20 Questions the AIA says you should ask your Architect

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has a fantastic website http://www.aia.org/index.htm. The consumer section, entitled "The Value of an Architect" addresses "How Design works for You," "Find an Architect," and "20 Questions to Ask Your Architect".

The AIA has done a great job promoting their site and it is clearly working, because today's web-savvy clients are calling me at Clawson Architects with the same 20 questions! So I thought I would take a moment to give you:

Clawson Archtiects, LLC's official answers to the AIA's 20 Questions to Ask Your Architect:

1. What does the architect see as important issues or considerations in your project?
Site unseen, the most important issues and considerations are your goals and your budget.

2. What are the challenges of the project?
Meeting your goals within your budget while meeting local zoning laws and building codes.

3. How will the architect approach your project?
With enthusiasm, confidence, skill, and keen attention to your needs, likes and dislikes.

4. How will the architect gather information about your needs, goals, etc.?
We interview you about your lifestyle and, during our discussions and working sessions, we draw in front of you...working out the overall schematic design ideas based on your program requirements (your space needs).

5. How will the architect establish priorities and make decisions?
Priorities are established during the interview process with you, and decisions are based on your overall goals, budget and priorities. Clawson Architects has a wealth of experience and knowledge; we will give you our professional advice and the most up to date information so that you can make informed decisions.

6. Who from the architecture firm will you be dealing with directly? Is that the same person who will be designing the project? Who will be designing your project?
The team at Clawson Architects works together, tapping the professionals with the best fit -- considering design and construction experience as well as working style -- for each project. A Principal Partner, either Marvin or René Clawson, is directly in charge at all times; a Project Manager is the day-to-day contact. However, Marvin and René are always available to you. The partners work closely, know each other's strengths, and call on each other to provide input to projects where his/her expertise will benefit the outcome. If at any time you prefer to work with one principal or team member over the other, please voice the preference and you will be accommodated accordingly.

7. How interested is the architect in this project?
We look at each new client and project as an opportunity to meet someone new and to create something unique and wonderful that will enhance the environment of the individuals and community around it. We strive to create both sustainable architecture and relationships. When we engage in a contract for services, it is not just a project for us, it is about helping someone achieve their goals or solve a problem, and the relationship that develops with the client during the process is often a lasting one. We are proud to say that we also have repeat clients -- folks that have moved up, moved on, or are adding more.

8. How busy is the architect?
We are blessed with a successful practice and do our best to meet your expectations. If we are not able to meet them from the start, we will let you know.

9. What sets this architect apart from the rest?

The People the Process and the Projects.

Our design team can draw solutions in front of you on demand to scale. We can conceptualize the solutions and communicate them to you in free hand drawings. We don't go off and come back with ideas for you to pick from, we generate ideas with you. We are not wed to a single style -- only excellence.

We are an experienced, client-focused design firm.
We work with you individually, involving you in the creative process of meeting your program requirements and working along side you to include and enhance any design ideas you may have. The amount of attention and service is based on your needs. We are available to be there from beginning to end, overseeing the details if requested. We will not abandon you with a half-baked plan or just the exterior shell for you to fill in. We are up to date, keeping abreast of trends and technologies and watching for opportunities to enhance the quality of life for you, our client.

We are licensed and registered and insured architects. Marvin and René are both Certified Interior Designers in the state of New Jersey. Marvin is a professor of Interior Design at the #1 design school in the nation, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and lectures at Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America where he is a Fellow Emeritus. René is a LEED Accredited Professional keeping abreast of the latest green technologies. She also owns and operates a cabinetry business and will guide you toward storage solutions that work as well as the opportunity to buy cabinets if you please.

We have a team of educated and credentialed individuals, specializing in Architecture, Interiors, Planning, Historical Preservation and Restoration as well as LEED.

We are designers. We are creative and curious. We solve problems elegantly. We are not creating space or pretty pictures for the sake of it. Our designs are informed and solve a specific problem that has been put forward.

We design a space that is in sync with your needs, how you work and live. We are always talking about how the spaces will flow and be furnished with you. One only has to look at our website to see that no two projects look the same...and that is because we listen to you, our client and look for cues in your environment to make each project unique and all yours.

The details. We understand the historical and contemporary details and how to employ them correctly. Marvin has been teaching detailing for years and, it makes a difference.

10. How does the architect establish fees?

Our fees are hourly for services rendered. Today's clients are very educated and we work with them allowing them to participate as much or as little as they like. Many have envisioned their projects and know exactly what they want, but need help with the details and pulling the ideas together. Others prefer full service and only know that what they have is not working and need our help to envision possible solutions that meet their goals. If fees are a concern and the clients have time, some choose to shop on their own for finishes and fixtures and even work on their own variance applications. This tend to be a a real mystery for many so I have also included a third party article on how to budget for construction and professional fees on our website.

