What an Architect Does

As a public service to the AEC profession, we offer Project Management tips (PMt’s) based on our experiences. The basics of project management can be distilled into two ‘tasks’- scheduling and open communication. Master these and you’ll be well on your way to successfully managing projects and becoming a competent architect.

There’s an old phrase I’m sure most of you have heard. The basic format is “Do you want the good news first or the bad news first?” It gives one an option on how to receive conflicting information. Do you want the bad news first and then good news to cheer you up? Do you want the good news first to ‘cut the edge’ of the bad news? At parties it morphs into horrid jokes such as:

Doctor: “I have some good news and I have some bad news.”

Patient: “What’s the good news?”

Doctor: “The good news is the test show you have 24 hours to live.”

Patient: “That’s the good news? What’s the bad news?”

Doctor: “The bad news is that I forgot to tell you yesterday!”

When it comes to the AEC profession, this format doesn’t apply so well. Clients expect the architect to give them good news. Good news is, well it’s good. Usually no big hooray from the client when it’s delivered, that’s what they want, and expect, to hear from the architect. Bad news is… well… it’s bad and most are uncomfortable addressing. However, to be a successful architect, you need to be comfortable with bad news. Construction is a complicated process and stuff will happen that’s bad. To provide your clients with the best service possible, you better channel your inner MJ and tell them Who’s Bad!

To be an effective architect and run successful projects, you need to be the bearer of bad news. This falls under open communication and ranks up there as a difficult technique to become comfortable with. However, mastering this will have a lasting impact on your client relations. Clients don’t recall much of the good news of a project. However, they do recall every bit of bad news and how it was handled. Don’t wait for someone else to inform the client of bad news. Phone the client, or better yet meet face to face- no email, no singing telegrams, no text messages, no twitter update, no snap chat, and no sky writing– and inform them of the issue.

Explain the how/why it happened, what it may impact- budget, schedule, etc. Most importantly, explain how it will be addressed and resolved. Clients understand (for the most part) that sh** happens. It’s how the architect deals with the sh** that matters. If you bring the issue to the client’s attention and explain how it will be resolved, your client’s going to know that you are actively managing the project and truly have their best interests in mind- which you must! However, what will the client think of you if they hear bad news from someone else or worse, there’s an attempt to ‘hide’ it from them? If you don’t know the answer to that, none of my PMt’s can help you.

Continue to deliver the good news to the client, after all it’s good. Everyone loves hearing good news, but keep in mind that’s why they hired you, good news is expected. To endear yourself to your client, become adept with bad news and its’ delivery. Stay tuned, future posts will offer even more tried and tested PMt’s that you can implement on your projects… or ignore, your call. A revised good news/ bad news joke more apt of the AEC profession:

‘Seasoned’ Architect: “I have some good news and I have some bad news.”

Intern: “What’s the bad news?”

‘Seasoned’ Architect: “The slab pour is wrong and it’s going to set the schedule back 38 weeks!”

Intern: “Oh crap, that sucketh. What could possibly be the good news?”

‘Seasoned’ Architect: “You need to ‘learn’ how to deal with bad news… text the client and let ‘em know… see you tomorrow!”


Design On,

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* This post is part of the ArchiTalks series in which a group of ‘blog-ing’ architects select a topic and the group all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs and read varying takes on the topic. This month’s topic is ‘Communication.’ To read how other architects interpreted the topic please click the links below:


Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Communication and the Question of Relevance

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
what does it communicate?

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Types of communication in architecture

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Talk, Write, Draw — A Com Hat Trick

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #36: Project Amplify

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Communication – What, How, Why?

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Tips for Communicating with Your Architect, Interior Designer, or Landscape Architect

Samantha R. Markham – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Why Communication Skills are a Must for Aspiring Architects

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Communication in a Yada Yada World

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Jane Vorbrodt – Kuno Architecture (@janevorbrodt)
Explain Yourself…

There are very few words that I actively try not to use. However, ugly is one of them. It’s far too easy to say “I don’t like that house, it’s ugly!” It’s difficult to say “I don’t like that house because…” Much like beauty, ugly is in the eye of the beholder and is extremely subjective. However, there are a few objective things to address when designing your house to curb potential ugliness. Well, actually… they’re border line subjective as well.

ug-ly • [uhg-lee] • ADJECTIVE

1. very unattractive or unpleasant to look at; offensive to the sense of beauty; displeasing in appearance.

2. disagreeable; unpleasant; objectionable.

