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

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. Although the process of working with an architect may vary slightly from Minnesota to other regions of the country, 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)

The homeowner and architect discuss the requirements for the project, testing the fit between the homeowner’s needs, wants, budget and the physical limitations of the site and any existing construction. 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. This Program, as it is called, will form the basis for the design of the project. It is also important that the homeowner and the architect review the homeowner’s 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 architect will be required to gather additional information about conditions that will effect the project before the design of the project can begin. Often times, where a project involves the renovation of or an addition to an existing structure, measurements of the existing conditions, and preparation of drawings of the as-built structure, must be completed before the work on the new project can begin. In other situations, the location of a project in a Historic District, along a Scenic Waterway or within a building site requiring involved zoning ordinance review, or the use of a variance process from the zoning ordinances, will require additional time for the architect to research and determine its impact on the project.

Schematic Design Phase (Rough Sketches)

The architect prepares a number of rough sketches, known as schematic designs, which show the general arrangement of rooms, the positioning of the project on the site or in relation to an existing structure and the general appearance of the project.

Design Development Phase (Refining the Design)

Upon approval of the Schematic Design Phase by the homeowner, the architect moves on to this phase of the work where more detailed drawings are prepared that accurately depict the size of rooms and locations of openings within rooms, architectural materials/finishes and building components such as doors and windows. At this time the building systems for the project including the structural system are defined, with building systems fixture and device locations identified.

Preparation of Contract Documents Phase (Construction Drawings)

Upon approval of the Design Development Phase by the homeowner, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications identifying the building materials, assemblies and systems which the contractor(s) will use for the construction of the project; and to establish the actual construction cost for the project, along with the anticipated schedule for the construction of the project. These drawings and specifications become part of the contract between the homeowner and contractor governing the terms and conditions of the project construction.

Bidding/Estimating Phase (Hiring the Contractor)

The homeowner selects and hires the contractor. In some cases, the homeowner has selected a contractor to construct their project before the completion of the Contract Documents Phase. In this situation, the architect can assist the homeowner in reviewing the contractor’s construction cost estimate to determine its conformity with the intent of the design and documents. In other cases, the homeowner may request bids from several contractors. 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 architect can assist the homeowner in making sure that the project is built according to the plans and specifications prepared by the architect and approved by the homeowner. The architect can make limited site visits to observe the construction and keep the homeowner informed of the project’s progress, review shop drawings of building assemblies/components, coordinate the approval of material and finish samples and coordinate possible revisions to the project design during construction. The contractor is solely responsible for construction means/methods, construction scheduling, safety procedures and maintaining a weathertight building.

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. These options can be discussed further with the architect.

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