11. What would the architect expect the fee to be for this project?
The answer to this requires detailed information about the project, the client, and their goals.

12. What are the steps in the design process?
13. How does the architect organize the process?
For answers to 12 and 13 please visit our website where the design process and working with Clawson Architects is discussed in detail and diagrammed for those who prefer flow charts.

14. What does the architect expect you to provide?
Goals; budget; survey of property by a licensed engineer in the state; any information regarding historical significance, deed restrictions and hazardous materials; and prompt payment for services rendered.

15. What is the architect's design philosophy?

Simple elegance.

16. What is the architect's experience/track record with cost estimating?
We work with contractors or cost estimators at very early stages to reconcile the plans with your budget to keep them in alignment and to eliminate value engineering and change orders at the end.

17. What will the architect show you along the way to explain the project? Will you see models, drawings, or computer animations?
We have model building, hand-drawing and computer rendering capabilities; based on the client's preference and their ability to visualize, we can do any or all of the above.

18. If the scope of the project changes later in the project, will there be additional fees? How will these fees be justified?
We work to build your project on paper so that you will know exactly what is going to be constructed. We work to make sure the client understands the spaces--either with drawings, computer renderings, models or even staking it out with string on the property or chalk on the floor within an existing space. Our fees are hourly and we feel that this helps the clients stay on task and focused on their priorities, goals and budget. We continually weigh the ideas that are generated against the priorities, goals and budget that were established at the beginning. If the priorities, goals or budget change that is fine, but moving targets can become very expensive to hit.

19. What services does the architect provide during construction?
Construction Administration. This is by far the most valuable portion of our services. Many feel they have the plans and a good contractor and they will take it from there, thinking they are saving money. We can give examples where our services saved the owners in the end. We as the author of the drawings and design are intimately familiar with the plans. There is always room for interpretation and it is our goal to get you the design you have invested in with us. With our years of experience, we are work collaboratively with the contractor you choose, with the goal of protecting your investment in the design, the integrity of your home as well as the integrity of the structure. Details are not just a thing of beauty. History shows us how they came about and why. Over the years they have been "simplified, emulated or taken out with out an understanding of why they are there. While you may realize an immediate savings, proper detailing and the materials specified on our projects are there for a reason. They have withstood the test of time. Substitutions may be presented by the contractor. They may be fine, and may not have been an effort to deceive you. It may be that it is what they have always done and they just don't know any better. If we are there, we can help you evaluate if the saving is worth the risk. If there is a substitution and it meets the design intent, is there a savings for you? What is it. During the pricing and construction phase, we are there to help. There will always been unforeseen conditions especially on a renovation project. Our goals are to help find solutions that meet your goals, the design intent and keep the job moving forward. We will also continue to assist in negotiations of the debit or credit to your account based on the solution.

During the construction phase of the project,
our services include the following:A. Site visits on an average of one (1) site visit per week to document the project progress.
B. Preparation of a Field Report and/or meeting notes that document(s) the conditions of the site, progress of the work, conformance with the Construction Documents and list(s) open issues related to the progression of the work.
C. Review of shop drawings provided by the contractor for the cabinetry, windows, doors, custom mill work and other items, as required by us.
D. Review of samples provided by the Client or Contractor for the building components and building materials.
E. Review of the Contractor's Request for payment for accuracy relative to the progression of the project.

Note: Many want to exclude the architect from the contract negotiations. This always becomes an issue when you call for help. It becomes a challenge as we can not really help you if we don't know what your negotiated. Keep in mind that contractors and architects do this all day long. Why would you want to go in and negotiate on your own, when you did not create the plans which are the contract or have over 30 years of daily experience doing so that you will be up against. To go into a business deal allowing the mouse to guard the cheese is never recommended. The goal is to get what you paid for. Allow us to help you. Remember, we are hourly, so there is no incentive for us to drive the price up. We would like our services to pay for themselves in the end with the return on investment.

20. How disruptive will construction be? How long does the architect expect it to take to complete your project?
This is very project-specific and therefore varies widely. Many clients prefer to live elsewhere during renovation projects, however, this presents added costs. You will want to consider the hazards of renovation that are articulated in the EPA's pamphlet, "Renovate Right," and consider the additional cost of moving out during the demolition process. If your project is new construction, every attempt is made to disturb as little of the surrounding environment as possible. The length of the project is based on many factors including but not limited to:

1. The local Building Department;
2. The skill and organization of the contractor;
3. The number of changes made in the field; and
4. The finish materials, fixtures and number of custom elements.

20+1. Does the architect have a list of past clients that you can contact?
(Yes, the AIA actually had 21 questions listed under the heading 20 questions...so this is the bonus question!)

Of course we do. Clawson Architects prefers to learn more about your project so we can match you up with a meaningful reference from someone for whom we designed a project of a similar size or scope or worked with a contractor you may be considering for the job. Some reviews are listed on Houzz.com