3. offensive to the sight.

No two clients have the same needs or wants for their house and each house has its own unique set of circumstances that need to be resolved or addressed. However, a few ‘rules’ are omnipresent- materials, massing, scale, and proportion. These are means/methods available to an architect to assist in the development of their designs. Addressing them will go a long way to creating an aesthetically pleasing house. Keep in mind, these ‘rules’ are typically broken and remain successful. However, one must first know the rules in order to bend/break them successfully.

Materials should be limited to three (3) on the exterior of a house. Materials should be appropriate for their use- don’t wrap columns in vinyl siding. Not counting the foundation, no more than two (2) wall materials should be visible on the exterior of a house. This stems from simplicity and ease of construction. Use of more materials creates an aesthetic of fragmentation and no sense of overall design cohesion. This in turn leads to visual distraction. The use of fewer materials allows focus on the composition of the design and is typically an indicator of a confident architect. Employ fewer materials executed to a higher degree of proficiency.

Massing should be simple. No matter the aesthetic of a house, the massing should be composed of simple forms. This will typically translate to building shapes that are efficient and sensible. There should be a hierarchy of massing. Most houses are composed of more than one single mass. The most important, or most public part of a house, should be the most prominent mass of the house. The massing of a house should rapidly and clearly show two things- the main ‘body’ of the house and the location for people (not cars) to enter the house.

Scale refers to how one perceives the size of the house elements or spaces in relation to other elements and spaces. Both building scale and human scale need to be addressed. Building scale is how the size of building elements relate to each other. Human scale is how the building elements and spaces relate to the human body. Two differing scales can be used simultaneously, and an architect can alter ones perception by use of scale. There are no hard-fast rules for scale, but a designer must be aware of both building and human scale in order for a successful design.

Proportion refers to the relationship of one element to another in terms of quantity, size, or number. It’s the comparative relationship of differing parts to the whole. There are various proportion ‘devices’ developed over the years to aid architects and guide them in their designs… the Golden Section, Modular Man, the ‘Ken’…etc. Various proportions can be found throughout nature. It makes sense to design a house in harmony with proportions that naturally occur in the world. Proportion applies to all aspects of the design of a house. Proportion should not be used arbitrarily; simple harmonious proportions should be used throughout the design of a house.

It’s beneficial to know why you don’t like something so you don’t repeat the same thing. The next time you find yourself thinking/saying a house is ugly, rather than say it’s ugly, try and describe what it is you find displeasing about the house. It’s highly likely you can trace it to a lack of understanding of materials, massing, scale, and proportion.


Design On,

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* This post is part of the ArchiTalks series in which a group of ‘blog-ing’ architects select a topic and the group all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs and read varying takes on the topic. This month’s topic is ‘Ugly.’ To read how other architects interpreted the topic please click the links below:


Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
ugly is ugly

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Ugly Architecture Details

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
unsuccessful, not ugly: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Ugly is in The Details

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Ugly, sloppy, and wrong – oh my!

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[ugly] buildings [ugly] people

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Is My House Ugly? If You Love It, Maybe Not!

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
the ugly truth

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
A Little Ugly Never Hurt Anyone

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Ugly or not ugly Belgian houses?

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
ArchiTalks #30: Ugly

Larry Lucas – Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
Die Hard: 7 Ugly Sins Killing Your Community

I deal with homeowners in various stages of projects for their homes. I’m either dealing with a client that is constructing a new home and trying to sell their current home or one who is renovating/adding on to their existing home but thinking towards the future and re-sale value. Inevitably they always ask for advice as to projects they can do to their existing home to increase its chance of selling quickly now or in the future. Keep in mind, home buyers want to see how great a home looks; they don’t want to hear what it could look like with work. Meaning, these projects actually need to be done for them to add any value to your home. Here are my top 5 projects that pay off when selling your home- as well as refreshing the current home you live in:

1. Paint- For the cost, nothing comes close to the dramatic effect a new coat of paint or color change can have on a home’s interior or exterior. My advice, always paint the ceiling a bright white- I’m not a fan of colored ceilings as they tend to ‘compress’ the space. I’m a big fan of having an accent wall in a few spaces- one wall painted a differing color than the rest of the space. For the exterior, I recommend 3-4 colors. A color for the main body of the house, trim color, accent color for the front door (and possibly some other key pieces of the home), and possibly another color for a secondary material that is prominent on the house. Keep in mind, most of this is mute when dealing with modern homes and exterior materials that are left in their natural state. A well designed modern home can have various natural materials that can create a great composition of texture and color.

