This section of the website will attempt to answer common questions about what an Architect does and does not do and what can be expected during the course of a building project. There are many misconceptions regarding exactly what the Architect’s responsibilities are on any given job.
The goal with this Information Section is to provide clients and potential clients with a much clearer understanding of the building process to avoid misunderstandings and surprises.
The process of building anything is complex, time consuming and usually expensive. The better informed the Client is, the better choices they can make regarding their project and their budget.
What is an “AIA” Architect?
Architects are licensed by the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs, Architect’s Licensing Board . An Architect does not have to be a member of the AIA, which stands for the American Institute of Architects. We have a national organization, state chapters and regional chapters. Our local chapter can be found at http://www.aiamontereybay.org/ . The AIA is the professional organization of licensed Architects nation-wide, which many of us choose to be associated with.
Architects who chose to be members of the AIA are generally dedicated to excellence in practicing Architecture, conducting themselves with professionalism and being dedicated to the communities where they live.
A primary distinction is that AIA Architects must perform continual education within the field in order to remain a member. The state requires only minimal ongoing education of Architects to renew a license. An Architect could have been licensed for many years and not be at all current with the ever-changing practice of Architecture. This scenario is not likely with any Architect, but it is especially unlikely with an Architect who is a member of the AIA.
What kind of training does it take to be an Architect?
An Architect licensed in the State of California will have spent a minimum of 4 to 5 years in an accredited school to obtain an undergraduate degree. The Intern then spends at least three years working directly for a licensed Architect. The Intern will also have to successfully complete a series of difficult exams covering the diverse topics which comprise the practice of Architecture. At this point, an Intern will apply for licensure by the state.
Rarely will this newly licensed individual be in a position to design and administrate a large or complex project. It takes most Architects longer than the minimum criteria for licensing to practice Architecture effectively. In fact, there is so much to know and so much to keep current with, it is unrealistic to expect any Architect to “know it all” or be an expert about all things relating to buildings. I have found that people often have unrealistic expectations about what an Architect should be able to do or what the ‘plans’ he/she produces should include. That is a significant reason for this section of the website: to clear up as many misconceptions as possible.
Why hire an Architect instead of a drafter or designer?
There is no state or county recognition of or significance to the title “CBD” or Certified Building Designer. An individual who uses this suffix may be talented, but they are not qualified in the eyes of the state to legally submit for Building Permits where a Licensed Architect is required. There is no legal difference between a drafter, designer or Certified Building Designer, and there is no licensing agency to refer to. In fact, It is against the law to use the term “Architect” or “Architectural” unless you are licensed as an Architect by the state in which you are doing business.
Hiring an Architect will assure the client that a certain level of competency has been demonstrated and maintained. Most Architects specialize to some extent in what types of projects they design. An Architect who designs “Skyscrapers”, for example, will have a considerably different skill set than an Architect who does primarily Residential projects.
Many architects don’t actually design buildings. Especially in larger offices, there are licensed Architects who only produce Working Drawings, or process plans through government agencies, or write Specifications, or handle public relations and marketing or manage people in their firm. There are many types of Architects performing a whole variety of tasks, which is one reason there are many public misconceptions about what we do and don’t do.
In smaller offices, we typically wear many hats. The firm owner will be actively involved with all the facets of the project and the functioning of the office. All the employees will similarly be exposed to, and become experienced with, the variety of responsibilities Architects encounter daily.
Architects are varied in their approach to design solutions, based on their experiences, abilities and design preferences. If you ask 10 different Architects to design you a home, you will have 10 different home designs! If you went to a Dentist, by contrast, and asked for a tooth filling, you know exactly what to expect and approximately what it will cost.
This variety of design approaches allows for a richer and more varied built environment. It allows for individual personal expression for the Client, based on which Architect they choose to assist them with their project. It allows for a certain mystique of Architects. It also contributes to misconceptions about the profession.
