Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

architects save you money: design

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In our last blog post we talked about the four ways that architects save you money. In that post we were attempting to combat the public perception that architects are a luxury, when in fact we are a necessity to any project – no matter the size or complexity. In the next series of posts we wanted to move on to more detailed explanations of each of the four ways architects save you money. First up:

DESIGN.

Design is one of those words thrown around A LOT. It’s everywhere. In common use it is very subjective and likely brings to mind a plethora of images that have little to do with architecture. For your architect however design is anything but subjective. It is actually quite objective and for most architects there is a process that is followed for each and every project. Since I can’t crawl into the head of another architect (creepy) you’ll have to settle for a description of our design process.

For each project we take on, no matter how big, small, complex, simple, mundane or magnanimous, the process is by and large the same. We generally follow through on these three steps: interview, investigate, collaborate. Sounds simple right? Not quite. Let me explain.

INTERVIEW

The first step to any successful project is the interview. And I’m not talking about the interview prior to a contract, I’m talking about AFTER the contract is signed and you’ve cashed the retainer check. *side note for architects – always ask for a retainer* This interview is a conversation between you (the client) and me (the architect) to find out what makes you tick. This is a personal conversation about your lifestyle, so it is important that you choose your architect carefully and make sure you are comfortable with them professionally and socially. Some of the questions that I ask start with the basics – how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, how many kids, big family, small family, etc. But more specifically I also ask things like:

Do you like to cook and entertain?
Does your family like to entertain outside or inside?
What are some of the things you don’t like about your current house that we can improve upon?
What are some of the things you do like about your current house that we can improve upon?
When you think about the sleeping spaces do you see them as functional for sleeping only or do you see them as more of a private sanctuary space?
Do you have hobbies that require special consideration? I.e. woodworking, automobile restoration, crafting, stamp collecting or bedazzling?

These questions seldom lead to a discussion about the actual spaces that will be designed. They do lead to discussions about the way a client lives and how they would like to live. I also try and lead these discussions toward the client thinking about how they might answer in another 10 years or even 30 years. All of this helps me to better understand who my clients are and what their life is like so that I am better prepared to keep their interests close at heart while I design their home.

INVESTIGATE

Once I have a clear understanding of who my client is  and how their house should fit their life, I begin to investigate. This starts with the building site and a survey. Here in Arkansas that almost always involves a topographical survey as well. I need to find out what the land is like, where the views are, what is access like and how close are the neighbors. Then I visit the site and walk around to get a personal sense of all of the above. How might the house sit on the land. Should it directly face the street? Where should the garage go? Then I look around. What are the existing patterns of development? Is there anything that has been done in the neighborhood worth taking some cues from in style or material? At this point it’s time to head back to the office and break out the tracing paper and sharpie.

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Combining what I learned during the interview with what I compiled and observed during investigation makes up the bulk of what is needed to create a design. I generally begin with a site plan, a sheet of tracing paper and a pen or pencil. I think about the views and try to get to a sense of what the overall building form should be. I think about how guests will enter, where will the owners enter, where are the main public spaces, do they have views, where are the bedrooms and do they have views. It can be a messy process and many clients will not see the benefit to this process because it mostly happens inside the architects head. But design is far more than just creating a set of drawings. The drawings are the product of many hours sitting at a desk thinking about all the ways you will use the spaces that make up your home and then organizing all those spaces into a coherent, functional and efficient design that fits the life you want to live.

COLLABORATE

After the initial interview and investigation phase is over it’s time to present a design proposal to the client. This is the point where the client becomes a critical part of the process. This is also where something we talked about in our last post comes into play as well – professional advice. It is the job of the architect to steer the narrative towards what is best for the client and theirs needs. This includes budget. We’ve all had those moments where suddenly our Caviar Dreams crash headlong into our Beer Budget. Part of the service that your architect provides is to maximize the use of every dollar you have to spend while providing realistic professional advice to keep you in line with what you can afford. And this collaboration has to be a clear and open dialogue. Expect that your architect will either schedule regular meetings to review design progress or, if distance is an issue, send regular email updates with plans, photos, 3D imagery, material samples, etc. to give you a clear idea of the direction that your project is taking.

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You, the client, in turn need to be aware that your input is not just needed, it is critical. If you need to ask an hours worth of questions in order to understand the material that is being presented, then you need to ask those questions. Your architect is not a mind reader. If you don’t provide the input you can’t expect your architect to magically come up with the answer. This is another example of what I mentioned earlier about choosing your architect. You need to both be comfortable with constructive criticism. If not, things will get nasty real quick. A good architect will tell you when things are getting out of hand or heading in a direction that will not work well for your project. And you need to be willing to hear it.

At the end of the day, design is a process. At times it seems like a messy and chaotic one, but if you work with your architect, if you listen, if you respond and are incredibly honest about your expectations, needs, desires, dreams, etc. then when you get to the other side you will have a home that not only suits your needs today, but will ultimately suit your needs for years to come. That level of comfort and adaptability in your home is worth far more than the fee you’ll pay your architect.