Undertaking the task of building and designing a commercial building can be overwhelming, and as a project owner, you may have many questions throughout the process. One key person to turn to for answers is the architect, who plays a major role in determining the appearance of the finished project.
Selecting the right architecture firm is crucial, as it can have a major impact on your budget, design choices, and overall project outcomes. It’s important to ask the right questions to ensure that you are making an informed decision. Here are thirteen questions to consider asking your commercial architect:
1. What is Your Approach to Managing the Design Process?
When starting a new building project, there are three different approaches that architects may follow. Understanding which method your architect prefers can give you insight into how the project will be managed if you choose to work with them. If you have experience with building projects, you may prefer to work with an architect who uses a method that you are familiar with. The three methods are described below:
The traditional method of building, also known as Design-Bid-Build, involves bringing your project to the architect first. The architect will design the project according to your specifications, after which they will have little involvement. You will then need to solicit bids from contractors who do not have prior knowledge of the project. The contractors will construct the building based on the architect’s drawings.
While this method can be feasible, it has its limitations. The professionals involved in the project are disconnected and have very little communication with one another. This can lead to misunderstandings and potential issues during the construction process.
General Contractor (GC)/ Construction Manager (CM)
In this method, the architect is still not heavily involved in the process after completing the drawings. However, they will communicate with a single point of contact for any questions or requests for changes that arise. In these types of projects, the project owner hires a general contractor to serve as the construction manager.
The contractor will oversee the construction process and provide guidance to the project owner throughout. While this approach can alleviate some stress for the project owner, it also gives a lot of power and responsibility to the construction manager, which can be risky. It is important to carefully evaluate and choose a reliable and trustworthy contractor for this role.
The Architect, Engineer, Contractor (AEC) method is an approach in which all the professionals involved in the project work together from start to finish. This can bring several benefits to the project, including cost savings and a faster timeline.
Here at Maxx Designers, we’ve seen firsthand the many benefits of using this design method, and it’s our preferred way to approach projects.
2. Do You Provide Additional Services or Consultation?
Having your architect involved in more aspects of the project can be beneficial in many ways. Here are some additional services you may want to ask your architect about: “
As architects design a building, they have a clear idea of the desired final product. They have a deep understanding of the steps required to complete the project from start to finish. Because of this, architects can be well-suited to oversee the project. Some architecture firms offer project management as part of their services and it may be beneficial to include this in your contract. Having the architect oversee the project can ensure that the vision for the building is maintained throughout the construction process.
Some firms may design the project, provide the necessary documentation, and have little involvement afterward. Others may take a more hands-on approach, making periodic site visits to ensure that the contractor is adhering to the original design.
In addition to their expertise in designing the exterior of a building, many architects also have the skills to design the interior as well. Having the same designer create the look of both the exterior and interior can ensure a cohesive design throughout the project.
Finding a Contractor
Locating a contractor who works well with your architect can be a challenge. If your architect has a preferred contractor that they like to collaborate with, you may want to consider asking your architect to connect with them for your project.
3. Do You Have a Particular Design Philosophy or Signature Style That You Follow?
While architects should be flexible in meeting the needs of their clients, they may have a specific philosophy or architectural design style that they tend to follow. It can be helpful to know this upfront to determine if it aligns with your project. You can ask to see examples of their design work for past clients and look for consistent elements and patterns. If you notice repeated design elements that do not align with your preferences, it may not be the best fit for your project.
4. How Do You Identify and Address the Challenges of a Project?
Every project comes with its own set of challenges. It can be helpful to know how your architect approaches and handles these challenges, as it can give insight into their problem-solving and goal-achieving abilities. Many architects use tools to identify and address potential issues before beginning the design process.
5. Can You Provide a Timeline for the Project?
Your architect should be able to provide a realistic timeline for your project, helping you to understand what to expect and how long each phase of the architectural process will take.
- Design development
- Schematic design
Each of these phases has complexities that can cause a bump in the timeline.
Read up on the ins and outs of each phase in our insider’s guide to the 5 phases of Commercial Architectural Design
6. Is there a specific builder that you prefer to work with?
As previously mentioned, architects often have preferred builders that they have good working relationships with and may recommend to you. However, the final decision on who to hire is ultimately up to you. It can be beneficial to consider your architect’s input when making this decision, as having both your architect and builder on the same page can help ensure a smoother construction process.
