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architect drawingWhether it was the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, the temples of Greece, or the great Cathedrals of the Middle Ages... all were designed by architects with vision and expert skills.

Today, anytime you plan to build... you still need an architect.

From designing and building the tallest skyscrapers — to remodeling a room for your home — architects are the brains and talent behind a successful project.

The traditional image of an architect bent over a drafting table working on a blueprint is only partly accurate. These professionals are involved with every aspect from planning and design to administration and management of building construction.

Truth be told, architects aren't hired only for building "from the ground up". According to the American Institute of Architects one third (34%) of all the work done by architects in the USA really involves rehabilitation and renovation projects.

No matter what the project entails, it usually begins at the the drafting table from which rises the working models. From there, architects may be seen donning hard hats on-site with the rest of the construction crew as they answer questions, or give advice to make sure that the plans are being followed exactly the way they were drawn.

Some of the other tasks that fall to the architect include expertise on local zoning regulations, providing plans and documents in compliance with local laws, and checking to make sure local utilities are adequate (and adequately hooked up). Maybe more importantly, they also ensure that the finished product meets all safety and regulatory requirements. A good architect can also recommend reliable building contractors and skilled trades people along with being responsible for building materials and products that are environmentally sustainable.

How to find and hire an architect

architectural blueprint
Architect speak 101

CAD/CAM - used by modern architects for developing designs and architectural plans, an acronym for Computer-Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing software.

CONTEXT - how a building (or an addition) fits in with the rest of the neighborhood.

DESIGN - a general term that covers several phases of a build or remodel including a conceptual design or loose sketch leading to a schematic design with added detail. Design development comes next which includes exact building materials and systems (ventilation, electrical, AC, solar, etc.) leading up to the final construction drawing or project blueprint.

SCALE - how building elements correlate with one another in terms of design or dimension.

SPATIAL ORGANIZATION - how rooms (or spaces) in a building are arranged.

The first question to ask is: do I really need an architect? For many home renovation projects, a general building contractor will do. But whenever plans are necessary to actually change the footprint of your home, an architect must be hand to supervise the construction.

As always, you can begin your research online at websites such as the American Institute of Architects architect finder to search for US architectural firms by zip code or building type. Elsewhere around the web, you can also try Architects USA for clickable maps by U.S. state, region and city.

(Similar searches can be made in Canada at the Architecture Canada Member Directory, or in the UK at the Royal Institute of Architects Members Directory.)

Otherwise, for many homeowners the problem of finding an architect they can trust is often solved by simply asking for recommendations from neighbors who have similar projects completed. That said, local contractors remain your best source of reliable information since they work with local architects all the time. And, if you are already working with a contractor they can recommend a handful of architects they have worked well with in the past and trust.

Of course, hiring a good architect doesn't mean you should overlook the contract fees and the fine print! Some architects charge on the percentage of the overall project, on an hourly basis, or in a lump sum. Just make sure you read the contract carefully so that everyone is on the same page in terms of the design as well as price, time and materials.

Meanwhile, don't assume that just because you've handed the project over to a skilled professional that your job is done! Managing an architect means open communications with any problems you encounter with the new construction, including questioning obvious mistakes or variations in the established agreement.

On the flip side, your job as a responsible client means adhering to the plan to avoid any 'creative' changes midway through the build. Unless you have money to throw away, failing to stick to your original vision may mean lots of misunderstanding between client and architect and -- at worse -- cost overruns that will quickly throw a wrench into a smooth-running building project or remodel.



More about architects online:
- Check out this excellent, sleek online guide to contemporary architects and their work in galleries and exhibits, photo essays, feature stories, plus a separate image library, book reviews and a directory of architects. - Architects - How to hire, what to look for, a list of questions to ask, and where to find one.


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