Finding and Hiring an Architect
by Don Leighton-Burwell, AIA/Tenth Times October 1996
It has been my experience that the profession and role of architects is
often misunderstood by the public and even by factions within the construction
industry. The reasons for using an architect are as varied as the scope
of services that he/she might provide. I want to define a systematic way
of finding and hiring an architect who will serve your needs, and of clearly
stating the benefits of using an architect on your project.
The construction of a project is a complicated process and daunting to
the inexperienced. Amidst a “jigsaw puzzle” of design options,
building and accessibility codes, zoning laws, and contractors, it is
easy to see why many people are overwhelmed by the shear thought of setting
out to build a new project. Add to that the reality that no two buildings
are alike, and at best, the construction of a project is an inexact science,
it is easy to see that competent professional guidance can add greatly
to the success of a project. In the words of Vitruvius, an ancient writer
on architectural theory and practice, the three goals of architecture
are firmness (durability), commodity (functionality) and delight (aesthetics).
Not unlike dentists, architects have a rigorous routine of schooling,
internship and eventual licensing within the states that they practice.
Architects are trained to see the “big picture”. We do not
just design four walls and a roof, but create environments that solve
functional needs in exciting and dynamic ways. We solve problems in creative
ways that can have a transformational effect on the quality of life of
the people who use the facility. And architects can save you money. The
investment that you make in an architect’s services is ultimately
not an added cost to your project. A well-conceived project can be built
more efficiently and economically; energy-efficient/sustainable buildings
will save you money and lessen the effect on our environment; durable,
yet economical choices in materials and finishes can effect your budget
and reduce maintenance costs; and, good design sells. Your patients and
colleagues will see tangible evidence of your commitment to high quality
within your practice as manifested in your facility, as well as greater
resale value as a result of good design.
Ultimately, an architect can make your life easier by deftly guiding you
through the often messy and disruptive process of building. Acting as
your agent, the architect can coordinate engineering and other design
services; work with your dental dealer and contractor; and, serve as the
team leader throughout the design and construction process.
As professionals, each architect has their own approach to design and
methods of working. You will want to ensure that your choice of an architect
is someone with whom you can be in partnership, someone with whom you
trust and feel comfortable. In dental design, it is important to find
someone that has had a reasonable background in this discipline; if not,
you will spend many personal hours as the consultant taking valuable time
from your practice and family. Finding someone who will do your project
“cheaply” will often cost you more than if you pay an experienced
person a fair fee at the onset of your project.
Talk to your colleagues that have offices (with qualities that you want
in your own) about who designed their offices. Check with the local chapter
of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) for resources of firms specializing
in dental design. Call each firm, describe your project and check their
availability to work with you. Ask to see a list of references, as well
as documentation on qualifications and experience. Narrow your list to
two or three firms, and set up interviews. Remember that the relationship
with your architect may last a long time. Ask yourself these questions:
Is this someone that you trust? Is the chemistry right? Is this person
attentive to your goals? Ask the architect: Who will actually design your
project? What range of fees can you anticipate?
After the interview process, choose who you want to work with. Like dentists,
architects provide a service not a product. You cannot “test drive”
your final design. Choose the architect that exhibits the judgement, expertise,
and creative skills to help you realize your project goals at a reasonable
Fees will vary based on the scope of the project. Small projects or consulting
are often done on an hourly basis. Projects that require a more comprehensive
service are often done for a fixed fee or a combination of other fee structures.
Keep in mind that architects spend many hours, weeks and months in creating
the necessary documentation and administration of a project. Fees must
realistically reflect the amount of time and service required of a project.
As we all know, “you get what you pay for”. Hiring an architect
is ultimately an investment in the future of your practice and should
accurately mirror your goals.
Once you have found the architect that you want to work with, document
in writing the terms of your agreement including scope of work, services,
schedule, construction budget and the architect’s compensation.
Standard AIA contract forms are available and widely used, and will ensure
that all the terms of the agreement are clearly understood.
Agree to work in partnership with your architect. Take an active role,
and relish your part in the creative challenges ahead. The process should
be dynamic, fun and exciting. If at any point you are not satisfied, discuss
your concerns with your architect. The teamwork between you and your architect,
and the relationship that you are building, will ideally continue well
beyond the completion of your project.