Selecting the right architect to build your custom home
By Blaine Bershad
Spending a million dollars or more on a new home, second home or renovation can be an exciting and rewarding experience -- if you choose the right architect.
A custom residence will bring years of comfort and enjoyment when the architect you select has the experience and skill to lead a team of attentive, insightful and inspired professionals. The architect will also guide you through the design exploration process and oversee the construction so that your completed home reflects your functional and aesthetic needs.
Even before you select an architect, prepare a preliminary list of your functional needs. You will want the requisite number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but feel free to dream about other options, such as an indoor pool and spa, horse stables, a personal weight training facility, a wine cellar, controlled environments for fine art, or maybe a showcase for antique cars.
These may seem extravagant, but, if they're handled by a competent architect, these are not impossible dreams to attain.
Aesthetic needs are much more difficult to address. While many of us know what we like aesthetically, it's important to find an architect who can help show us how it will be expressed when it's built. Architectural design in the greater than million-dollar home category has more unique and personal owner input than any other kind of residential design. You want your architect to:
Respect who you are - Flashy presentations at the architect's office may seem impressive, but do not ensure that the architect will actually listen to you and design to your needs. An experienced architect will help you identify your unique requirements. Be sure that you meet the architect on your home turf, where you are comfortable. Can this person work with you? More importantly, will you be able to work with them? Does he or she understand you and encourage you to explore and express your needs? Will you be comfortable working with this person over an extended time period? Do you trust sharing your personal information with this person?
Communicate design ideas clearly - Does the architect have the ability to clearly communicate his or her version of your design to you enough to truly experience what it will be like to live in the space? It is not easy for most people to visualize three-dimensional space from a set of floor plans and elevations. Fortunately, there are now sophisticated 3D computer design programs that easily allow you to walk through your design before it's built. Make sure that your selected architect can provide you with this capability.
Being able to see the finished space before it is built helps to avoid expensive changes that may have to be made during construction.
Most of these changes occur when the client does not understand, or the architect does not communicate, what is called for in the drawings. If you understand the proposed design ideas before construction begins, it will save you much aggravation, time and money by the time the construction is completed.
Have design and construction experience - Select an architect who has design and construction experience. Sophisticated construction projects can be brought to a halt as a result of the architect not having sufficient experience with complicated construction methods.
Architects with construction experience often have excellent communication with other building professionals. It will help your project tremendously if the architect has a considerable amount of actual construction experience and can work well with contractors.
Be an experienced team leader - A large residence today has complicated structural elements, technical systems and features that were not available even a few years ago. It is impossible for any one person to keep track of the rapid technology growth in the building industry. Be sure to verify that the architect has a history of quality collaboration with other experts that include the many disciplines important for your home -- from "smart house" electronics and specialty structural systems to high-tech security systems. Some of these disciplines include: structural, mechanical, electrical, acoustical and civil engineering, landscape architecture and control systems design and coordination.
Provide quality references - Request references from other homeowners who have worked with the architect. It is just as important to request references from team members, such as engineers, landscape architects, general contractors, and/or key subcontractors who've collaborated on similar home construction. In addition, make sure that you will be working with the person who you are obtaining references about.
References from previous clients of an architecture firm are valuable for understanding core competencies, but can easily mislead, as you will be working with specific people, not firms.
Considering these concerns, you can feel confident that you'll select an architect who will listen to you. You will be assured that he or she has the ability to translate your expectations through the design and construction processes and assure that they match your vision.
Once you've made your selection, you'll want to consider other issues, such as how to work with your architect, what kind of fee structure you are comfortable with and whether you should select an architect and contractor team.
Blaine Bershad is the President of Bershad Design Associates, Inc. Architects, in Boston.
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