An architect is more than a designer of buildings. He or she is a highly trained, licensed professional who provides important professional services that benefit both his or her clients and the general public at large. This article addresses the different services that an architect provides and explains the various skills that architect has.
Architectural services include two interrelated but distinct endeavors: the planning and design of buildings and spaces, and the administration of construction contracts on behalf of clients. Design and planning incorporates more than merely the aesthetics and organization of buildings; it also ensures that the designs for buildings conform to zoning, building codes, and safety requirements. Construction contract administration involves the architect acting as the agent of the client in various capacities during the design and construction process to protect the interests of the client, such as assisting with negotiating with contractors for bids, and verifying that contractor constructs the building as designed.
The following breaks down the phases of a typical building project and the role of architectural services during each phase:
1. Initial Consultation, Pre-Design, and Schematic Design.
A client meets with an architect and together they define the purpose and basic requirements for the building, known as its program. An architect may also provide other pre-design services such master planning and historic research on existing building or building site. General design ideas, or concepts, are presented and developed with client feedback into schematic design, which provides a rough sketch how the building will be organized and what the building will look like. This process ensures that the building requirements are clearly understood well before construction documents are produced. During this highly interactive phase, an architect helps the client make the most informed decision possible from the very beginning of the project. The architect can also help the client identify opportunities, cost savings, and extra value in the project of which he or she may not have fully been aware.
2. Design Development.
Once a scheme is chosen by the client, the rough sketch is developed into a working set of plans and elevations. Such drawings give a general sense of what the final building will include and give a rough idea of cost. Through design development drawings, the architects helps the client and contractor get a clear grasp what the building will be before the final contract documents. This opportunity for review can make a big difference in helping the client understand the size, quality, and cost of a project before the contract documents are completed, so that any necessary changes can be made to the drawings prior to construction.
3. Construction Documents.
Plans, elevations, and other drawings are refined to produce a set of drawings and specifications that will be used to erect the building. The architect works with the client to select appropriate materials and finishes to ensure a high-quality final building. The architect will coordinate with other design consultants, such as civil, structural, or mechanical engineers, that may be needed for the project, depending on its complexity or as required by law. The drawings and specifications represent a legal definition of what the contractor will build, along with other documents produced during bidding, known collectively as the contract documents. A complete, full set of construction documents helps minimize unforeseen problems and cost overruns during construction.
4. Bidding/Contract Negotiation.
The architect acts as the agent of the owner/client, and solicits bids from contractors. The architect can also advise the client in his or her decision process to select a contractor. Once signed, contract documents define the project. An architect can help the client break down the submitted bids to make a true apples-to-apples comparison so that the client receives the best value and quality during construction.
5. Construction Contract Administration.
The architect serves as the agent of the client during construction to make sure the contractor and subcontractor are building faithfully to the drawings and specifications. It is not uncommon for unsupervised contractors to ignore drawings or to cut corners in order to increase their profits. An architect’s fee is predetermined, so he or she can act an independent, unbiased observer and advocate for the client when acting as a construction contract administrator. An architect can also can provide the following important professional services during construction contract administration:
- Provide written responses and additional detailed drawings to address questions brought up by contractor.
- Resolve any conflicts found between drawings and the specifications.
- Approve changes to the plans requested by the contactor, in effect mediating changes to the contract between the client and the contractor. These can arise in response to hidden problems in an existing building, or needed changes in the construction schedule or budget.
- Approve pay applications by the contractor, to ensure that only appropriate construction expenses are reimbursed by the client.
- Negotiate any disputes between the contractor and the client that may arise and propose solutions to problems.
- Inspect the building during a final walk-through to ensure that the building is complete enough to be occupied, and follow-up with contactor to address any remaining deficiencies.
Having an architect provide construction contract administration for your project creates value for you because the architect will advocate for your interests in terms time, money, and quality control during construction.
6. Other Services.
Architects can take the extremely important role of helping their client go through various bureaucratic processes necessary for renovations or new constructions in New Orleans. These include but are not limited to:
- Obtaining building permits and variances from the city of New Orleans.
- Architectural review and certificates of appropriateness with Historic District Landmarks Commission and Vieux Carr Commission.
- Conducting feasibility studies
- Producing documentation for liquor license applications.
- Compiling state and federal historic tax credit applications.
- Obtaining certificates of occupancy for completed buildings.
Architects can offer all of these services or a select few depending on the needs of the client. An architect’s fee reflects the amount of work that he or she is required to do and can be calculated several ways based on project and client preference.