You need an architect. Now what?
When the need for a new building becomes clear and support for it grows, it’s time for an idea to become reality and the promise of a new (or renovated) building to take shape. Early in the process, a project team will need to be assembled and the journey of selecting an architect will need to begin.
Successful buildings are conceived, designed, and constructed by groups that share a similar vision, goals, and ideals for the project, including owners, architects, consultants, and builders. Hiring an architect is one of the first steps in assembling such a team. The selected architect should not only have the requisite experience and expertise, but should also understand, share, and be able to achieve the vision and ideals for the project.
Be clear and fair
From the architect’s perspective, the selection process involves a considerable effort. Beyond the quantitative investment (e.g., time and expense in preparing proposals and interviews, which for some projects can add up to hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars), it requires a significant emotional investment. Winning is a pure joy. Losing stings—often a lot. Architects bring a passion to their work, rooted in the very personal nature of any creative endeavor, which transcends the quantitative effort. They care about and believe in the work. They work harder to get selected for projects that are of particular interest to them. And many architects will spend their entire careers working on relatively few buildings that actually get built, thereby further increasing the emotional connection to each potential project. Craft a concise and clear selection process. Be specific about what a proposal should include and the issues that should be presented and discussed at an interview. Outline a clear schedule. Above all, be fair and considerate. Communicate. Give those not selected a few minutes of time to thank them for the effort and offer insights about what influenced the selection, what they did well and where they fell short.
Architects have a lot more to offer than building design
Timing is key. In the past, clients typically hired an architect for a project that already had a site, building program, and funding in place. Now it is more common for clients to hire an architect when none of those components are in place. Architects have a wealth of valuable knowledge and experience to share with building owners on all aspects of the project and can help establish a solid foundation for conceptualizing and funding projects. Architects can be invaluable in establishing realistic project budgets and selecting the best building site. In fact, with much of our firm’s public work, establishing this foundation with our clients leads to successful funding and is one of the most crucial functions we offer our clients. Similarly, the earlier builders join the team, the more the projects will benefit from their experience and perspective. Evolving project delivery methods are founded on an understanding of the value of a fully assembled project team early in the life of the project.
Challenge and be challenged
As with any endeavor, the best results derive from hard work, innovation, and broad and varied perspectives brought to bear on the issues. The best architects challenge clients to think expansively, explore, push the boundaries of convention, and transcend preconceptions. And the best clients challenge architects to do the same. When selecting an architect, a building owner is hiring (among other things) inspiration. An architect’s best work blends deep technical expertise with inspired creative thinking. The best ideas often come from unlikely origins, and an open spirit of collaboration and challenge will yield the best design.
Buying a relationship
Designing and constructing a building is a years-long process. Above and beyond assessing architects’ technical proficiency and track record, the selection process is the first step in establishing a long relationship that sometimes spans decades. Often, the selection comes down to a matter of comfort and chemistry. Something felt right about one firm more than the others. In the end, it is subjective. The process should identify those firms that have demonstrated their proven ability to execute. But beyond technical proficiency is the highly subjective measure of understanding and fit. We’re told by business experts not to hire based on a gut feeling, but often at the end of the process that’s all that’s left to differentiate one firm from another.
How much will it cost
Something that is quantified can be more easily and objectively understood. Yet selecting an architect should be quality based. The desire to compare fees is natural, but a small variation in the fees proposed by competing firms should not be the final selection criterion. Often, the scope of a proposed project lacks the definition requisite for a valid comparison. Fees are often negotiated together with further discussion regarding scope. Architectural services are not a commodity. In the event of a wide discrepancy in proposed fees, further discussion can uncover the real issue, which is most often a difference in understanding of the goals or aspirations for the project or very fundamental differences in the firms being compared. Clients will be best served by crafting a thoughtful process and selecting the most qualified firm that gets them and their project. The cost of the service will work itself out.