What qualities should I look for in an architect?

1) Portfolio.
2) Stability.
3) Creativity balanced with your needs as a client.
4) Efficiency.
5) Shows flexibility in style.
6) Facilitates a professional, personal relationship with you as a client.
7) Respects you as a paying client.  

What qualities are unbefitting of a good architect?

1) No license.
2) Unwillingness to meet your needs or desires.
3) Lack of communication.
4) An ego that takes precedent in design.

What are my responsibilities as a client?

1) Have an idea of what you are looking for in terms of design.
2) Propose a budget.
3) Obtain existing site plans (and floor plans if a remodel).
4) Have an open mind.
5) Be willing to speak freely about desires and concerns.
6) Have an eagerness to participate in the design process.  

How do architects charge for their services?

This can vary by architect and can be influenced by a number of factors such as reputation, current work load, level of service required, number of consultants utilized on a project, and size of project.  Some architects work on a strict percentage of construction costs basis, others by the hour and some on a lump sum basis.  Other times, the fee can be structured to incorporate all three based on the phase of the work performed under the contract.  However, California State law specifies that no work should be performed or billed to a client without a written contract unless under specific conditions such as a previously established relationship comprising on-going or repeatable projects.  This is a protection to both the client and the architect.  You should feel comfortable asking about fees when initially consulting or interviewing architects for your project.


What is a licensed architect?

  Actually, one cannot represent himself as an architect unless he IS licensed by the State of California. Most architects complete a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree while others complete a four-year degree plus another year or two for a Masters of Architecture degree.  Upon completion of a degree a graduate then works in the architecture field under the supervision of an architect for another 2-3 years before qualifying to sit for the professional examination for licensure.  The State of California requires a total of eight years of education and internship to be eligible to apply for the multiple day exam for licensure.  A vast majority of candidates fail to pass each year and many try several times before passing. It's not an easy road! 


What is the AIA? 

AIA stands for the initials of the American Institute of Architects.  The AIA is a professional organization much like the American Medical Association, etc.  An architect is not required to join the AIA.  The AIA supports the architecture profession through continuing education courses, national and regional conventions and workshops, state and national lobbying efforts, coordination with other building professional organizations in determining new codes regulations as well as promoting green building standards, recognition of architectural excellence in projects through annual award programs and finally, provides many of the standard contracts commonly used in construction.  In addition, architects that join the AIA must complete continuing education courses each year to retain their membership.  Peter Harmon has been a professional member of the AIA since 1983 including past service as a member of the East Bay AIA board of directors, lecturer for professional examination preparation as well as Chair of the East Bay AIA Exam Preparation committee.   


Is there a "building Season" ?

The simple answer is "no".  While the late spring through fall are ideal times of dry weather, the truth is  that in California there really is no building season as our weather is seldom extreme such as heavy frosts, etc.  Therefore, typically we can build all year long (except for short periods of rain that might make it difficult to drill foundations, etc.).  Therefore, many clients like to design their project in late fall with the eye to starting construction in the spring.  However, many builders are often looking for work during the winter months and are more likely to be available for work.  Interesting note-- our most complicated project that was built on a hillside (including tall retaining walls) actually started construction in January!   Therefore, anytime of year is possible in California and you do not have to wait for certain months!  Of course, there are other factors such as vacation months or holidays that can make it easier for a family to schedule a project but be aware that most projects (from small to large) take from five months to over a year to complete!



As noted above, simple additions or remodels usually take five months minimum to about a year usually ( or longer for very complex and large additions).  New homes can take longer depending upon size and complexity.  Design and planning will increase these time frames--- especially depending upon the jurisdiction and whether the project is subject to a local design review.  Some planning periods can last many months (or even years!) for a controversial site.  Building permit time also varies; some jurisdictions can take as little as four weeks; others several months!  So, it's best to start the process as soon as you can!  Your architect can assist you with your specific site and jurisdictional processes and a short visit to your local planning department to uncover any potential red-flags is invaluable and free.


What is my first step?

Generally, an interview with one or more architects is a good idea.  This meeting should focus on a few specific points:  1)  Is my project doable?  2)  Do I like and communicate comfortable with him or her?   3)  Are my needs or desires practical?   4)  Do I have a reasonable budget to do this?  5)  Does the architect have experience or familiarity in this type or work?      It's also an opportunity for the architect to ascertain if the communication is reasonable on their end too.  This is a requirement for a successful partnership!  Once an architect is decided to be a  good choice for you and your project then it's time to move forward to a second meeting to finalize any remaining questions  (or if none to engage them and begin the design process).


Helpful Links:

  1. http://www.aia.org

  2. http://www.aiaeb.org