To get the most out of an architect’s skill, it is best to present him or her with a problem statement rather than a solution. Isolating the problem statement is easier said than done.
I find clients usually understand their design problems perfectly. They know what parts of their layout are inefficient, which finishes are outdated, which views are not accessed, which views should be blocked, what needs are simply not provided for in their home.
Most clients take the next step and propose a solution: “We need a room laid out like so, with a door here and a window here.” Of course no one knows your house better than you do. However, an architect can step back, analyze your needs and study your house as a system which accomplishes the following:
- provides space for needs and uses
- allows varying levels of access
- expresses family priorities
- allows for privacy as well as togetherness
- interacts with its surroundings
By taking all of these factors into account, in addition to issues of structure, cost, codes, and so on, an architect can present a solution you may have never thought of that solves your problem very well.
Here’s an example. A two-career, two-computer couple hired me to add a study/library to their home. They stated that they wanted this room right off of the kitchen, because it would be “close to everything.” They felt that the problem which needed solving was: how do we get light into the kitchen if we block off its sliding glass door with another room.
I understood that this couple needed a new room, but questioned whether it had to be right off of the kitchen. In fact, that would make it too close to everything. Another location was proposed, a little further off the beaten track. This proposed location was secluded enough for actual study to take place. It had the added benefit of being structurally simple and not taking away light and access which were established and enjoyed.
Your architect will help peel apart the issues driving your design. The first few sessions may well consist largely of discussion and questions about your house, your needs, your priorities, etc.
When presented with solutions you may never have thought of, it is best to have an open mind. You may discover that the architect has hit upon a great solution! It goes without saying, though, you are the final judge. A good way to evaluate a design is to ask the following question: Does it solve your problem? This is the most important thing a design must do.
I recommend that clients keep a record of the design process. A notebook or journal allows you to have a central location for questions, issues raised at each meeting, items to consider for the next meeting, opinions, priorities, lists, and so on.
Many clients clip (or download) photos of projects they like. I regard these as impressions of style, not as solutions to reproduce.
If you have house plans already, by all means, bring them. It will give the architect a good head start on preparing “as-builts.” This can save many hours of billable time.
Bring a budget, even if it is not “set in stone.” Without a budget figure to work with, an architect will probably propose more or less than you want.
Eventually, you will be responsible to provide data such as your legal description and tax assessor’s number (for permit). If site analysis is required, such as a letter or report from a soils engineer, it is typically provided by the client.
© 2001 Laura Kraft – All Rights Reserved