2. Flooring, Fixtures, Faucets, + Accessories- A rule of thumb, anything you actually touch should be of good quality and in working order- i.e. door knobs, cabinet pulls, toilet handles, etc. This doesn’t mean you can ignore unseen items, it just means a ‘touched’ item adds more to the perceived value of your home. Worn-out flooring surfaces are a turn off. Replace/clean/repair/refinish flooring throughout the home. Replacing old faucets, sinks, and toilets, can significantly increase the perceived overall value of the home. Cabinet pulls can have a dramatic effect on the perception of the quality of cabinetry. Consider replacing, or adding, cabinet pulls. Cheap and dated lighting fixtures should also be replaced.

3. Additions + Renovations- If you’re planning on selling in the future, but need additional space currently, be sure to plan wisely. An addition that appears ‘tacked on’ with no thought, hurts a home’s value and cheapens the overall impression of the home. Working with an architect is of great value when anticipating a major project on your home. An architect will be sure the overall ‘scale’ of the project is in harmony with the existing and not over, or underwhelming. The current ‘style’ of the home will be examined and addressed as appropriate in the new work. The ‘flow’ of spaces will be planned and laid out efficiently- may not seem like a big deal until you walk through a bedroom to get to a bedroom- yup, I’ve seen that… too often. An architect will address these and many other issues that can increase the value of your home.

4. Kitchens + Bathrooms- These rooms historically have had the best return on investment and continue so. The kitchen has long outgrown its place as merely for cooking, it’s now typically the gathering spot for families. Kitchens have become the focal point of many homes and quality materials/appliances have become the norm. However, keep your homes price range in mind and don’t overdo it with high end items that future buyers aren’t willing to pay for. When it comes to adding a bath or remodeling, be sure to include ample storage and quality (doesn’t have to equate to expensive) fixtures. Ceramic tile is still a good choice for flooring and wall surrounds in bathrooms. The addition of a bath or powder room can greatly increase the value of your home.

5. Landscaping- The exterior of your home plays an important role in the overall first impression of your home. Landscaping can have a dramatic impact on the overall look of your home. Consult with a qualified individual who can provide you with an overall plan for your yard.

Keep personal ‘style’ to a minimum. Infuse your personal style with furniture, accessories, artwork, window treatments, etc. These can easily be reworked by another, such that they can make the house their own. When selling your home this may entail removing personal items such that potential buyers can envision themselves living in the home and not feeling that the home is ‘owned’ by you.

So that’s my broad sweeping list of what’s worked for my clients over the years. What has worked for you? What other projects/advice do you have to share?


Design On,

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* Originally posted June 18 2013, edited/revised per date above- See what I did there… 5… Value… V… Roman Numeral 5.

It’s always a thrill when meeting a potential client for the first time. Excitement. Nerves. Possibilities. That’s how I feel as the architect. Once I’m in their house I don’t get on the sales pitch soap box. The great thing about the modern ‘online world’ is that clients can do vast amounts of research before calling an architect. They’ve seen my work and know what I can do. I don’t need to sell myself at this point… well, I’m always selling the virtues of an architect, it’s just covert at this point.

We start walking through the house. The clients go on and on- in a good way- talking about their project. I spend most of the time listening shaking the dog off my leg, checking out their medicine cabinets and nodding my head… after all it’s their project that they wish to share with me. I see the glitter in their eye as they discuss wishes and goals for the project. Really good clients have binders full of images they like. The best clients can describe why they like them. Finally they’ve exhausted themselves. Then it happens. They turn to me and ask, “So what’s the answer? What will it look like when it’s done?” They seem to be waiting for me to snap my fingers, toss my cape back over my shoulder (I really should start wearing a cape) and exclaim “A-ha, I’ve got it!” However, my typical response is “Yes. No. Something. I don’t know.” To which I’m greeted with a blank stare for two minutes… than a nervous laugh… then the client says “ No, really, what’s it going to look like?”

