Getting Started

The best way to begin a new project is for you-the owner-to reflect on what you bring to it: knowledge, experience, needs, desires, aspirations, and personal opinions. You also provide the resources to realize your expectations.

Naturally, every owner starts from a different outlook. Some have had vast experience with design and construction and know what they want and how to go about getting it. Many owners have much less experience.

Whatever your situation, it makes sense to begin with some self-examination to assess what you already know about your project and what you will establish with your architect's help. The questions outlined below can serve as a guide.

You don't need firm or complete answers to these questions at this point. Indeed, your architect will help you think them through. A general understanding of where you are, however, will help you select the best architect for the project.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What activities do you expect to house in the project? Do you have specific ideas on how to translate these activities into specific spaces and square footage areas? In any event, an architect with experience in your particular building type can help you immensely to refine your design program (the collection of parameters from which design is derived).
  • Has a site been established, or will this decision also be a subject of discussion with the architect and others?
  • Have you and those with whom you are talking fixed a construction schedule and budget?
  • What are your design aspirations? What thought have you given to the design message and amenities you are seeking in this project? What are your overall expectations for the project?
  • What are your motivations, both basic and high-minded, and what role does this project play in achieving your overall goals?
  • How do you make decisions? Will a single person sign off on decisions? Do you have a building committee? How much information do you need to make decisions?
  • Where will the resources come from to create and operate this project? (Your architect can help you considerably here, for instance, to tap into reliable capital assistance or leverage modest first-cost upgrades into enormous life-cycle savings.)
  • How much experience do you have in design and construction? Have you done this before? If so, where have you been most successful, and where were you disappointed?

Courtesy of aia.org

Steps in the Process

Programming (deciding what to build): You and your architect will begin by defining the requirements for your project (how many rooms, the function of the spaces, etc.), determining how your desires fit within your budget. Programming is often done with the help of site and economic studies.

Schematic Design and Development (developing the concept and refining the design): During this phase the architect prepares a series of rough sketches that show a conceptual approach to the design, general arrangement of the rooms, and general organization of the site. You approve these sketches before proceeding to the next phase.  The architect prepares more refined drawings, which communicate and document more detailed aspects of the proposed design. Floor plans show proportions, shapes, and dimensions of all the rooms. Outline specifications are prepared listing the major materials and room finishes.  Once you approve the design, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications, which the contractor can use to establish actual construction costs, obtain permits to begin construction, and build the project.

Hiring the contractor: As the client, you select and hire the contractor. Three or four contractors are usually asked to submit proposals or “bids” for the project, which include total construction cost predictions. The architect may be willing to make some recommendations of contractors to consider and the architect can help you prepare bidding documents, invitations to bid, and instructors to bidders.

Construction: The contractor physically builds the project and is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules, and procedures. During construction, the architect can provide "construction administration" (not "inspection" or "supervision"), helping to be sure the project is built according to plans and specifications. Your architect may visit the site periodically to observe construction, review and approve the contractor’s requests for payment, and keep you informed of the project’s progress.

Courtesy of architects.org