7. What methods will you use to present the project to me?
Traditionally, architects have presented project designs to owners using 2D designs and construction documents. Some architects go the extra mile and create physical models of the project to give the owner a better idea of the design, although this can be very time-consuming. With the use of technology, architects can now provide digital 3D renderings of their projects using specialized software. These renderings can be so detailed that it feels like you are virtually inside the building. If you are interested in this type of visualization for your project, consider asking your architect if it is a service they can provide.
8. How much input do you want me to have in the design process?
Architects have their own unique and creative processes for completing a project. As a project owner, it is important to communicate effectively with your architect to ensure that the project meets your expectations and to minimize any wasted time. One way to do this is to ask your architect how much input they want from you at each stage of the design process. Some architects prefer to consult with you frequently as they work, while others prefer to gather all necessary information upfront. It is also helpful to know who your primary point of contact will be for any questions or concerns that arise during the design process. Establishing a good line of communication with this person from the outset can help ensure a smooth and successful project
9. What steps do you take to ensure that the project stays within budget?
What tools do you use to determine the cost of the project? There are many cost-estimating software programs available that can make this process accurate and efficient. These tools can help ensure that the project stays within budget. Additionally, who will be responsible for managing the budget during construction? Will you be involved in this process?”
10. What is the fee structure for your services?
It’s important to understand that your architect will need to be compensated for their work. Asking about their fee structure can help you understand the cost of the design process. Keep in mind that there is no set rate for architects, as each individual has the freedom to set their own fees.
There are several common fee structures that architects may use, including:
Cost % of the project
Some architects charge a percentage of the total project cost as their fee. The percentage may vary depending on the size and scope of the project, but it is usually in the range of 8-15% for residential projects and 3-12% for commercial projects. This means that the architect’s fee is based on the estimated cost of the project at completion.
Another option for architects is to charge a fixed rate for their services. This is often used for smaller projects where significant redesigns are not expected. The fixed rate can be paid through monthly billing or as a lump sum at the end of the project. This fee structure provides a clear understanding of the cost of the design services and can be a good option for smaller, more straightforward projects.
Another fee structure that some architects use is an hourly rate. This ensures that the architect is fairly compensated for the time they invest in the project. If your architect charges on an hourly basis, you will need to ask a few more questions to understand the total cost of your project, such as:
- How many hours do they estimate your project will take?
- Will they require a retainer before they begin working?
It’s possible that you may incur additional fees during the architectural design process. These fees can vary depending on the firm you are working with and the specific requirements of your project. It’s important to discuss any potential additional fees with your architect so you have a clear understanding of the overall cost of the project.
Fees may include:
- Land surveys
- 3D renderings
- Building permits
- Reimbursable costs such as postage, mileage, and printing
11. What Happens If I Request a Change to the Architectural Design
It’s not uncommon for the project to undergo changes after the design plans have been approved. This can be due to construction issues, new business needs, or simply a change in the project owner’s preferences. Before requesting any changes, it’s important for the project owner to consider the potential cost and implications of those changes. Here are a few questions you may want to ask your architect in advance:
Consider asking your architect these questions in advance:
- How will a change request affect the project timeline
- How much will you charge for this redesign?
- Will this cause a change in the budget overall?
Do You Have Experience with Projects of Similar Nature?
Of course, the answer to these questions will be determined by the scope of the project changes requested.
It is always best to hire a professional with experience; not just any experience, but experience with a project similar to yours.
Here are a few aspects of your architect’s experience that you will want to examine:
1. SCOPE AND SIZE
Is your project larger than normal?
Large-scale projects are more challenging to organize than smaller ones.
Ensure your architect has experience with a project of the scope and size you are presenting. Architects without this experience may make mistakes if they aren’t used to the complexities of such a large undertaking.
2. AREA, COUNTY, OR CITY
Choosing a local architect can have many advantages.
An architect with experience in local permitting makes the process much smoother because, undoubtedly, they’ve created a relationship with these county and city offices.
3. TYPE OF COMMERCIAL USE
You’ll also want to ensure that the architect you choose has completed a commercial project of the same type of business.
For example, an architect who specializes in designing retail stores may not be the best at designing an office or industrial space.
Check your architect’s track record. Ask for examples of designs specific to your industry they have completed in the past. If they have none to share, they may not be your best choice.
It’s important to remember that there are no silly questions when it comes to your project. Your architect should be happy to answer any questions you have, especially the ones we discussed earlier. Don’t be afraid to ask any additional questions you may have. Asking the right questions will help you determine if you have found the right architect for your project.
At Maxx Designers, we understand that you may have questions about your project. We encourage you to schedule a consultation with us to discuss any concerns or inquiries you may have. We are happy to provide answers and guidance to help you make informed decisions about your project.