If you are contemplating your first building project, you know that you probably need an architect, but what will this relationship entail? How do you begin, and what, exactly, should you expect? Every architecture firm is different, but we thought we'd share how we typically do things at VELOCIPEDE to give you a sense of what it's like to hire and work with an architect.

Step 1: Consultation

A free phone consultation is how we normally begin our customer relationships. In about half an hour we listen to your goals, wishes, and preferences. Discussion touches on any potential obstacles, and we go over budget and schedule. We and you both want to determine if there is rapport between us and if there is a good fit between our expertise and availability and your needs and timing. Then we can schedule an interview.

Step 2: Interview

The interview is usually at the project location, to allow you to introduce us to the site or building and let us get a feel for the place. Most importantly, we want to get a sense for what it will be like working together. In an hour or two, you provide us with your detailed list of wishes, and we ask questions and suggest ideas to gain a better understanding of what makes your project special. We discuss how much or little work you want us to do to best assist you.

Step 3: Proposal

Our proposal for design services is derived from the information gathered in the interview. It documents your wish list, details the services we will be providing (and those you don’t need from us), offers a fee estimate, and lays out a timeline. We attach a standard AIA contract form that includes all the necessary legalese. After revising the proposal to incorporate your comments, we sign the contract and collect a retainer. Now we have a client and you have your architect!

Step 4: Survey

A field survey must be completed before design can begin. If the site is vacant, then a professional surveyor will prepare a boundary survey with contours and site features. If there is an existing building that will remain, then we architects carefully measure it and draw it on the computer. These drawings are the basis for the design, permitting, and construction drawings that follow.

Step 5: Schematic

Schematic design is the first half of the design effort. We start by turning your verbal wish list into sketches and present you with options for the layout and appearance of your project. We work both digitally and by hand in 2D and 3D, as appropriate. After a few rounds of meetings and studying alternatives, the favorite design emerges. The shape of the building, layout of rooms, doors, windows, and furniture, major materials, and scope of fixtures are all determined at this point. We then draw it in CAD (computer drafting) and issue a 50% set.

Step 6: Estimate

A cost estimate by one or more builders is prepared halfway through the design phase. The design has progressed far enough to get meaningful numbers, but is not so far along that the design can’t be readily adjusted if the numbers come in higher than desired. If a builder has not yet been selected, this estimate helps you to make that decision. We architects normally suspend work for about a month during this estimating intermission.

Step 7: Plans

Construction documents complete the second half of the design. If desired, finish materials, colors, light fixtures, and plumbing fixtures are all selected and specified, right down to the door knobs. Lighting and electrical layouts are determined. Cabinets, details, and interior elevations are drawn. If requested, text specifications are written and coordinated with the drawings. Our engineers select actual beam sizes and mechanical unit capacities. We use the cost estimate to guide our selections to stay within budget. All of the decisions are reviewed with you in a series of meetings. Our 100% set is then issued for permitting and bidding.

Step 8: Permitting

Permitting duration depends on the size and complexity of the project and the workload of the authorities. Their review can take anywhere from a day to a few weeks to several months. We launch the process as early as we can so that this critical phase does not hold up the overall timeline. The necessary forms and drawings are assembled by us and submitted to the building department. We respond to any corrections they need and then receive the building permit. 

Step 9: Bidding

Bidding occurs while permitting is underway. One or more builders distribute our 100% set to their subcontractors and obtain detailed bids for the construction. The goal is to have the final bid come in close to the 50% estimate, but it is not unusual to have to make a further set of adjustments to the design or to the budget so that both align. The customer then signs a construction contract with the builder.

Step 10: Construction

Construction is in the hands of the builder. We architects are still involved but in a background supportive role. We respond to questions from the field, review submittals such as cabinet drawings, and visit the site at key moments to observe progress. Most builders like to have meetings every week or two with the client and the architect to review status and discuss issues that arise. At the end of construction, the architect prepares a detailed punchlist of items to correct before construction is considered complete.

Step 11: Margaritas

Taking occupancy of the space is time to celebrate! The journey is finished and the results of everyone’s collaborative effort can be enjoyed.