How to Interview an Architect
Choosing an Architect
— Ken A. Newberry, AIA, LEED AP, Newberry Architecture
Choosing an architect isn’t as simple as it sounds. Though technical ability is at the core of the job, there are a number of factors like personality, style, and passion that contribute to the final selection. By taking all of these into account during the interview and decision-making process, you’ll be more likely to get the outcome you desire—without surprises, headaches, and hassles.
While it may go without saying, the first – and, in many cases, the most important step – is due diligence. You’ll want to get references from any architect you are considering. But also take the time to ask key third parties for their thoughts. Talk to friends who have contracted with some of the architects you’re planning to interview. Consult with your builder, designer or another business whose projects have been completed by architects on your list. And never underestimate the value of a Google search.
When you’re having these conversations with references, don’t leave it at “did you or didn’t you like the results?”
Dig deeper, with questions like:
- Did they listen to you?
- Did they make any mistakes? If so, how were they handled?
- Did they understand your budget and work around it?
- When there were differences of opinion between you and the architect, how were they resolved? Did you feel heard?
- How much time did they spend with you explaining the process, keeping you updated, helping you manage the other consultants, asking for your input?
Interviewing each potential architect is your chance to not only ask any questions raised by your research but also explore diversity in their portfolio and discuss collaboration and cost transparency.
Be sure to dig more deeply into an architect’s sense of passion, both for what he or she is doing as well as for your specific project. Your project is among the most important undertakings in your life at that moment. You want an architect who shares that sense of importance.
You should get assurances that your lead architect will stay on top of the project and not hand it off to others. Know who will be on your team, when they will enter and exit the project, and who will be your main point of contact or project manager. Ask about the architect’s current portfolio of work so you can be certain you won’t get lost in the mix or be relegated to the back burner, and have a regular schedule for you and the architect to meet, discuss progress and work out any issues. This last point is at the heart of collaboration. If an architect doesn’t offer or agree to set a schedule that includes meetings and constant communications with the client, you’re not getting the service you deserve.
Regarding costs, be absolutely clear on the fee structure. Fees will vary immensely based on the services and documents provided. One of the biggest challenges in analyzing costs is the ability to make an apples-to-apples comparison. There are some architects who don’t provide the degree of service or the detailed documents that may be essential to your desired outcome. The contract should be specific and set forth terms that ensure you’re getting exactly what you’re paying for. The last thing you want is sticker shock brought on by unexpected add-ons or fees. If there is the potential to incur additional costs, that potential, and its accompanying expense, should be specified.
In the end, it’s your money, and you deserve a maximum return on your investment. By practicing due diligence and digging deeper into passion, collaboration, and cost transparency during your interviews, you’ll be well on your way to choosing an architect who understands and can deliver upon your goals and expectations for the project.