Sometimes it’s a bit of a let down to the client that I don’t have an initial grand vision for their project. If I did, it would be my vision and not theirs. I don’t work that way. The bad thing about the modern ‘online world’ is that clients want answers instantly. I explain how I approach each project by striving to define the inherent design issue(s) at hand. I need to figure out how they ‘live’ life on a daily basis and what is or isn’t currently working for them in their house. I don’t approach a project with a preconceived notion of an aesthetic- style if you wish. I strive to absorb a client’s beliefs and wishes and respond with an appropriate design. This doesn’t happen at the first meeting. Occasionally, I have them fill out a questionnaire in an attempt to further solidify their goals and wishes for the project. Then it happens. They look at me and exclaim “A-ha, so we’re going to be involved more than we thought. We have a say in what this will look like, nice. This sounds like a lot of fun!” Trust me, it’s a barrel of monkey’s kind of fun.

My initial meeting with a client involves a vast amount of listening, looking, and investigating the root of the design issue(s) at hand. Good design is listening and investigating, only after doing such can an architect respond appropriately. I suspect a majority of architects would agree.

A client’s project starts as theirs, but if it’s successful it doesn’t end that way. I like the give and take between architect and client, it makes for a rewarding experience and project for both of us. The most successful projects start as a client’s project and end as our project. It never becomes my project. So take on me (see what I did there) as your architect and we’ll come up with a project that’s not yours or mine, but ours.


Design On,

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* Originally posted April 16 2014, edited/revised per date above- Come on a-ha and a barrel of monkey’s… in one post… never done before, couldn’t have been..


Yesterday I was informed of two of things:

1. A residential renovation/addition project I interviewed for was not going to be- the potential client selected another firm.

2. The Schematic Design of a new custom residential house will stay just that, schematic design- the clients will possibly build in the future.

Not the information an architect wants to receive. However, before you start feeling sorry for me and sending pies, mountain dew, and skittles to cheer me up, know this- I’m okay with the news. My clients and potential clients informed me of their decision. While I’m not excited about it, they had the decency to inform me of such. I respect the fact that these clients/ potential clients trusted me and were comfortable having open honest communication. However, that’s not always the case.

As an architect I am constantly marketing and providing information in hopes of securing new work and clients. Several times a week I receive emails like these:


We stumbled across your site on the Internet and hope to speak with you in detail about our farmhouse renovation project. My contact is 123-456-7891 and my husband, ‘Male Potential Client’, can be reached at 123-456-9876.

Thank you,

‘Female Potential Client’

Sent from my iPad”




 “I sent you a quick note via Houzz earlier today and we are interested in talking to you about our project.

I am looking for an architect to design a ‘garage’ attached or adjacent to our house. This garage will have some features of a ‘man cave’ including an area devoted to a ‘gumball arcade’. We would like to invite you to come to our property and look at the possibilities and discuss your ideas and fees for creating a drawing for us. Home is farmhouse style on 14 acres.  

‘Male & Female Potential Client’

Cell:  123-456-1234”

I respond to such inquires with a few questions to get the conversation started. I forward a Residential Design Guidebook that I have developed over the years- it outlines the process of working with an architect and the phases involved. I provide previous project cut sheets that are in sync with the client’s vision for the project. I research property tax records, applicable codes, and zoning requirements. In total this accounts for about 1-2 hours of my time, I consider it due diligence and it affords me the ability to talk realistically about the potential project. I keep the dialogue going via email and/or phone. If all goes well I meet the client, discuss the project, propose a fee/agreement, client is agreeable and we have a new client and new project… * air high fives and pistol gestures* whoo hoo!




However, for various reasons, sometimes clients say no… and that’s okay. My issue is when there is no response. What causes a potential client to be unresponsive? Nothing, nada, zip, the sound of chirping at dusk. Calls stop being returned, emails unanswered, no response. As a potential client, typically you initiate the conversation and request some sort of information. I am more than happy to respond and provide you with information to help you make an informed decision, but please let me know your decision. I don’t spend an enormous amount of time during the initial conversations or creating the information I provide. However, I do spend enough time that warrants a response. As an architect I deal with bad news regularly, it’s part of the profession and I can handle it. No news, well that just drives me crazy!

Is this just me venting due to losing some projects this week? Possibly. However, I’ve thought about this frequently, it’s an issue of common decency. When you are provided with information the least you can do is respond, even if it’s a no, just say “thanks, but I’m not interested.” I respected you by offering a bit of my time and expertise, afford me the same. Inform me, good or bad, such that I can focus my energies accordingly. As a potential client, you should know that it’s okay to say “no” to an architect- we don’t like it, but we can accept it and move on… on second thought, just say yes to your architect, it’ll make things easier for both of us


Design On,

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* Originally posted November 18, 2013, edited/revised per date above… no need to thank me for this post.


