The Owner–Architect relationship is a vital element in the realization of a successful project. It is important that it be collaborative. Your architect should be someone who listens carefully and endeavors to translate your goals and vision into the language of building, not someone who tells you what you want or what you want to hear. The process can be long and at times challenging, so the relationship needs to be trustworthy, honest and enjoyable. Therefore, we like to spend some time getting to know our clients and their lifestyle, so we can effectively serve their interests as their liaison throughout the project. Some clients like to be very involved in the process, while others would be just as happy to go away and come back to a finished project. You tell us what your expectations are and we will tailor the process to your needs.

So how do we get started? Typically, we arrange a meeting, either at the site (if there is one) or at our office, to discuss what you have in mind for your project. We will also describe and illustrate the various phases of work and how they relate to our project and show you examples of work that may be relevant. We can also arrange tours to previously constructed projects. If the chemistry feels right, we will provide a proposal for services (with no obligation), and if accepted, a standard AIA contract for your review.

Many of our clients live far from here while building their new home. In order to help remote owners participate in and document the process, we offer password protected private client websites for each project. Accessed through our website, the client websites are uploaded with all the relevant drawings and documents, arranged by phase for ease of navigation. It provides mark-up tools for ease of communication client ideas back to us. During construction, it serves as a portal for continuously updated construction photos and notes.

Most often, the Owner comes to the table with a site already selected, and usually with many good ideas about where to locate things on the site. A thoughtful house is melded with the land, oriented toward the views, captures the prevailing breezes and sunlight, and fits into the context of the neighborhood with an appropriate scale and character. Therefore, it is important that we walk the site together to discuss your visions and any potential issues that may arise relative to the site.

Some sort of a survey is needed in order to properly analyze the relationships, legal parameters, limitations and opportunities of the site. Preferably the survey will include topography, vegetation, drainage, utilities, easements and other elements critical to a proper placement of the house on the site.

Some clients come to us with notebooks of magazine clippings and diagrams illustrating elements they’ve dreamed of. This is very helpful in defining the tastes and vision of the client. On the other hand, don’t despair if you haven’t defined or documented a design direction. In either case, it is part of our job to try to understand what you want and need. Generally, we do ask for an outline of the amount of space and types of spaces you envision, and any special items (furniture, art, etc) you hope to incorporate.

There can be tremendous anxiety in correlating a vision to a budget. We have all heard horror stories about insane overages. That is something we try to avoid by being up front and realistic about costs, and revisiting them at each phase of the work, We’d much rather have someone not pursue a project because it is unrealistic than to lead them well into the process with unrealistic expectations. As architects, we can impact the costs through our design decisions, but we cannot control them completely. We do endeavor to track market trends closely, including maintaining our own database of post-construction costs for past projects. Similarly, we can help set a realistic timeline for design and construction based on project complexity, market realties and other factors.

The architectural design process is typically comprised of 6 phases:

The first step is for the architect to gather and analyze all of the information necessary to design. During this time we formulate a detailed 'program that defines your needs and objectives: function, size and relationship between spaces, character and image, and a host of other considerations that affect how you will live in your new home. Part of this analysis includes creating a spreadsheet of all of the spaces desired, and attaching a series of possible areas to each, defining them as “compact”, “moderate” or “generous” in relationship to your overall needs. To this we add necessary area for circulation, walls, porches, decks, etc. to be sure all elements are factored into costs estimates and the program. We also create visual diagrams that illustrate logical relationships among spaces as well as character of space analysis that defines things such as amount/type of light desired, ceiling heights, special features, etc.

From this programmatic data, we develop a possible range of costs based on the range of sizes. This serves as a tool for the Owner to prioritize if necessary and to participate in the syncing of program and budget.

From the survey provided, we construct the site digitally in three dimensions with sun angles to help us visualize how to optimize the site. We analyze your site and determine the best placement of the house and circulation on the site and the spaces within to capture views and sunlight. We also research and study the local building codes and zoning ordinances and which permits will be needed.

Once the Owner and Architects feel they are on the same page in terms of understanding of the project, we are ready to move onto the fun part!

Conceptual brainstorming and exploration define this phase of the house design process. We find it most successful to create three different design concepts that span the range of possibilities discussed and opportunities discovered. The three ideas are presented to the owner with basic floor plans, elevations, sketches, a 3-D animation (fly-around movie), program and budget. Most often, the Owners choose the essence of one scheme, with elements from others incorporated into it. Sometimes a fourth scheme, that is a hybrid of the other three (or rarely, a departure) is made. At the end of this phase, not everything is finalized, but a design is established.

After the general size, layout and character of the home are established, we begin to refine the house. Floor plans and elevations are prepared with greater accuracy than those prepared during the schematic phase. Work commences on the architectural building systems, including the structural frame and mechanical system. Ideas are explored for feature elements of the house such as stairs, cabinetry, fireplaces and built-in furniture. Outline specifications are developed, with suggestions for products and materials to be used. Often, we will take field trips to look at material and product choices with the Owner.

Construction Documentation is the phase where the design is translated into the technical language of the contractor. Working Drawings and specifications are prepared which define in detail all of the materials that are to be incorporated into the house, where they are to be located and how they are to be installed. Although this phase is primarily intended for working out the technical aspects of the project, some designing also takes place. In addition, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and interior finish materials are selected. This is a critical portion of the work, as the accuracy of the drawing set (which typically result in 30-50 sheets of drawings, depending on size and complexity of the project) has a direct impact on accuracy of bids and construction.

During the Bidding and Negotiation phase we assist you in obtaining competitive bids or negotiated proposals from a selected list of builders. We distribute the house plans and building specifications, answer contractor questions, interpret the documents, and prepare addenda (revisions to the original home plans or specifications). Once the bids are received, we analyze the results and negotiate and prepare the contract between you and the selected contractor. Once the building permit is obtained, construction may begin.

The final phase of the process is construction. In this phase we review the progress of the work and facilitate any architectural changes that may be required. Typically, a regular site meeting is established, at a minimum of once weekly, and as needed additionally. We answer questions, review submittals and shop drawings (manufacturers’ and subcontractors' drawings of specific elements to be incorporated within the house), and keep the owner appraised of progress, issues, decisions needed, etc. A very important part of this phase involves job tracking. We review certificates of payment that are submitted by the contractor for legitimacy and accuracy, then we collect lien waivers from the contractor and subcontractors each month in exchange to help protect the owner from liens and other problems. All changes to the work must be formally agreed upon by owner, architect, and contractor before it can be incorporated into the scope of work. Final selections of finishes and fixtures are made at this time. At the end of the construction period, we will distribute punch lists until work is satisfactorily complete. Finally, we will assist in educating the homeowner on the use of the systems and care of the home, and provide a final set of as-built drawings.