So you’re considering building a new home or renovating an existing one. Where do you turn for help with this daunting endeavor? For a new home, mass marketed house plans are one option, but by their very nature they seek to homogenize housing into a one-size-fits-all package. Design/Build outfits are another alternative, and can be a reasonable fit when matched with the appropriate aspirations. But the typical D/B arrangement subordinates the designer under the builder and that has some potential drawbacks that I’ll address below.
The traditional custom residential construction model involves three separate entities; an owner, an architect and a builder. Architects, objective and unbeholden to the builder, are uniquely qualified to shepherd you through the process.
Architects are licensed professionals, meaning the State has reviewed and certified the rigor of their training and holds them professionally accountable for their conduct. To qualify for licensure, architects must be well trained in design and construction. This typically includes 5 to 6 years of college level study and 3 years of apprenticeship under a licensed architect. This lengthy training period culminates in a series of State administered licensing exams that confirm a candidate’s proficiency in skills ranging from building and site design to structural analysis.
An architect brings much more than technical savvy to a project. A good architect is adept at synthesizing seemingly disparate needs into a coherent whole. Less qualified designers often simply execute an owner’s vision. Architects will investigate the roots of the owner’s needs; how the owner lives and aspires to live. How often do you entertain? Where do/will children do homework? What connection do you seek to the outdoors? Where’s your morning staging area for work/school? What are your favorite/least favorite parts of the house? This analysis leads to more creative, efficient and cost effective solutions.
An addition shouldn’t just make a house bigger, it should make the whole house better. A home shouldn’t be just another retread of the builder’s most popular model; it should be tailored to your unique needs and lifestyle. An architect takes this into consideration, as well as the path of the sun, views, trees, neighbors, topography and many other issues to provide a design customized to your property, situation and life.
An architect experienced with your locale will also be well versed in the local requirements governing construction, including zoning ordinances, building codes and historic/community review boards, and how to navigate the approval process.
Construction can be stressful, particularly to the uninitiated. Will there be unforeseen costs? Is the builder using quality materials and building in a manner that will last? How will I know if incremental payments to the builder are commensurate with the work that’s been completed? Who’s looking out for my interests? As alluded to earlier, a potential drawback of using a design/builder is the designer’s allegiance is to the builder, not the owner, so it requires a leap of faith. An architect, however, will advocate on your behalf and objectively address situations as they arise, keep a watchful eye on quality and workmanship, and review the builder’s requests for payment.
If creating a distinctive environment that enriches your life rather than just sheltering your stuff is important to you, and you agree that building purposeful, well thought-out space is a worthwhile investment, then interviewing an architect to learn more about the process is a great place to start.
– Brian McCarthy, Principal