Selecting An Architect: Tips and Stories
Have you ever hired someone for a particular task and gotten a nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach that kept saying this particular person just was not the best fit for the job?
What comes to mind is a job that I did where the church had hired a certain architect. The guy was very capable due to his extensive work with various government projects. He ended up doing a really nice job, however from the first time I met him, I knew that he wasn’t the best architect for the church. However, the church had already hired him, and they seemed to like him very much.
As time progressed, we began to notice some flaws in his billing process. Any time changes needed to be made, he would continue to bill the owner; and many times we could not even figure out why there were changes. Needless to say, this made for a very uncomfortable situation, and there ended up being a great deal of extra billing on the project, not counting the costs associated with the project itself. Even though the end result was a nice building, the process of getting there was less than desirable.
An important aspect of selecting an architect is to find out how familiar they are with church design. Although they may be excellent in their respective architectural field, they may not know specific aspects that go into the design of a church. Churches, particularly pastors and boards, need different treatment than what you would normally see on other projects. The architect needs to know and understand the relationship the church has with its parishioners, and how this relationship affects their building project. They are not only building to have a new facility, they are developing the building as an extension of their ministry. Pastors want to make sure that the ministry dictates the building, rather than the other way around.
Keep in mind that architects are people, and their personalities and abilities can vary drastically. You could have an architect who is a great designer who doesn’t understand the “nuts and bolts” of the project. Or, you may have an architect that is more “nuts and bolts” that can make a project fit together well, however they may not be a great designer. There are all sorts of architects you could choose from. I would definitely advise that you look for an architect who has some experience building churches. I would also suggest visiting the different churches they have built, to see what you like or dislike before making a decision to hire them.
Keeping Your Interest at Heart
When you are choosing the architect, make sure that they are working for you and not against you. You do not want a person who has their own agenda; you want someone who shares in your interests and commitment to the project. You should ask yourself: Is this architect user friendly, and will they be on my team? From the very outset of the project, you should have an in-depth discussion with them. You should schedule several meetings to make sure that this individual has your heart and wants to serve you. You are the client, you are the boss, and yes you want their ideas, but you do not want their ideas above your ideas. Always let them know what you want, how you would like to go about getting it, and how you would like the project to develop. The input you have is what is going to make the project a success.
Make sure to also check the architect’s reputation with builders in the area. Some architects are presumed to be good, but they have created a bad name for themselves with contractors, and they cannot get contractors to bid their work. This will drive the price of your building up, because you will not be able to obtain good bids seeing as contractors are afraid to do business with your architect.
Another thing churches must be very aware of when consulting with their architect, is the design costs. You do not want to get into a situation where you have an over-designed building. Let’s say that your architect over-designs your $5 million dollar project by about 20%. This will cost the church an extra $1 million dollars that you were not planning to spend, or you will encounter excessive redesign fees. Let’s face it, architects and designers cannot redesign a building for free. Architects and designers love to design, because it’s what they’re good at. If you’re not careful, you will get caught up in their excitement, loving all the things that they do. Then when the plans finally come out, you realize that you cannot afford the design that has been done. Then the “blame game” sets in between the architects and the pastors/owners, and this causes you to have to go back and redesign the building, which costs you even more money and time. Always be conscious to not over-design the building, and in turn you will avoid unnecessary costs.
Finally, architects should be part of the budgeting. You should have a contractor’s part of the budget and an architect’s part of the budget. The two separate parts will give you a good balance. Make sure you understand what the architect’s fee is based on. Make sure you have a good understanding before you start, because Permitting and those types of things can be very expensive. You need to identify what they’re charging you for. Always make sure that you articulate in writing, as best you can, what you want and what you are willing to spend, so that the architect has a good understanding of the church’s needs.
The building process is an exciting time! When you begin to look for an architect, be sure to choose one who shares your vision and commitment. Use wisdom, and enjoy the process!