By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects
We are often told by clients (and potential clients) that they don’t know what to expect as they consider whether to move ahead with a construction project. They wonder whether to first call us (the architectural firm), or call a contractor, or call their City Planning Department, or what. It is a little bit overwhelming, so we prepared this short summary to help folks get a general idea of what will happen. This isn’t intended to be comprehensive. It is just a starting point for your thinking process!
- Set Goals. Decide what things you want to accomplish with your project. (Your goals don’t have to be design-specific.) This may be a functional goal or an aesthetic goal—more living space, better flow, more up-to-date, more attractive to customers, more comfortable for employees, etc.
- Find Your Architect. You can find licensed architects in your area by using the “Find an Architect” tool on the American Institute of Architects website aia.org or your local Better Business Bureau. Your local Chamber of Commerce is also a good place to contact for architect recommendations. Check the architect’s website to see if they do the kind of work that you have in mind. (For example, if you have a commercial project, such as a retail store, restaurant, or office building, you will want to find an architect with experience in that type of architecture.)
- Budget and feasibility. Talk to a licensed architect about whether you can accomplish your goals with the budget you have in mind. Remember you don’t need to know “how” to get it done—that’s part of the design process. You are just checking that the project is feasible. The architect should be able to point out any limitations, such as lot coverage, parking requirements, zoning restrictions, and so on. This is also a good time to talk with a loan provider or financial advisor to decide how much you feel comfortable spending on the project.
- Preliminary Design. Obtain a proposal for services and sign the contract with your architect. This will outline the “scope of work” (what you want done) and authorizes the architect to do the initial work of analyzing “existing conditions” (your building and site), and creating some possible “schemes” (design choices) for your consideration.
- Design Direction. View the sketches provided by the architect and discuss the pros and cons of each choice. Decide which scheme works best for your goals and your budget. Your project may need to be submitted for Design Review to a permitting agency.
- Preliminary Bid. Get this from a trusted general contractor that you know or who is recommended by your architect. The preliminary design documents that the architect provides at this stage should be sufficient for a good contractor to give a ballpark estimate. This will assure that your project is headed in the right direction at the right cost or reveal concerns that can be addressed early in the process.
- Construction Documents (CDs). Now that the design direction is determined, the architect can accurately estimate what it will take to develop the design and produce a set of CDs to submit for permits and for competitive bids from contractors. At this point your project may also require other professionals to give you proposals, such as engineers and surveyors.
- Bidding and Negotiation. Your architect will assist you in analyzing the bids and comparing apples-to-apples. You should clearly understand what is included or excluded and what the allowances for materials and labor are. This is also the time to check the licenses, insurance, and references of the contractors you are considering. Then you will agree to a contract with your General Contractor.
- The CDs will be submitted by your architect for approval by your City/County and any other agencies required. This can sometimes be “over-the-counter” for a small project, or take much longer for large or complicated projects. Fees must be paid to various agencies for their reviews.
- When the city (or county) approves your project, they will issue a Building Permit. Usually your chosen General Contractor will pick up the permit and begin construction immediately. (If there will be a delay, be aware that the permit does not last forever and may need an extension. Typically you have 180 days from the day the permit is issued until the first building inspection (or other required next step). Calendar the date(s) noted in your permit so that the permit does not expire accidentally.
- Construction Administration and Completion. While your project is under construction, the architect and the general contractor should continue to communicate to answer any questions and troubleshoot any unforeseen conditions as necessary. The architect will visit the site from time to time to make sure that the construction follows the design intent. At the end of construction the architect will do a “punch list” if there are any items that are still incomplete or need further attention by the contractor(s). Be sure to get lien releases from the contractor and the sub-contractors.
- Don’t forget to congratulate yourself and your team on a job well done! This brings closure and lifts everyone’s spirits after a long and sometimes arduous process. Consider including your neighbors too. It can be a cookies-and-coffee open house or a full-blown “Grand Opening” event. The important thing is that everyone gets to see the completed space. If you were happy with the process and the work performed, please consider giving an online review to your team. There are lots of sites to do this—pick the one most familiar to you or ask your architect and contractor where most of their leads are generated. Referrals are the best way for your architect and contractor to get future work. (If you weren’t completely satisfied, it is important to give feedback directly to the service provider so that they can respond to your concerns.)
If this overview has prompted you to seek more information, here’s a link to a free downloadable booklet: http://tinyurl.com/archprojectsteps