Douglas Danks



"When the materials are all prepared and ready architects shall appear ... The greatest among them shall be he who best knows you, and encloses all and is faithful to all."

Walt Whitman

The Owner’s Role in Working with an Architect

The process of working with an architect to design and prepare documents for the construction of a project involves several steps. Generally, the process goes through a number of defined phases as spelled out below, although on smaller and less complicated projects, a number of these phases may be combined and simplified.

Programming Phase (Deciding What to Build)

During this phase the homeowner will provide the architect with information about the building site, its physical size/dimensions and the existence of easements or other site restrictions which will effect the project design. The homeowner and architect will work together to develop a list of the number and size of spaces to be accommodated in the project, critical adjacencies of these spaces and expectations for the level of material quality and finish detail in the project. It is also important at the beginning of the project that the homeowner identifies their expectations for the cost of the project, and establish a goal for the construction cost of the project and the additional costs associated with the project (such as professional fees and reimbursable expenses, surveying, soil testing, hazardous material testing, land acquisition, etc.).

Pre-Design Phase (Gathering Information About Conditions Effecting the Project)

In some cases, the homeowner will be required to assist the architect in working with local Planning Officials, Planning Commissions, Historical Preservation Commissions or other regulatory bodies governing zoning ordinances, and other conditions that will effect the project before the design of the project can begin. The homeowner will also be required to provide information typically outside the scope of work for architects, but essential to successfully undertaking the construction of a project. The additional information required may include providing a certificate of survey for the building site, providing soil testing of the building site to determine the adequacy of the existing soils for the proposed construction, testing/abatement of suspected hazardous materials and securing the proper insurance or riders to existing insurance for the construction to take place.

Schematic Design Phase (Rough Sketches)

During the Schematic Design Phase, the homeowner is actively involved in the design of their project; working with the architect in confirming that the

program has been adequately incorporated into the design, reviewing the initial sketches for the possible options in floor plan layouts and providing feedback for the refinement of the plan layout, and providing a direction for the aesthetic of the project and the project’s overall appearance.

Design Development Phase (Refining the Design)

The design of the project is finalized during the Design Development Phase. The homeowner will review and provide feedback to more detailed drawings the architect has prepared that accurately depict the size of rooms, their ceiling/section shape and their architectural materials/finishes. The exterior appearance of the project including the selections of exterior finish materials are finalized, although certain color/finish selections and exterior construction details may not be finalized until the Contract Documents Phase. Initial selections for building components such as doors and windows are made at this time, as well as selections for the building structural system and building systems fixture and device locations.

Preparation of Contract Documents Phase (Construction Drawings)

During the Contract Document Phase, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications identifying the building materials, assemblies and systems which the contractor will use for the construction of the project. The homeowner will assist the architect in finalizing the specifications for finish materials and building components such as doors and windows. The homeowner may work with the architect in designing millwork cabinets/built-ins and finish material/trim details at this time.

Bidding/Estimating Phase (Hiring the Contractor)

The homeowner selects and hires the contractor. At this time the homeowner may have already selected a contractor to build their project. Or the homeowner may be interested in issuing the Contract Documents for their project to a number of qualified contractors for bidding. In this situation, the architect can assist the homeowner in preparing invitations and instructions to bid, as well as answer questions from contractors bidding.

Construction Administration Phase

While the contractor will physically build the project, the homeowner will be an active participant in the process. The homeowner will make frequent site visits to observe the construction and keep informed of the project’s progress, review shop drawings of building assemblies/components requiring owner approval, approve final selections of material and finish samples, and review possible revisions to the project design during construction.

In most cases the relationship between a homeowner and architect will involve the architect in all of the phases identified above. In some instances though, the homeowner may choose to limit the scope of services performed by their architect in order to minimize the expense of working with an architect. In these cases, the homeowner takes on some additional roles and responsibilities normally performed by the architect. This can save the homeowner some of the expense of working with an architect, but it will also place more demands in terms of time, responsiveness and the responsibility of decision making on the homeowner.