Beyond Design: What Do Architects Do?

Beyond the fact that architects design things, many people aren’t very familiar with what architects do. Yes, design is an enormously important part of being an architect, but the reality is that an architect’s job requires much more. Today we’re going to look at some of the non-design related ways working with an architect adds value. At KGA we work on a variety of project types; for this blog we’re going to focus on what we do for custom homes and remodels. In addition to designing your home, here’s a round-up of the most important things an architect will do for your project:

Code Compliance and Legal Questions

From following local building codes to understanding easements or covenants that apply to your site, your architect will ensure that your design can be legally built. Building height, bulk plane and lot coverage requirements all play important roles in what can or cannot be built on your site. This might also include a conservation easement that restricts the size or placement of your home on the lot (conservation easements often provide the homeowner with a tax break) or preserving certain elements of a historic home. Each project is different, and it’s the architect’s job to thoroughly research the site to understand what needs to be done from a legal standpoint.

Future Planning Design Considerations

The beauty of a custom home is that it’s designed just for you. Even if your intent is to build your forever home, your architect will still keep resale value in mind when designing your home. Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean resale value will take precedence in the design, simply that your architect will advise you on ways to create your dream home, while still maximizing your investment should you decide to sell your home in the future.

Aging-in-place is another design element your architect can help you with. Even if you’re not sure if this will be your forever home, now is the time to think about aging-in-place elements. In homes with stairs this could mean including an elevator, or simply roughing in where an elevator could easily be installed in the future. Zero-step entry showers have a great cool factor and if wide enough, can be wheel chair accessible. The list goes on, but you get the general idea. If aging-in-place features are important to you, be sure to let your architect know from the start.

This over-sized shower with zero-step entry, sliding door and built-in bench is a great example of a shower designed to look good now and be functional for aging-in-place in the future.

Budget Management

Contrary to popular myth, no architect wants to design a home you can’t afford to build. Be upfront with your architect from the start, and your architect can play an important role in helping you stay on budget. Architects understand approximately how much construction costs in areas they typically work, and can do the research when working in a new area. If you select your architect and builder team early in the process, they can help keep your project within budget.

Design Build

This one may not apply to all architects, but at KGA we offer our clients a design build process, even though we aren’t a design build firm. This means your architect works with your chosen builder to create a seamless process that makes the most of your budget to give you the best design and construction possible. Value engineering (making changes to the home to achieve cost savings) is an important part of the design build process, and it’s always more effective when the builder and architect collaborate to find the best solutions. Depending on the size and complexity of a project, this might include the architect making site visits or attending regularly scheduled team meetings once construction is underway. Either way, the architect should remain available throughout the building process to answer any questions that may arise.

The scope and complexity of this remodel required regularly scheduled team meetings throughout the build.

Project Management & Leadership

Your architect leads the charge to coordinate with all subconsultants to put together construction documents. This can include the structural engineer, MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing), Landscape Design, Interior Design and many others. (For a list of potential consultants, check out this blog). The construction documents are then submitted to the city for approval, and are ultimately what your builder will use to construct your home. Good quality construction documents can streamline the approval process and make your builder’s job easier, which in turn can save time and money during construction.

Client Advocate

Designing and building a custom home can take anywhere from 1 to 3 years, and your architect will be a passionate advocate for your project throughout the process. Design Review Boards (DRB), Homeowners Associations, and the city and county where you’re building will all have questions and need to give approvals on your project. It’s your architect’s job to understand all of the requirements for your home and go through the approval processes with each entity. You may find yourself with requirements or requests that seem unreasonable, if or when this happens, your architect will be your biggest advocate.