architects will meet with the owners 2 or 3 times to establish a budget, discuss material options and refine the basic form and layout. Architect and client work together to define a strategy; preliminary drawings are the result.
With further decision making and fleshing out the design, the architects create a set of plans that will be used for getting the building permit. These drawings are refined with regard to details, methods, and how things fit together. For example, laying out the windows, deciding on the trim and the material, deciding how the wall meets the floor and what the ceiling will be. Information from consultants, such as structural engineering, is incorporated and coordinated with the drawings. Specifications for materials, fixtures/ appliances, assembly details, and relevant code information are incorporated into the design. The client continues to make decisions that are more specific such as how the windows will open and what size bathtub to use. At the completion of this phase, the plans become simplified construction drawings and can be used to obtain a building permit from the city or government agency. At this time, these drawings can be used for preliminary pricing by a contractor as well.
The government agency issuing the building permit does not need to review every detail of the project, only the ones pertinent to building and life safety; they want to see that the design meets local and city building codes. While the permit drawings are being reviewed, the architect typically continues to work on the drawings in order to issue construction drawings with all of the necessary details that carry out the concept and vision of the project.
This service is offered during the time the project is being constructed. A set of drawings have been issued, now the architect is on hand to observe the progress and provide information and help solve problems as they come up. Construction is complicated and this is the crucial time when the drawings must be read and interpreted by the contractor. Architects have experience with conventional and alternative construction techniques and act on behalf of the client, seeing to it that the vision of the design is maintained. The architect provides additional details and answers contractor questions about the design. They review shop drawings, visit the site and hold meetings to discuss issues and stay on schedule. They review applications for payment and asses the level of completion of the work making sure the payment is fair. Near the end of construction, the architect will walk through with the client and contractor and make a final “punch list” of all the little things that need to be done before the client pays the contractor one last time.