Expert Advice – How to Work with Architects

Q & A with Randall Mars

 


Both inside and out, this contemporary poolhouse exemplifies a dialogue between architect Randall Mars and his clients, which allowed them to arrive at a design aesthetic they all could be happy with.

At a recent lecture sponsored by the Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, architect Randall Mars, AIA, of McLean-based Randall Mars Architects, offered advice and guidance on “How to Work with an Architect.” According to Mars, style is the most important factor to consider when choosing the right architect. With numerous choices at one’s disposal, he stresses the idea of looking around and using resources in order to find the best fit. After 19 years of putting his unique touch on both residential and commercial properties alike, Mars believes that client involvement and communication are essential in achieving a successful final product. “At the end of the day, I have to believe in what I give you and you have to be happy. I have to feel good about it and think that I’ve been successful in giving you what you want. I believe that’s how you practice architecture.”

Q&A with Randall Mars

What is the most efficient way to select an architect?
The best way to select an architect is by style, not price. There are a lot of good architects around. Use different resources including magazines, books and AIA materials to help you select a few architects to choose from.

How should one choose an architect if the project is out of town?
If you are doing a project located elsewhere, but you’re here, I recommend
hiring an architect close to where you reside. There are many more meetings during design than there will be during construction.

How do you best prepare for a project?
Cut out pictures and show them to the architect in order to give them an idea of what you like. It’s also important for you to know what your budget is and to be realistic about it, so the architect can figure out how to give you what you want at a cost you can afford.

What helps to make the best project?
Good clients make the best projects. I know that’s been said a lot before
but it is absolutely true. If a client refutes all suggestions made, the outcome of
the project will be unknown. A good client is someone who is involved in
the project and communicates what they like and dislike.

Should the architect be involved with picking a contractor?
The architect should be involved with the selection of contractors. The architect can tell you about the contractors they know and better research the quality of construction.

What do you believe are the benefits of hiring an architect?
An architect will spend a lot of time on design. They will work with you to design a home that you’ll love, with the details you’ll love. They stay with you every step of the way, including being your representative during construction. If you’re not 100 percent comfortable with construction, it’s nice to have an advocate on your side making sure that what the architect has on paper is what the contractor is giving you.

What are the different phases in the process?
The first phase is called schematic design. During this phase the architect comes up with concepts that reflect your ideas. First, they will meet with you to talk about your likes and dislikes. An architect will listen to your ideas, look at the pictures you’ve chosen for reference, develop a program for the new work and measure your house so they know what they are working with. Then they will come up with a plan and do some rough sketches of what it would look like. At this point, a budget will be put on the project. At the end of schematic design, you’ll know the scope of your project. After the total scope is known and the budget is agreed upon, the second phase begins and you will receive a contract for the remainder of work, including design development, construction documents and construction administration. That takes you all the way through the project. Design development is when the architect takes the design concepts and develops them into real spaces, including details and materials. That process leads into construction documents, which include drawings and specifications of everything that is to be included in your project. The final phase is construction administration, where it is the architect’s responsibility to make sure that the contractor is following the construction documents and providing the owner with everything agreed upon contractually. The architect will work with the contractor to get what was designed for you.

Are there different types of contracts?
There are different kinds of contracts: There is a fixed-fee contract, an hourly contract and a percentage contract. The fixed fee is developed from the scope of the project. The hourly contract bills for every hour an architect works on your project. The final option is the percentage contract, with the architect receiving a percentage of the cost.