6 Steps to Hire the Right Architect

You have a project in mind, be it a renovation or new build, and you begin the task of finding an architect to work with. You ask around and get a few recommendations and possibly search online, finding options that at face value seem a good fit.
Now what?
Well you email or call them, asking what they charge for a set of plans right?
Wrong.
Too many architectural projects begin with the poor selection process of an architect.
In our view, this is one of the most crucial parts of a construction project’s success –
the selection of the right architect.

So how should you go about it?
We’ve put together a 6 step process that will help you select the right architect for your project.

Step 1: Define your project

Define the broader scope of your project and begin to develop a project brief(specific goals & expectations, approximate square meterage & budget) to discuss with potential architects. Having a good idea of what you want to achieve will help you identify potential architects that are more suited to your project than others.

You will develop some clarity about what it is you want to achieve from your project, but keep an open mind about it. Architects are creative problem solvers and will often propose various ideas and solutions to your project, that you may not have previously considered. It is often through this process of exploring different ideas, that the most unique and beneficial solutions are achieved.

Step 2: Understand your budget

This is an obvious one, but too often the construction budget is treated as the project budget. Your construction budget doesn’t include allowances for professional fees(land surveyor, engineer, etc.) and the costs associated with the design, technical documentation and statutory approvals of an architectural project. Understand what your construction budget is and have allowances over and above that for all the additional costs, that together, make up your project budget. You may not know what those allowances need to be at this stage, but viewing your budget holistically before meeting with potential architects, will allow you to better grasp all the costs involved.

One of the questions we recommend you ask when meeting with potential architects, is what additional costs they anticipate will apply to your project. With that information, you should be in a better position to ascertain what your overall project budget will be.

Step 3: Research potential architects

There are many resources available to find architects suited to your project. A large part of that search will naturally take place online and most architect websites function as a form of online portfolio. If you receive recommendations of architects from people you know, include them in your online search.

Along with those recommended architects, perform Google searches for search terms specific to your project(eg. modern residential architect, home renovation architect, shipping container home architect, etc.)to bring up relevant architect websites. Take time to browse through some of their projects for any similarities to what you’re after.

You’ll be drawn to the images on an architect’s website, but don’t make your decision to request an introductory meeting with them based solely on the images you see. Read through any project descriptions they may offer as well as their ‘About’ page. This should give you a good indication of how they approach their projects and any level of expertise that may relate to your project. It should also hopefully give you some indication of the personality of the individual or company. We cannot stress this enough. Taking a building from design concept to built form can be a lengthy process, and during this process you will be working closely with your architect. You’ll obviously want to enjoy it, and the first step in enjoying it, is getting along with your architect.

In selecting the right architect, you’ll have someone whose approach and ideas are in alignment with yours. This will enhance your working relationship over the course of the project and ultimately enable the best possible built result.

Architects practising in South Africa need to be registered with the South African Council for the Architectural Profession(SACAP).
You can perform a SACAP member search through this link – SACAP Member Search

Step 4: Make contact with potential architects

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential architects, it’s time to get in touch with them and request an introductory meeting. Call or email requesting a meeting and provide a brief description of your project and what you are aiming to achieve.

Having done your research, your project should already be suited to the potential architect’s expertise. Provided they can handle the additional workload, they should be more than happy to arrange an introductory meeting with you.

Step 5: Meet with potential architects

The process of having an introductory meeting is mutually beneficial to both yourself and the architect. It is a chance for you to get to know the architect, the type of work they do, their architectural process and how they calculate their fee. Likewise, it is a chance for the architect to learn more about you and your project, and if it will be a good fit for their company.

Meeting with potential architects will give you the chance to understand the services they offer and how they match up to your expectations. Be up front about your budget so the architect can advise you on whether it’s achievable for what you want to build. To better describe the look and feel you are after, take magazine clippings, photos and digital media(Pinterest, Instagram, Houzz, etc.) you like, with you to the meeting. Find out how the architect works and how involved you as the client will be during the process. Remember, your goal is to select the right architect for you, your specific project requirements and budget.

To help you along, we’ve listed some questions for your introductory meeting:

  • Could I see some examples of previous work?
  • How will the architect approach my project?
  • Who from the architecture firm will I be dealing with during my project?
  • What is the architect’s design methodology/philosophy and what design process do they follow?
  • What challenges and/or considerations are there on my project?
  • What about me and my project interests you the most?
  • How does the architect calculate their fee and how is it billed?
  • What additional fees do you anticipate will be applicable to my project?
  • What will the architect require from me during this process?
  • Will there be a limit to meetings I can have?
  • How will my project be presented to me during this process?
  • What is the anticipated time-line for a project like mine?
  • Can the architect recommend suitable contractors?
  • Can the architect provide references of past clients for you to contact?

This set of questions should help direct the conversation about your project with the potential architect. Along with these questions, add some of your own that will further help you get to know the architect. When you leave the meeting, you want to have a good feel for the personality of the architect and what value they can bring to your project.

Step 6: Select your architect

By now you will have conducted an adequate amount of research and received a wealth of information to make the right selection of architect. Analyse the quotes you’ve received and make sure you understand what services you will be receiving. If you are unsure of anything give that architect a call and ask them to clarify it for you.

With the right architect, you will be working with someone you like and trust. This will make the whole process significantly more rewarding. You will land up spending a lot of time working on your project with your architect, so you may as well like them. The right architect will guide you along the way, collaborate with you throughout the design process, extract the most value from your budget and look out for your best interests during construction.

You have an asset of great personal and monetary value in your home, don’t undermine it through the hasty selection of an architect.