A client should choose an Architect he or she is comfortable working with and communicating with. Architecture is a service industry, and our ability to deliver that service to a Client’s satisfaction is of primary importance. If there is a high level of trust, communication and understanding going into a project, there stands to be a better result when the project is finished.
WORKING DRAWINGS (PLANS)
No two sets of Plans are created equal. There are sets of plans for a new home that are very minimal, with generic details and scant information and then there are sets of plans which describe, in detail, every aspect of the new home right down to the most specific detail. Both of these sets of plans are regularly approved through the County of Monterey and both are issued the same Building Permit.
How can this be? There are minimum standards for plans, and minimum amounts of information that every set of plans must include, in order to get a Permit. Just as the Building Codes represent a minimum standard for construction allowed by law, plans too have to furnish a certain minimum of information.
One explanation lies in how the project is delivered, or built. Some projects are built from a “Builder Set” of plans that include only the minimum of information, since the Owner and/or Builder know exactly what they want in the final product. They want to spend the least amount possible on the Plans, because they are confident they can address the myriad of issues and choices that arise in the field. Others might ask an architectural firm to provide a complete Bid Package of Contract Documents which graphically details and specifies in writing every light fixture, cabinet detail, paint finish, drawer pull, lockset, and so on.
Obviously, these are two extremes, and most clients require a set of plans which falls somewhere in between. What is important to understand is what level of information you will receive for the cost of the plans you pay for. This should be discussed at length prior to signing a contract. There are a multitude of decisions which need to be made during the building process, some of which can be addressed on the plans, and some of which realistically can not. One complaint about Architectural plans is that the Owner/Occupant assumed ‘the Architect should have handled that or known that’. “Why is that not in the plans?”
Ideally, when the Client begins the project, they have an understanding of what level of Plans they will require to complete their project. The incredibly thorough set of plans mentioned above might cost $100,000 to $200,000 to produce. This is not realistic for most Clients, and is likely unnecessary for most projects. Even this detailed set of plans will still require many decisions to be made in the field during construction.
There is no such thing as a perfect set of plans. Plans are time-consuming to produce and they are expensive, but they are not perfect. There is a concept called “Standard of Care” which an Architect is supposed to adhere to in the preparation of Working Drawings. This means that he or she will exercise the same standard of care as similar professionals practicing in the same area doing similar projects. It does not mean the plans are error free and they are never warranted to be such.
For this reason, the Owner and Contractor play critical roles in providing input as to the appropriateness of the information that is included on the plans or not included. It truly is a team effort to build something, and this process doesn’t work well unless the whole team actively participates. We absolutely do strive for excellence in the preparation of plans and other documents, but we also recognize that the system of drawing something and then going out to build it is not perfect. There will invariably be adjustments, refinements and changes made ‘in the field’ as the built product takes shape.
It takes a good client to make good Architecture. This might suggest the financial commitment or the initial vision of the client, but it also suggests the willingness to make effective and timely decisions, to bring together the right team, and to see the process thru. There will almost always be surprises and changes as the project progresses. How these are handled plays a critical part in the success of the project.
What makes a successful project? For this practice, the answer is simple. If the Owner’s needs and expectations are met and they are happy with the result, then we have succeeded.
What is CAD and why is it better?
CAD stands for Computer Assisted Design (or Drafting). The drawings we produce for building permits are first “drawn” on computer software and then printed out onto sheets of paper. CAD has significantly altered the manner in which we provide our services to clients. CAD allows for a level of precision in “drafting” heretofore unknown. Using the internet, Architects can also share these drawings with various Consultants, building departments and Clients. The theory is that if all the disciplines of the design team, such as Structural Engineers and Mechanical Engineers, are using the exact same base plan, then the resultant set of Working Drawings will be better coordinated.
There is also 3D Modeling, BIM, or Building Information Modeling, and various other computer driven tools used in our field. The profession has changed a great deal since the days of ink on linen. These new tools are exciting, but they are just that: tools. They don’t replace the creativity of expression or the responsibility we have in our profession to assist our clients on their exciting process.