Do You Need an Architect?

Why hire an architect?

If you are considering any major change in your life, whether it is moving into a high-performance, durable, and efficient home designed for your specific needs or whether it’s hip surgery, don’t you agree it would be advantageous to engage a professional with the knowledge and experience to provide the results you expect? Obvious isn’t it? One would never think about buying books or software programs on do-it-yourself surgery to perform operations on oneself or a loved one. Still, the sales of house plan books and “home architect” software indicates thousands believe that designing a house takes about as much thought as deciding what kind of car to buy. Having a house designed and built for you could be more expensive than hip surgery. Shouldn’t you consider hiring professionals in either case?

Maybe it’s because the image of hiring an architect means increasing the cost of construction by ten or twenty percent resulting in luxurious homes that most people really cannot afford to live in. Sure, that’s what is usually offered to the public in magazines and books; the homes of the rich and famous, or homes with some kind of extraordinary (and expensive) departure from conventional house design. Remember, there are exceptions to this rule, among my favorite are the “Not So Big House” series of books by architect Sarah Susanka, but the image of the architect as the extravagant and inessential residential designer prevails. Residential architects regularly provide designs for families that match the family’s budget and lifestyle. More often than not, the homes even appear “conventional.” Shocking, I know, but true. This is the majority of residential architecture practice in America. Because of this, most of these wonderful homes making families comfortable and happy will never appear in publications and therefore are not able to nurture the more accurate image of residential architectural practice.

I’m not saying that all owner designed and built houses are failures. Far from that. Many are successful and some that have gone through the process are glad they did. If you are sure that you have considered the myriad of elements involved in designing a house (and there are hundreds of things to consider), go ahead. But remember that an architect by profession is likely to have questions regarding your design that you may not have considered. I have yet to have initial discussions with clients that I haven’t heard them say, “I never thought of that.” Do you want to take the chance to build a house only to discover too late that there may be some very important considerations you never thought of? And with regard to architectural fees, if you conduct your search for an architect, you will be successful if you hire a professional that can save you in utility costs, maintenance costs, materials costs, and provide a sense of delight and satisfaction (both of which are impossible to quantify in terms of cost) that far exceed architectural fees. Remember too, that by hiring an architect, the design should be one that is particular to your family’s current and future needs and at the same time responds to the conditions of a particular site. In other words, a proper architectural solution is found for you and your place. A different family or a different place would demand a different design.

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