I’ve been involved with client based single family residential design for over twenty years. I’ve worked on single room additions, five million dollar+ custom houses, and everything in-between. Each house has its own unique set of circumstances that need to be resolved or addressed. No two clients have the same set of circumstances or needs/wants for their house. However, one issue is always prevalent- value. Usually value is associated with a monetary amount, but that’s not always true. Clients talk about wanting to add, increase, and maintain value… but typically they’re not sure what value they’re talking about or how it applies to their house.

So how does one address value in a house? It’s actually pretty simple; value in a house comes down to common sense and avoiding excess frill. Value comes from things that make sense and enhance ones comfort and enjoyment of living in a house. A valuable house should employ as many of the following as possible:

1. Location/ Orientation house should be located within a reasonable proximity to the client’s daily needs. Ideally, the house should be in a mixed-use community that offers various amenities with-in walking distance- the less dependent on a vehicle the better for the environs and one’s health. A house should be orientated to take advantage of the sun, prevailing winds, and site specific features. In addition, the house interior should have a connection to the outdoors, both visually and physically.

2. Sustainable house should take advantage of both passive and active sustainable building practices. There are numerous exterior and interior strategies/ methods that can be employed to reduce a house’s impact on the environment. However, the best thing is to construct only the spaces necessary.

3. Floor Plan should meet your needs and how you live. Do not design for what you are told is needed to re-sell the home or include whatever the latest trend is, i.e. “man cave/ diva den.” You don’t want rooms that you never use- not only will you have to furnish them but you will also have to heat and cool them- those monies are better spent elsewhere. Efficiency can be achieved by the minimization of the plan and simple building volumes.

4. Rooms/ Spaces all rooms and spaces should have ample daylight, sufficient applicable storage, and logically accommodate the intended furniture. Dedicated hallways and circulation spaces should be kept to a minimum. (entries to the house should be ‘spaces’ not just doors)

5. Kitchens + Bathrooms should be well organized, have efficient layouts, and provide ample storage- all of which can be achieved in a compact or moderately sized space.


6. Mudroom minimum should include a washable floor, floor drain, and utility sink with a hose attachment. Ideally each occupant of the house would have their own cubby/locker for storage. The mudroom should be located wherever the family foot traffic passes on a daily basis. (it’s usually not the front door)

7. Garage cars are a reality that is not going away any time soon. However, a garage should not be the dominate element on a house. Ideally the garage should be set-back from the main elevation, or even better, if the site allows, the garage should be located on the side/rear and/or underneath of a house.

8. Roof complicated gables, hips, gambrels, etc. can be very distracting to the overall design of a home- they’re even more difficult to flash, vent, and properly waterproof. A roof should be simple in design and shed water.

9. Materials use low-maintenance long lasting materials.

10. Quality should take precedence over quantity. This applies to the entire house- overall size, rooms/ spaces, finishes, etc. Employ fewer elements executed to a higher degree of proficiency.


The most valuable houses are the ones located in mixed-use walkable communities. Ideally the house is close to the owner’s daily needs. Houses that rely on an efficiency of space and are well designed with simple forms and details. Houses designed to meet the needs of the owners, minimize the life-cycle costs of operating and maintaining the house. A house designed for who you are and how you live – these are characteristics of a valuable house.


Design On,

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* Originally posted September 24, 2013, edited/revised per date above.

What is the best house? Is it a mid-century modern? Perhaps it’s a contemporary? Is it a Georgian Revival? Is it a Craftsman Bungalow? Is it a 100 year old renovated farmhouse? Or is it something else? Yes… it’s all of these; the best house is the house that works for you and your lifestyle! However, without an architect, achieving the best house for you is challenging.

Most likely you’ve lived your entire life in one sort or another of a house. Typically we take our houses for granted and do not appreciate just how many decisions have to be made prior to constructing a new house, or renovating/adding to an existing house. At some point, someone had to think through the entire design and construction process- address needs, wishes, budget, schedule, and comply with local building and zoning codes- all while ensuring that the resultant house was structurally sound, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing. The best ‘someone’ for the task is an architect. Architects are educated to help you define your needs, present options you may not have considered, prepare documents that instruct how your house is to be built, and assist you in the myriad of decisions inherent in the design/construction process… all while making it fun!


Your house may be the most expensive project you will ever undertake. If you are making such an investment, and you want your house to reflect who you are and how you live, hiring an architect is a must. An architect will help you design/discover a house that works for you and fits your individuality and preferences. This house, your house, will be vastly different than one designed for someone else. Your house will fit you, and your family, like a glove. An architect will assist you in bridging the gap between your vision and reality.

