Selecting your architect is an important decision. Most clients build only once or a handful of times, so finding the right architect for your big project is essential to its success.  

1. Do I like this guy?

Chemistry is the most important criterion for selecting your architect. You will be working closely with him for months or years. So while you are talking with him, silently ask yourself these key questions: Do we share the same values? Does he listen thoughtfully and offer helpful suggestions? Can I trust him to take care of my money and work in my best interest? Is he enthusiastic about my project?

2. Is her work beautiful?

Architects are in charge of the visual appearance of your project. Every day you use the building, you will be looking at what she imagined. Beauty is subjective, so if you like an architect’s work, that is a good reason to hire her. You may not like everything she has designed, but the majority should appeal to you.

3. How does he manage the process?

Your architect is the lead professional in the design process. From initial interview until the start of construction, he is not just the project designer but the project manager. All the factors that can influence a project should be on the manager’s radar. Management is concerned with time, money, people, regulations, expectations, coordination, even emotion. How does your architect handle these responsibilities? What mechanisms does he have in place to track them? Is there a reliance on solving problems that could have been prevented in the first place? An architect who manages the design phase well hands the builder a project that can be built successfully. An architect who delivers a half baked mess is setting up the builder for disaster.

4. How much will it cost?

Generally, you get what you pay for. More importantly, you don’t get what you don’t pay for. There are innumerable design decisions that need to get made on any project. What color is the light switch? Where is it placed on the wall? What lights does it operate? Is it just on/off or is it motion activated or dimmable? Every decision needs to be made by somebody. If you don’t pay your architect to do it, then you will need to pay someone else to do it, unless you do it yourself. But the decisions don’t go away. So hiring the lowest-priced architect just means you will have to pay your builder more to make those decisions. Not only are architects better at making design decisions, builders don’t like making them. Sometimes a builder will hire their own architect to make the decisions. So it is important to understand what level of service you are buying with the fees you pay your architect. And be careful about contracts that charge hourly for construction phase design work, when that work should have been done before construction started. It is common to offer a low fee to complete a permit set, then charge an equal amount as an “extra” to finish the design.

5. What is her experience?

Be careful not to narrowly focus this question: How many _______ have you designed? Familiarity with offices, for example, is somewhat helpful in doing another office. But an office for a government agency is quite different from an office for a software startup. Lack of depth with a particular project type is not really a handicap for a capable architect because there is more similarity than differences among various types of projects. The best way to install a window so it is weather tight does not change if the window is installed in a school or in an apartment. What does matter is overall experience. The more projects and the greater the variety and complexity of those projects, the better an architect can address the particular issues for your project and be able to efficiently arrive at good solutions.

Finally, don’t rely on an architect’s marketing or online reviews to make a decision. You can find all manner of testimonials, ratings, and reviews, but these are too often filtered, manipulated, or even fabricated to make an architect look good. Trust your own judgment and impressions to inform your decision, and you will surely choose the right architect to lead the design process and bring your project to life.