Questions to Ask an Architect in an Interview: Advice for Clients
By Jeff PelletierMay 8, 2017
Part of our business at Board & Vellum is helping people looking for advice on what they should do for their remodel. They’ve typically done a lot of research online, and sorta know what they should be asking, but often times they really have no idea what specific questions are helpful when meeting with an architect.
If you follow what Board & Vellum is all about, you know that we aim to give away as much helpful information as possible. The vacuum of public knowledge about architecture is depressing, but honestly, this is not the public's fault, it's the architects'. Our goal is to make this a little better, by catering our blog posts to people who are NOT architects, who aren't familiar with 90% of what we would normally talk about.
So this month, as part of the ArchiTalks series of blog posts, I volunteered a new topic for the group to cover: advice for clients. With that in mind, I thought a post about some advice from our side of the table would be helpful as you enter into a conversation with a potential architect. (And bonus points to the first potential client of ours who reads this and follows the advice!)
Find your architects, line up your interview, and get your questions ready.
What To Ask an Architect
Why do you want to work on this project?
Don't assume that because they’re in the room already, they want to work on this. Hopefully, it is true, but there are always times when it may not be the case. Ask and the answer will help you decide. If they share your passion about this project then it is likely they may be a good fit.
How do you reconcile construction costs with your design?
This is something that all architects work on, but is especially crucial in hot markets such as Seattle’s. Construction costs are changing rapidly and how that process is explained, managed, and mitigated will be key. For instance, we’ve found that presenting clear pricing diagrams with square footage costs based on recent projects helps narrow down the scope of potential work before we even start designing. Know your architect's process and ensure that your passion and excitement for new ideas doesn’t inadvertently convince your architect that you have a secret budget.
Who from your office will be working on this, and what role will they have?
Every firm is different, and you’ll want to know who you’re working with, what role they’ll play, and if you feel comfortable with that. If there’s a marketing-type person in this meeting who you’ll never work with directly, take that as a bad sign.
How specifically do your fees work? Are there options available to us in terms of services available?
There are as many fee options available as there are architects. Ask for the options and get the details. Read the whole contract, understand it, and feel free to bring up fees at each meeting and discuss how you’re doing. Ask for a detailed invoice.
Why should we hire you and not your competition?
Obvious question, but an important one to ask. Everyone has an angle, and you should see if that architect’s angle aligns with your project needs.
Do you have an approximate idea of when you could start and how long this whole process can take?
Logistic questions are key and often forgotten, but this one has a huge impact on your life, make sure you ask! Plus, you're in luck: people ask us this a lot, so I've written up a quick guide about it.
What’s an example of a situation that went poorly with a client and how did you resolve it?
That one's a doozy that I’m shocked more people don’t ask. Things can go wrong. A lot of our policies at Board & Vellum exist because we stumbled on something and made a change to make things work more smoothly. We pride ourselves on never lying or trying to harm anyone; even so, there are times when something happens that simply doesn’t go the way we want. We’ve taken steps every time that has happened to ensure that a) the client is taken care of or has their concerns addressed and b) we enact a policy to ensure that a lesson is actually learned and not repeated. No architect makes zero mistakes and so if they say that they've never had an issue, take that as a red flag. We’re people, not robots.
What are your concerns about this project given the information I’ve told you?
Here’s one where you need to be ready to hear some feedback. In this market, the budget a client has in mind isn't enough to build what they want, 99% of the time. Usually, that’s a fairly easy conversation to have, but sometimes a client just doesn’t want to hear that 'X' amount of dollars won’t get them what their cousin Bob got for that same amount in the middle of nowhere. If there’s a red flag that the architect sees, you’re best served by asking now and having a productive and frank conversation. Often, these challenges have viable solutions.
What kind of design would you propose for this? (HINT: This is a TRICK QUESTION!)
When walking through someone’s house, I have limited information. I don’t have plans in front of me, I don’t have the full story of the client’s needs, and I haven’t done any (or much) code research yet. All this takes time (and money), and is necessary before I can make some informed decisions. Asking for a “quick design” is asking for trouble. You get what you pay for, and I’ve always believed that someone willing to give you free design advice without all of the information should be a red flag.
What homework can we do to help make this whole process smoother?
I’ve been asked this question a few times and it has always been appreciated. There are so many ways that you can be a more productive client. Clarify how you best communicate – weekly meetings, emails, phone calls? And, what sort of legwork can you (and do you want to) do on your own? (Can you find the plumbing fixtures you want? Or do you prefer not to? What about paint colors?) It's always helpful if you can pull together inspiration images to document what you like, and if you follow up with emails, etc. The client is integral to the process and you’ll end up saving time and money if you are checking in with what you can best participate in the project.
Overall, don’t forget that this is a personal relationship. You can ask every possible question under the sun, but often times it just comes down to a personal connection. You have to click. Trust your gut, and truly listen to the advice of the design professional, and you should do fine. And remember, take the advice you’re paying for.
This post is part of the ArchiTalk series organized by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he has selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s posts. This year, the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme was selected by me and is “advice for clients”. To read how others interpreted the theme, please explore the links below.
Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: Advice for Working with an Architect
Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
advice to clients
Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
ArchiTalks: Advice for Clients
Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Advice List -- From K thru Architect
Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
advice for clients
Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
A Few Reminders
Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Advice for Clients
Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Questions to Ask an Architect in an Interview: Advice for Clients
Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Advice for clients
Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Advice 4 Building
Gabriela Baierle-Atwood - Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
What I wish clients knew