We architects take the opportunity to work with you on such an important aspect of your life very seriously. One of the most enjoyable aspects of our work is that we are hired to create wonderful places for daily living. It is a very rewarding experience for both architect and client. What is the best house? Easy, the best house is the house that works for you and your lifestyle! How to achieve the best house- well that’s a bit more challenging and should involve an architect.

What is the best house for you? Talk to an architect and begin the journey, it’ll be a great experience!


Design On,

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* Originally posted October 14, 2013, edited/revised per date above… and by ‘architect’ I mean talk to me 😉

The Design Process of an Architect Series is aimed at potential clients, with the goal of addressing the typical design process of an architect. De-mystifying the design process for the client affords them the understanding of what it is we as architects do, how we do it, and the value of our services. I believe that an educated client is the best client. Prior posts in the series covered Programming, Schematic Design, Construction vs. Project Budgets, Preliminary Construction Cost Estimate (PCCE), Design Development, Construction Documents, and Permitting and Bidding.


There is the never ending debate about Construction Administration (CA) and the architect’s role and whether or not he/she is even involved. As an architect you need to be doing CA; and as a client, you want your architect doing CA. Simple and clear- no debate. You’ve engaged an architect to design your home and prepare construction documents for such. It’s a significant investment of your time and money. Why not ensure the construction documents are followed? My role as your architect should not be limited during construction. I authored the drawings and have the most knowledge of them, I should- and as a client, you want me to- be the one interpreting them.

You wouldn’t represent yourself in a court of law, would you? Maybe you would if you’re on Judge Judy- but that’s not real court. You don’t self-diagnose and then perform your own surgery, do you? If you do, stop reading, put the scalpel down and walk away. So why would you think you could represent yourself during a construction project? The construction process is inherently complicated. As a client, you need someone representing you and your best interests. Who better for that role than the author of the design/documents? A contractor can ‘read’ the drawings but they cannot correctly interpret them as they are not the author.

blog_23_04What is CA? This is the construction phase of a project. The term CA refers to the role of architect during construction, which is to administer- and sometimes enforce- the agreement between you the client and your contractor. Basically, the architect is involved during this process to see that during construction the contractor is following the construction documents. An architect is also available to both the contractor and client to answer questions, mediate any disagreements that may arise, and in general serve as a resource for the project. During construction, there will almost always be questions, unforeseen circumstances, etc. The ability of the client, contractor, and architect to work through these events as a collaborative team will have a significant effect not only on the final product, but also on the client’s level of stress throughout. It’s important to note that CA not only occurs at the site, but also in the architect’s office as he/she reviews, prepares clarifications, responds to questions, etc. regarding the project.

blog_23_02To protect the incompetent, no names will be used. This did happen on a job of mine, I didn’t make this up- although I wish I had. Picture a freestanding garage under construction. Floor slab plan indicates a slope to the garage door of 1/8” per 1’-0; standard stuff. Driving past the site one day I glance over and what I see nearly causes me to wreck my truck. What was witnessed can only be described as a prototype ramp for an ‘X-Games’ event- one involving the reincarnation of Evel Kneivel. Long story short, formwork was put up at a slope ratio of 18” per 1’-0. We weren’t contracted for CA on the project- client felt he could do it himself. However, we were morally obligated to inform the client and contractor. You can ponder what would have happened if that wasn’t caught by the architect- i.e. me, named because I’m competent. A blatant error and easy to catch. However, all issues are not always so obvious. There are numerous things, big and small, that can go wrong during construction.

I believe in providing flexibility to our clients and their needs/wants. However, there are certain CA services I feel we must provide to feel confident that the desired end product will be achieved and the client’s best interests are kept in check. In addition, things don’t always go as planned in the field. As the architect, you need to be involved to confirm that the design intent is maintained. Below is a typical schedule of our minimum level of CA service- I rarely accept a project if we do not perform this basic CA:

Pre-Construction Meeting Prior to construction, this is a meeting between the client, contractor, and architect to review drawings, assign points-of-contact, discuss construction schedule, etc. This is done to establish a good working relationship, to make sure the drawings are understood and answer any questions about them, and in general to head off any potential conflicts.

Site Visits

1. Foundation and Footings- Site visit after excavation and prior to foundation/footing work. Site visit before framing starts to ensure foundation and footings have been done according to the drawings.

