How to Hire an Architect

Find an Architect

The Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has many professional members with a wide variety of experience in many building types. We recommend you review the below referenced “How to Hire an Architect”, “Six Steps Involved in Design and Construction” and “20 questions” pages.

Many of the members have links to their company’s website, which will give information on that particular company’s experience and building types. Please call the company, and tell them you received information on them from the AIA Chesapeake Bay web site. The American Institute of Architects is a group made up of individuals, not companies.  The Member Directory on our website lists our members by both their names and their firm names.

How Design Works for You

If you’ve never worked with an architect before, you likely have questions. Does your project really require an architect? At what point should you involve a design team? What is it like to work with an AIA architect, and how do you get the most out of the experience? Here you can find answers and tools to guide you through the five stages of design, and watch clients and architects describe how the process worked for them. Note: this link will take you to the AIA National’s website http://howdesignworks.aia.org/

How To Hire an Architect

Each architect has his or her own style, approach to design, and methods of work. So it’s important to find an architect who understands your style and needs. If you have already worked with a particular architect and feel comfortable, it makes sense to call him or her again. If not, you’ll have to do a little work.

A Little Homework Goes a Long Way

First, think carefully about your building needs and goals. Do you need more space? What activities will be housed in the space? How much can you spend on the project? How will you finance it? Where will it be located? Do you plan to do some of the work yourself? Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. The architect can help you clarify your goals, if necessary.

Start building a list of potential architects. Find out who designed the projects in your community that you like. Get recommendations from friends, relatives, or acquaintances who have worked with architects. Check to see if the architect is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Membership in the AIA means that the architect subscribes to a professional code of ethics and has access to a variety of professional and technical resources.

Call each firm on your list. Describe your project and ask if they are available to take on your project. If they are, request literature outlining the firm’s qualifications and experience. If the office is unable to handle your project, ask if they can suggest another firm. The materials you receive from interested firms might include a letter of interest, brochures, fact sheets, photos of past work, and biographical material about key personnel. Look beyond the style of the brochure to determine which firms have the right experience and capabilities for your project. At this point, you should be able to narrow your list to two or three architects you will interview.

Talking Chemistry

The interview is crucial because it gives you a chance to meet the people who will design your project and to see if the chemistry is right. Remember, you will be working with the architect for a long time. You want someone with whom you feel comfortable.

Allow at least an hour for the interview. The meeting might take place at the architect’s office – helpful because you can see where the work will be done. Or the interview can be held at your home or office – helpful because the architect can learn more about your project and needs – whichever feels right. The architect may show you slides or photographs of past work and describe how the firm’s experience and expertise will help you. While many architects do not charge for this interview, some do. Before the interview, ask if there is a fee.

During the interview, ask questions. How busy is the firm? Does it have the capacity to take on your work? Who will handle the job? Insist on meeting the person who will actually handle your project. What is the firm’s design philosophy? How does the architect intend to approach your project? How interested is the firm in your job? Talk about your budget and find out the range of fees that the architect would anticipate for your project. Before making a final selection, have the architect take you to one completed project. It is proper to ask your architect for references from past clients. These references are invaluable.

Making the Final Cut

Ultimately, you will choose the architect whom you trust and feel is right for the project. Unlike buying a car or a new appliance, you can’t see the final product and test it out. The architect provides professional services, not a product. The right architect will be the one who can provide the judgment, technical expertise, and creative skills, at a reasonable cost, to help you realize a project that fits your practical needs as well as your dreams.

A Word on How Architects Get Paid

How architects charge for their services can be confusing to first-time clients. There is no set fee for a particular type of project. Fees are established in a number of ways, depending on the sort of project, and the amount and nature of the services best suited to your unique needs.

Some projects are done at hourly rates; others for a stipulated sum per unit, based on what is to be built (for example, the number of square feet, apartments, rooms, etc.). Some architects charge a fixed fee; others charge a percentage of construction costs. The architect may suggest a combination of the above methods. The basis for the fee, the amount, and payment schedule are issues for you and your architect to work out together.

Team Work

The best building projects are created when the client and architect work together as a team. Take an active role. Don’t delegate decision-making to a spouse or business partner unless you are prepared to live with his or her decisions.

Designing a building is an exciting, creative challenge. The process can be fun, satisfying, and positive. It also can be hard work. If at any time in the design process you are uncomfortable, discuss your concerns with your architect. You don’t want the architect to control the project to the point that the building is no longer yours. But you also want to be careful not to restrict the architect so much that you are not getting your money’s worth in terms of design creativity.

Get It In Writing

Once you have found the architect, you are ready to put in writing the terms of your agreement on the scope of work, services, schedule, construction budget, and architect’s compensation. This written agreement can take many forms. The American Institute of Architects has developed a variety of standard contract forms which are used industry wide.

Six Steps Involved in Design and Construction

Design and construction projects involve several steps. Typically, projects go through the following six phases. However, on some projects, several of these steps may be combined or there may be additional ones.

Step 1: Programming/Deciding What to Build

The homeowner and architect discuss the requirements for the project (how many rooms, the function of the spaces, etc.), testing the fit between the owner’s needs, wants and budget.

Step 2: Schematic Design/Rough Sketches

The architect prepares a series of rough sketches, known as schematic design, which show the general arrangement of rooms and of the site. Some architects also prepare models to help visualize the project. The homeowner approves these sketches before proceeding to the next phase.

Step 3: Design Development/Refining the Design

The architect prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed design. Floor plans show all the rooms in correct size and shape. Outline specifications are prepared listing the major materials and room finishes.

Step 4: Preparation of Construction Documents

Once the homeowner has approved the design, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications, which the contractor will use to establish actual construction cost and build the project. The drawings and specifications become part of the building contract.

Step 5: Hiring the Contractor

The homeowner selects and hires the contractor. The architect may be willing to make some recommendations. In many cases, homeowners choose from among several contractors they’ve asked to submit bids on the job. The architect can help you prepare bidding documents as well as invitations to bid and instructions to bidders.

Step 6: Construction Administration

While the contractor will physically build the home or the addition, the architect can assist the homeowner in making sure that the project is built according to the plans and specifications. The architect can make site visits to observe construction, review and approve the contractor’s application for payment, and generally keep the homeowner informed of the project’s progress. The contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules and procedures

20 Questions

  • What does the architect see as important issues or considerations in your project?
  • How will the architect approach your project?
  • How will the architect gather information about your needs, goals, etc.?
  • How will the architect establish priorities and make decisions?
  • Who from the architecture firm will be dealing with you directly?
  • Is that the same person who will be designing the project? Who will be designing the project?
  • How interested is the architect in this project?
  • How busy is the architect?
  • What sets this architect apart form the rest?
  • How does the architect establish fees?
  • What would the architect expect the fee to be for this project?
  • What are the steps in the design process?How does the architect organize the process?
  • What does the architect expect you to provide?
  • What is the architect’s design philosophy?
  • What is the architect’s experience/track record with cost estimating?
  • What will the architect show you along the way to explain the project? Will you see models, drawings, or sketches?
  • If the scope of the project changes later in the project, will there be additional fees? How will these fees be justified?
  • What services does the architect provided during construction?
  • How disruptive will construction be? How long does the architect expect it to take to complete your project?
  • Does the architect have a list of past clients with whom the firm has worked?

You and Your Architect

The American Institute of Architects also provides a brochure entitled “You and Your Architect” which also contains useful information.


AIA Chesapeake Bay Chapter — 86 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401 410.268.3534