Architectural services can seem expensive. I want to demystify the pricing of my architectural services. The following is a description of how I approach full architectural services. This approach to a project is appropriate for any project, but particularly for medium to large scale projects, or to projects with some type of complexity or technical challenge.
When to get a contractor involved – I like to get the contractor involved as early as possible in the process, even as early as schematic design. I believe that this provides my clients with the best combination of value and price. The contractor provides valuable advice and insight regarding feasibility, construction costs, and scheduling. It also means more of a cohesive team between you, the owner, the contractor, and the architect. This carries over during construction and can help make the construction go much more smoothly. Sometimes clients are concerned that they won’t get the best price if they involve the contractor early, but most general contractors will be soliciting competitive bids from the various trades anyway, so I feel clients still get excellent pricing for their projects.
Typically, an architectural project is divided into the following six phases: Pre-Design, Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding and Permits, and Construction. Let’s look at these in more detail.
1 – Pre-Design
Pre-Design services are split into two: the Reality Check feasibility study, during which we determine the feasibility of the project. I will perform the Code Research and discuss the programmatic needs for the project. After the Reality Check is complete, I will prepare a proposal for the remaining project services.
The Reality Check feasibility study consists of the first two Pre-Design services:
- Code Research – Building and remodeling is a regulated activity and the regulations vary from city to city and from project type to project type. Although many code requirements are the same throughout the state, it is necessary to determine the local rules and interpretations of the code as well as the planning department’s regulations and processes.
- Programming – this is the process of defining the problem. What is the problem that you have with the property? What do you want the outcome to be? What activities need to be accommodated? What is your budget? These are just some of the questions that need to be asked. Sometimes programming can be completed quickly, other times it can take multiple meetings to adequately describe what needs to be done before designing can begin.
Once we have determined in the Reality Check that the project is feasible, and you have accepted my proposal, we will dig into the programming in a bit more detail and complete the following items:
- Site Analysis / Existing Condition Drawings – This consists of gathering information about the project site and location. If drawings of the existing site or building are available, these can be use, though conditions will need to be verified. If no such drawings exist, I will need to prepare them. These drawings are absolutely necessary before any designing can begin.
- City Supplied Drawings – In some cities, drawings of the building are on file. If the original architect allows it, copies can be requested. Doing the research to locate the drawings and request copies usually takes a couple of hours.
2 – Schematic Design
Schematic Design is the phase when we sit down and take everything we’ve learned about the site or existing building, what you want, and what the city will allow and start turning all of that into a design that solves the problem, that you like, that you can afford, and that can be built. This process can be quick or slow depending on the complexity of the design parameters and finding a solution that you are enthusiastic about. At this stage drawings are small and not detailed. We are working on arranging rooms and spaces and thinking about massing, light and basic structure.
I will develop up to three options from which you will select a final design direction. We may need to revise the selected option once or twice to get it right. When we are finished with this phase, I will present you with a site plan, floor plans, and some very basic sections and elevations.We will use these drawings to get preliminary pricing numbers from an independent third party (estimator or contractor who will be paid for this service).
3 – Design Development
The Design Development phase is when the selected design is developed into something less conceptual, and more real. Now is the time to consider structure, construction, heating, ventilation, electrical, lighting, plumbing and so on. This is the phase when we make decisions about exterior and interior materials, fixtures, finishes, and other products that are purchased from manufacturers to be included in the construction of the building. We will make the decisions about the exterior items together. However, selecting the interior items is an additional service (see below).
The drawings for this phase tend to be at a larger scale so that we can start considering more detailed information about what the building will be like. This is the best time to bring in specialized consultants like a structural engineer, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, IT/Security consultant, interior designer, landscape architect, to name a few. Not every project requires these consultants, but if the project does, this is the best time to get them involved. The documents produced during this phase include a site plan, floor plans, exterior elevations, interior elevations, building sections.
Not not including the base contract are following services which can be added as additional services, at your request.
- Materials / Fixtures / Finishes Selection – For interior items, I have checklists which I will give to you so that you can select your interior materials, fixtures and finishes. I will use the information you provide to me in the construction documents phase (see below). If you do not want to make these selections yourself, I can assist you, but the material, fixture, and finish selection service is an additional service.
4 – Construction Documents
The Construction Documents Phase is when we develop the “blue prints” which we will use to apply for a building permit and from which the contractor will build. These drawings are even more detailed than those previously developed for your project. I will incorporate the Materials, Fixtures and Finishes previously selected into the documents at this time as well as develop construction details and schedules of doors, windows, lighting fixtures, cabinets and so on. I will prepare a written set of specifications. We will also engage an Energy Conservation Compliance Consultant (Title 24 consultant) to prepare the state mandated energy conservation compliance forms and calculations.
At the end of this phase, we will meet and review the documents in detail and I will ask you to sign the drawings agreeing that they are complete and reflect your expectations.
Not not including the base contract for this phase are the following services which can be added as additional services, at your request.
- Consultant Coordination – Coordinating the architectural documents with the specialist consultants is unpredictable in the amount of time it will take.
5 – Bidding/Permits
Once the Construction Documents are completed and you have signed off on them, we will do two things: apply for a building permit and solicit bids from contractors (recall my note about when to get a contractor involved, above).
Applying for a permit – I will have the required documents printed and will stamp and sign sets as required by the responsible jurisdiction. I will accompany you to the building department to apply for a permit. The permit fees are not included in my compensation.
Bidding – I will have the required documents printed and will either provide copies directly to the involved contractor, or will distribute copies to up to 3 bidding contractors. I will also review and analyze the bids with you and assist you in selecting a contractor if one is not already involved.
Not not included in the base contract for this phase are the following services which can be added as additional services, at your request.
- Plan revisions – Plans examiners often have questions and I will answer any questions by phone or email. Although I do my best to include all the information required for a permit review, examiners sometimes require additional information be added to the drawings, or may require some kind of revisions to the documents. If that happens, I will coordinate making the revisions, responding to the comments in writing and resubmitting the documents.
- Planning Department Approval and Variance Application processes – The Bay Area is made up of scores of towns, cities and counties, each of which has it’s own project approval processes. Some projects will require planning department approval or variance applications before they can be submitted to the building department for a permit review. We will know if this is the case by the end of the schematic design phase, if not earlier. These planning approval processes can be lengthy and require significant additional documentation, meetings, travel time, and so on. These processes are often best started at the end of the Schematic Design or Design Development phases. These Planning Process services are sometimes additional services.
6 – Construction
Construction phase services consist of regularly scheduled site visits, meetings with the contractor, meetings with you, meetings with you and the contractor, meetings with the contractor and the specialist consultants, answering questions from the contractor, reviewing material and systems submittals by the subcontractors, resolving construction and or code issues that may arise, and coordinating getting answers from the specialist consultants.
The construction phase services may also involve revising the construction documents or making additional drawings to answer questions. I also will review contractor requests for payment and change orders. Depending on your financing, I will also complete the Notice of Substantial Completion and the Certificate of Occupation. For full service architectural projects, I will not exclude Construction phase services. It is important to be involved during the construction process to observe the construction and assist the contractor when questions or problems arise.
See my Fees and Compensation page for an explanation of how I determine my proposed compensation.
Building a new house or commercial building or substantially remodeling an existing structure is a complicated and multifaceted process. It is one of the few activities you can undertake to gain a completely custom solution tailored just for you. Full architectural services are the best way to ensure that the process goes smoothly and the result is satisfactory.