2. Substantial Completion of Framing- Site visit prior to any subcontractors moving too far ahead on their portion of the work. It is easier to make any field framing adjustments when they are not complicated by mechanical, plumbing, or electrical in the walls.

3. Pre-Electrical- Site visit to perform an electrical/lighting walk-thru with the client and the contractor, finalizing locations for switches, outlets, fixtures, etc. Boxes in-place for review, but not wired.

4. Before Drywall- Site visit before drywall is installed to review rough-in work of subcontractors, as well as insulation and sealing.

5. Trim work 50%- Site visit while trimming is ongoing to help resolve any issues in the field while they are there.

6. Substantial Completion- This is the point of construction when the project is sufficiently complete, so that the client may use or occupy the building project for the intended purpose, without undue interference. We will do a walk-thru with the client and contractor. The purpose of the walk-thru is to generate a punch list. The punch list indicates items of work requiring corrective or completion action by the contractor- a list of discrepancies that need to be corrected by the contractor prior to issuing final payment.

Keep in mind; this is the basic CA that we perform. There are various other optional CA Services we can provide. As part of CA, after ALL site visits, a field report should be issued to all involved parties.


Still not convinced you need an architect during CA? Fellow architect Lee Calisti, author of the blog think | architect, has a post addressing CA as well. Listed below is his summary of ‘10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction:’

1. The contractor will work it out, it’s their job

2. Contractors don’t want architects on the job site

3. They should be able to figure it out from the drawings

4. The contractors know what will meet code

5. The client is paying twice if the architect and contractor are both there

6. The owner will be there to oversee the construction

7. Contractors always read the drawings

8. The subcontractors read the drawings

9. The contractor’s opinion of equivalent is the same as the architect’s

10. The owner can build this on their own and be their own G.C.

Be sure to read Lee’s full post here -> 10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction on think | architect.

A successful design and construction project is a team effort. The team is comprised of the architect, contractor, and client. Would you bench a team player at the moment in time you need him the most, specifically to interpret the ‘plays’? As a client, do yourself a favor and retain your architect for CA


Design On,

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* Architect… it does CA good!

The Design Process of an Architect Series is aimed at potential clients, with the goal of addressing the typical design process of an architect. De-mystifying the design process for the client affords them the understanding of what it is we as architects do, how we do it, and the value of our services. I believe that an educated client is the best client. Prior posts in the series covered Programming, Schematic Design, Construction vs. Project Budgets, Preliminary Construction Cost Estimate (PCCE), Design Development and Construction Documents.

blog_22_01The Permitting and Bidding Phases of work are the final planning phase or “pre-construction” portion of your project. This phase can be viewed as approvals and costs. Simply put, this is where the construction documents are submitted for permit approvals from the local building authorities- giving you ‘official’ permission to construct your project- and for final pricing or bids from the contractor(s). Depending on local requirements, the permit application can be filed/ applied for by the owner, contractor, architect, or a permit expeditor. However, I recommend the contractor performing the work be the one responsible for obtaining the permits.

Typically the same construction documents are used for both permitting and pricing, in which case the same sets of documents would be sent concurrently to the permit office and applicable contractor(s). However, it is possible that for a multitude of possible reasons, such as expediency, sets of drawings with differing levels of detail may be prepared and sent to the different parties on differing dates. The process will also differ if you have already selected a contractor. In this instance, the formal bid process described below would be by-passed for a final contract negotiation process with your contractor.


In a typical bid scenario, while drawings are ‘in’ for permit, we invite two or three general contractors to bid on your project based on the completed set of construction documents, including a bid form to be completed by each contractor. This helps ensure we receive comparable bids. Bids would be due on a set date. As your architect, bids are sent to our attention for review, inquiry and clarification; and then to you. From these bids, you would select a contractor. Keep in mind, we will assist you in evaluating their qualifications, reviewing their bids, and in negotiating a contract for construction. However, to obtain valuable input as your project develops, we generally recommend that you pre-select and hire the contractor early in the design process. A good design-build partnership with a contractor will help clarify the design intent, develop a solid approach to construction, establish good details, reduce redundancy, and help reduce overall costs. You and your architect will benefit from their resources and construction knowledge.

blog_22_03As your architect, we can add peace of mind by helping you obtain an accurately estimated bid contract. While we provide valuable assistance in the selection process, remember, the final choice is up to you. You will be working with the selected contractor for a long time, and a comfortable relationship with the contractor is very important. It should be emphasized that reputation and trust are extremely important factors in choosing a contractor. It is not uncommon for an owner to select a contractor other than the lowest bidder due to factors such as schedule/availability, experience, and/or personality.


