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From the Architect's Desk



In From the Architect's Desk

By lthomas

How your Architect works

On 06, Jul 2016 | In From the Architect's Desk | By lthomas

The idea of working with an architect may be a little scary for some first timers, but there’s no mystery to the benefit an architect can bring to your project.

In fact, architects work in ordered phases so the process is never overwhelming. Here, I’ll explain the three major steps in the process and what happens within each. The process starts with an initial consultation, where I listen and observe. This step is called Schematic Design in the industry. I typically call it:

Conceptual Design

Beacon-Sketch Elevation

  • This is when I begin to understand what you are looking for and how your site (for new construction) or home (for an addition or renovation) functions now.  I take notes and make tiny sketches in my notebook. It’s my job to listen to your thoughts, no matter how scattered they are (“We want it sorta like this…”). You may have magazine articles or photos from web sites like that you like and want to share with me.
  • Next, I do my homework. I will take photographs and ask you if you have any “existing condition documents,” which may include old drawings of your home. It’s okay if you don’t have these – many people do not. I can take careful, accurate and detailed measurements of your existing conditions. I will also ask you for your location or property line survey.
  • At this point we can create a new digital drawing of your existing conditions and discuss any known design or zoning covenants in the neighborhood. Accurate representation of existing conditions and knowledge of local building restrictions is essential to working with community association review boards.
  • Now Conceptual Design officially begins. I work out and sketch several concept design studies. These will be to-scale plans and elevations that take into consideration the existing conditions.
  • Together we review the concept designs and how they can be pieced together to form the perfect conceptual direction. This forms the scope of work.  No more indecision!

The concept drawings are a start, but they do not have enough information for a builder to accurately bid the project or to get a building permit. You will only get “conceptual prices” from “conceptual drawings.” Not a good idea! So now we head to the next two steps in the process. The chosen concept design is fully developed in two steps of the Architectural Documents:

Architectural Documents

 A. Design Development

Beacon-Sketchup 3

  • The client-approved concept drawings are re-drawn on the computer. Accurate floor and roof plans are created, elevations studied, windows and doors are placed, and we begin to develop the cross sections, including interior heights and stairs. Sometimes we will do 3-D or model studies if needed or requested.
  • We begin the selection of the exterior materials for your review and approval.
  • We start to coordinate with consultants such as the surveyor or civil engineer, structural engineer, landscape architects and kitchen specialists. Neighborhood or local design board review often happens at the end of this phase when applicable.

With this fully realized design, we can now finalize all documentation and detailing in the next phase when we create Construction Documents. Construction Documents are the road map the architect hands-off to the builder. The documents are extremely accurate and are typically required for bidding and permitting a project. Here’s what is involved:

B. Construction Documents


For Construction Documents we finalize design and technical details and specifications, electrical and lighting layouts and basic architectural interiors (like the stair and railing design), fireplace designs and interior trim selections (such as interior columns, beams, baseboards, casing and crown moldings).

  • Final coordination with and integration of structural and civil engineers, landscape architects or kitchen specialists takes place.
  • If you need help with other fixed interior items such as custom built-ins, bath or kitchen custom cabinetry, or selections such as fixtures and fittings, tiles or decorative lighting, these are completed at this point.
  • Finally we stamp and sign the Construction Documents for permit purposes using our professional license issued by the state.

Now you have the documentation that you need for accurate pricing and a smooth permit and construction period. So what’s next? Read more about Contractors:  To Bid or Negotiate, That is the Question.