(adapted from The American Institute of Architects’ Frequently Asked Questions—italicized comments are mine)

  1. Do I need an architect for my project?

If you haven’t worked with an architect before, you may wonder whether your project really requires it. Particularly if your project is your personal residence, it may not seem necessary. Generally, if your project requires structural changes, a building permit, and is large enough to require specialized architectural and engineering services, hiring an architect is recommended.

  1. What services to architects provide?

Architects see the big picture when it comes to your project. They help you explore what appeals to you aesthetically and what you require functionally. They coordinate teams of design, engineering, and construction professionals; they sort through the maze of building codes and zoning requirements; they ensure your project is built the way it was intended.

  1. At what point in my project should I involve an architect?

As soon as you decide you want to build something new, you should start looking for an architect. Architects provide important pre-design services including site evaluation, and can help you explore options you may not have considered. Involving an architect early in the process can help avoid costly missteps, and increase the likelihood of your satisfaction with the project.

  1. How do I find the right architect for my project?

It is critical to find an architect who makes you feel comfortable, and with whom you have open communication. It’s also important to find an architect with experience in your project type. Residential architects are generally hired on a referral basis; check with your local realtor, local builders, and friends and colleagues you know who have had a satisfactory project completed with an architect. In the case of traditional architects, the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art can be a great source of local architects who are knowledgeable in classical and traditional design.

  1. Don’t architects add substantial cost to a project?

While it’s true that architects’ fees are an additional project cost, hiring an architect can actually save you money in many ways. Architects can monitor your budget and negotiate to get the best materials and workmanship at a good price. An architect’s design can reduce energy and maintenance costs. They can turn a difficult lost into a successful building site. And they spend time planning and fully developing your ideas to avoid changes once construction is underway. And finally, an architect can design the project that is efficient and minimizes wasted square footage.

  1. How are architects compensated?

An architect’s compensation can be based on time, a stipulated sum, a percentage of the cost of the work, the project’s square footage, unit cost (based on number of rooms/apartments, etc.), or royalty in which compensation is a share of the profit derived from the project. Time-based compensation (hourly) and stipulated sums are most common, with a percentage of the cost of the construction being used occasionally.

  1. What’s my role in the design process?

Your architect will depend on you to communicate about your design preferences, functional requirements, and budget. Your timely response to questions and design submissions will help keep the project on track. It is also important for you to raise any concerns you have as the project proceeds, so they can be addressed in the earliest stages. Working in partnership with your architect, you will help ensure the best possible outcome for your project.