When you have selected a contractor, executed a construction contract and received necessary permit approvals, you are ready to start construction. Rest assured that we will assist you throughout the construction of your home. The term Contract Administration (CA) refers to our role as architect during construction, which is to administer (and sometimes enforce) the agreement between you and your contractor. We are involved during this process to see that the contractor is following, and interpreting correctly, the construction documents during construction. We are also available to both the contractor and you to answer questions, mediate any disagreements that may arise, and in general serve as a resource for the project.

blog_22_05It is important to note that the construction process is inherently complicated. There will almost always be questions, unforeseen circumstances, etc. The ability of the owner, contractor, and architect to work through these events as a collaborative team will have a significant effect not only on the final product, but also on your level of stress throughout. A successful design and construction project is a team effort. The team is comprised of the architect, contractor, and you, the client. Would you bench a team player at the moment in time you need him the most, specifically to interpret the ‘plays’? As a client, do yourself a favor and retain your architect for CA.


Design On,

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* You’ll  not save money by not engaging your architect during construction… you’ll actually pay more money and increase your frustration.

I don’t get to draw all day. Often times clients and architects say “Isn’t that great, you/ I get to draw all day and get paid!” I know it’s typically stated flippantly, but we, or at least myself, need to really think about that. That’s not what we do and it’s part of the perception problem that the public has with what we architects do. “Don’t you architects just do some drawings?” No. No we don’t. Now before you get up on your soap box and start calling me out, I admit… I’ve been guilty of stating the same thing. However, I’m making a conscious effort to not say that anymore, it marginalizes what we do. Part of our role as architects is educating the public what it is we really do… we fall short on doing so, at least I know I do.

blog_20_01We architects get excited about meeting new clients and voicing our thoughts on the design problem and the solutions we have. We prepare awesome drawings that represent the vision for the project, with any luck the client loves them… andpause…that right there is part of the problem. The problem is quite simple; it’s the ‘awesome drawings’ the client sees. Even worse, if we’ve been good at the design solution, the resultant drawings look effortless and as if that was the only solution. While awesome drawings are… well, awesome, they can also be a detriment. We need to do a better job at explaining the architect’s value to our clients lies well beyond the drawings created… and that we don’t just draw all day.


An architect’s value is lost on the client if they only see the drawings and aren’t fully vetted as to the process/experience that ‘created’ the drawings. It’s the drawings backed by such that instills value. Yes architects draw. However, drawing is part of a larger process of architecture. A process backed with experience and expertise. The process involves problem solving, addressing your needs/wishes/budget/schedule, and complying with local building and zoning codes- all while designing an aesthetically pleasing efficient structure. Architects help you design/discover a structure that works for you and fits your individuality and preferences. The value of an architect’s services is occasionally related directly to cost savings. However, typically our value is in questioning, planning, clarification, detailing, and ‘solidifying’ numerous moving ‘parts’ into a cohesive design- which ultimately results in cost savings to you. This in turn enhances the value we bring to a project. Drawings play a supporting role in the overall process.

Drawings themselves do not bring value to architecture. It’s the due diligence, experience, role of the architect in the design/construction process, and the thought(s) that created the drawings that bring value. Many people seem to be under the impression that drawings are cheap, and they’re right. Drawings themselves are cheap. However, it’s the thought and expertise that ‘back’ drawings created by an architect that’s going to cost. You can have cheap drawings; you’re just not going to get them from me or any other architect who has your best interests in mind. As a client, you need to look past the architect’s drawings and be cognizant of the process that created the drawings. The drawings themselves are cheap, heck I’ll even pay* for the paper myself. What you’re paying for is the architect’s expertise that created those drawings.

blog_20_03No, I don’t get to draw all day everyday, my typical day looks more like this- Drawing Baths and Architecture. Yes I do get to draw, but my drawings are more than graphic representations. They are a wealth of knowledge and are backed by a solid thought process. Architects offer a service in which drawings are a tool to reach a conclusion… a conclusion that ultimately brings value to your project. Drawings are a product; architects provide a service, a valuable service!


Design On,

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Offer only applies when my services are rendered for the project, cannot be combined with any other offers unless Neutra comes back to life and wants to collaborate. Originally posted July 02 2014, edited/revised per date above.