Monday, June 27

Do you need an architect?

I realized after my last blog entry about how to hire an architect that I'd skipped the crucial question.  Do you really need an architect to accomplish your construction project?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no - here's some information to help you decide:

In many, if not most localities in this country, you do not need an architect for a residential construction project.  The result, in my opinion, is that you find the same developer style house everywhere in this country, regardless of site and location.  As a business model for contractors, it worked very well until the mortgage meltdown of the past few years.  I can't deny that most contractors building a home or addition without an architect usually do an adequate job in the planning and can most often provide a generic design aesthetic that satisfies people who are not picky about the design of their home environment.  Their real shortfall is in building something site specific to take advantage of the surrounding environment, both in how the site is used, and how the house responds to the site and/or providing something with a unique aesthetic.  Their bottom line also influences the finishes used for the final product.  So you end up with a cookie cutter house, just like the one next door.  Why is anyone surprised that the value of most houses on the market has dropped so much?  Too much of the same thing is too much.

Here are some situations where you want to hire an architect:
1.  If you're fortunate enough to own a piece of property for that dream house you've been thinking about, hire an architect to turn it into reality.
2.  Building an addition or renovation that requires an imaginative vision, a rich design aesthetic and/or structural changes.
3.  Reconfiguring a space; a design professional can make a huge difference as to how efficiently and creatively your space is used.

You probably don't need an architect if:
1.  If you already know exactly what it is you want and you like being in charge and working directly with the contractor, you don't need a design professional.
2.  Take a critical look at your property.  It may not be worth the investment of your time and a professional's time if what you're thinking about doesn't make sense financially, especially if you're not planning staying at this property for any length of time.

Original Boathouse (left) and completed redesign of Boathouse (right).
Take this Boathouse as an example where I think hiring an architect made a world of difference for the clients.  It was very close to the water, so it wasn't possible to get a building permit to build something new.  The existing structure was not in great condition, so most of it was going to have to be rebuilt.  The clients wanted to be able to house guests (which required adding at least a bathroom) and their boating equipment.  Compounding the challenge, the site flooded periodically during storms.  Working within the town's guidelines, we were able to rebuild within the existing footprint, placing the boat storage below the living quarters.  Above we created a guest house with a bedroom, bath, kitchenette and living room - plus ample decks from which to enjoy the view.  I especially liked the gangplanks we designed to get to the ground level from the porches.

Once you have defined your goal, and you've decided to hire an architect (per my last blog entry),  you're ready to embark on collaborating to fulfill your vision.