What Exactly Does a Residential Architect Do?

Believe it or not, we get this question a lot.

Many people find the process of engaging with an architect to be daunting. Rather than put a homeowner off, though, our job is actually to counsel and help you manage the details of your design project, so that you can get on with your busy life. This not only includes design and problem solving,  but also project management. Effective project management means that we keep you informed during each step of the design/build process –  reviewing costs, materials and timing. An architect is not just a designer; we’re your guide through a process which – let’s face it – is filled with a certain measure of anxiety.

Now that we’ve defined our role in your building process, let’s review a typical architect/client workflow…

Step 1: ‘Let’s Talk’

Some people call it an interview, others call it a consultation. Nomenclature aside, this initial meeting serves as a chance for both of us to see if working together makes sense. Whether we move forward depends on a lot of factors. The skills you’re seeking and our experience. The nature of  your project. And, finally, your budget and timeline. It’s the job of an architect to help answer any/all questions you might have.

This initial meeting is also an appropriate time for us to talk about stylistic approach and things about the project that stand out as both opportunities and challenges. The result of this meeting should be greater clarity of both your goals and whether we’re a good ‘fit’ for you.

Step 2: Conceptual Design

Conceptual design begins with assessment. If your project is new construction, that means looking at your site’s strengths. For our renovation clients, this also means looking at the existing home.

Once we’ve completed this assessment (which, besides meeting with you might involve taking measured drawings or acquiring a survey), we talk about your expectations. This is where you tell us your ‘wish list’: how many bedrooms and baths, what your ideal kitchen looks and feels like, etc. This is often a complicated list and, at this point, we can offer initial feedback such as how realistic all this might be on your budget or offer suggestions to refine some of your goals.

Based on your preferences, we might show you photos or either ours or others work and we’ll probably sketch ideas out for you ‘on the spot.’ Only when we both feel comfortable with moving forward, will we begin doing some conceptual drawings.

Our next step is to produce initial concept drawings. Our drawings will illustrate floorplans and elevations. These initial drawings give you a chance to see how the expectations you’ve expressed verbally will look and feel, when built. The rest of the conceptual design process is iterative: we’ll continue refining conceptual drawings with you until you’re satisfied that the project is ready to move forward to the next step.

Another task we typically tackle in Step 2 is to suggest builders and help you acquire ballpark construction pricing from them. Human nature being what it is, our dreams are sometimes larger than our budgets. Getting an initial reality check on expectations and finding a competent builder are critical milestones. McIntyre Capron is proud to call some of the region’s best builders our partners and friends and we’ll gladly help with this task.

“The greatest pleasure I derive professionally comes from our collaborations with our clients. There’s nothing  more satisfying than helping a homeowner realize their vision of their ideal home.”

– Tom Weston, AIA, Principal

Step 3: Documentation & Permitting

Comprehensive drawings are produced during this stage. These are the drawings contractors and other consultants use to build your home. These drawings are fully dimensioned and contain detailed information about materials and types of construction. They also allow your contractor to obtain some of the municipal permits necessary, in order to build.

Step 3 can be a bit of a waiting game. Municipalities all differ in the speed with which they review drawings and grant permits. Sometimes this phase can take up to 3 months depending on required documentation. It’s important to build this time into your overall master schedule.

This is when the design is officially handed off to the contractors and other consultants. We tell them what to build to help them translate your design from the intangible to the tangible, but we do not tell them how to build it. We will determine if what is being built is in accordance with what we have designed for you, while those involved with construction use their expertise to help turn your imagination into reality.

“Being part of the construction process is what sets us apart. We are true partners of our clients; we help them get through the sometimes-complicated process of designing (or renovating) their new home. They often have very busy lives; they trust us to make certain that important decisions are made wisely and that their project is moving forward.”

– Scott McIntyre AIA, Principal

Final Thoughts:

Architects can handle a very wide range of responsibilities in a residential design project. It’s important to discuss breadth of involvement during the first meeting and build a shared set of expectations. Although we’re typically hired for our design expertise, our range of services is varied, as we’ve described. There is no ‘one size fits all’ relationship between a homeowner and an architect.