Keri Murray Architecture - Awarded Best Of Houzz 2019!

January 24, 2019 – Keri Murray Architecture of Sharon, MA has won “Best Of Customer Service on Houzz®, the leading platform for home remodeling and design.

The Best Of Houzz is awarded annually in three categories: Design, Customer Service and Photography. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 40 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than 2.1 million active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals.

Customer Service honors are based on several factors, including a pro's overall rating on Houzz and client reviews submitted in 2018. A “Best Of Houzz 2019” badge will appear on winners’ profiles, as a sign of their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.

"Best of Houzz is a true badge of honor as it is awarded by our community of homeowners, those who are hiring design, remodeling and other home improvement professionals for their projects,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of Industry Marketing for Houzz. “We are excited to celebrate the 2019 winners chosen by our community as their favorites for home design and customer experience, and to highlight those winners on the Houzz website and app."

About Keri Murray Architecture - KMA is a practice that specializes in Architecture & Interior Design services for small and large scale residential projects. Delivering thoughtful and timeless design solutions that are responsive to the needs of today's lifestyles. Keri Murray's design philosophy revolves around creative and cost sensitive design solutions, while rigorously providing a unique and cohesive design vision. Keri is committed to transforming the client’s desires into reality, and brings high levels of design sensitivity, technical expertise, and management experience to every project regardless of scale. Keri enjoys working with clients to problem solve and finds the adventure of taking a client from design through construction very exciting.

About Houzz - Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality. Houzz and the Houzz logo are registered trademarks of Houzz Inc. worldwide. For more information, visit houzz.com.

Deciding on an Architect

You have been thinking about a new build, addition, or renovation project for a long time and you have finally decided to hire an Architect. This major decision can bring about a variety of emotions. The first emotion might be that of relief; you finally decided the timing is right to proceed through the process of reaching out to Architects. The next feeling you are experiencing is that of excitement, you have met with a few local professionals and started to share your needs and desires. Another emotion that may soon follow is that of fear. Fear is a reasonable response during this process. You are going to spend a lot of money with people you hopefully can trust, trust to meet your expectations and deliver a project you are happy with. So there's the initial fear of choosing an Architect you can trust. The solution is to select an Architect that will meet this fear with assurance. You want to feel assured and confident that the job will be well done and the experience will be positive, and if things go awry, you have confidence that the Architect will be able to work things out. It is also important to trust that the Architect will work well with the many other professionals that will come on board throughout the process, such as the Contractor, various sub-contractors, Kitchen Vendor, Building Inspector, etc. While pretty pictures of past projects are great to discuss, during the interview process, focus on understanding how the Architect will guide you through the design process, manage the project, address budget issues, and address challenges that come up along the way - in both the design and construction phases. Gain an understanding of the design techniques that will be used throughout the process and how a timeline for deliverables is set. Also, what is expected of you, the Client, throughout the process? While your project is unique, the design process itself is defined and consistent with proven successful outcomes. Deciding on an Architect should be an exciting process, and the best Architect for your project is someone you connect with and who provides a clear explanation of the process and offers assurance that the job will be well done.

Keri Murray Architecture - Awarded Best Of Houzz 2018!

January 17, 2018 – Keri Murray Architecture of Sharon, MA has won “Best Of Customer Service on Houzz®, the leading platform for home remodeling and design.

The Best Of Houzz is awarded annually in three categories: Design, Customer Service and Photography. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 40 million monthly users on Houzz. Customer Service honors are based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2017. A “Best Of Houzz 2018” badge will appear on winners’ profiles, as a sign of their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.

"The Houzz community selected a phenomenal group of Best of Houzz 2018 award winners, so this year's recipients should be very proud,” said Liza Hausman, Vice President of Industry Marketing at Houzz. “Best of Houzz winners represent some of the most talented and customer-focused professionals in our industry, and we are extremely pleased to give them both this recognition and a platform on which to showcase their expertise."

About Keri Murray Architecture - KMA is a practice that specializes in Architecture & Interior Design services for small and large scale residential projects. Delivering thoughtful and timeless design solutions that are responsive to the needs of today's lifestyles. Keri Murray's design philosophy revolves around creative and cost sensitive design solutions, while rigorously providing a unique and cohesive design vision. Keri is committed to transforming the client’s desires into reality, and brings high levels of design sensitivity, technical expertise, and management experience to every project regardless of scale. Keri enjoys working with clients to problem solve and finds the adventure of taking a client from design through construction very exciting.

About Houzz - Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality. Houzz and the Houzz logo are registered trademarks of Houzz Inc. worldwide. For more information, visit houzz.com.

Fun Fact: The Saltbox House

So why is it called The Saltbox House? Salt was necessary for preserving food, and so it was a valuable commodity in colonial America. Salt was expensive, and it caked-up easily. To prevent this, special saltboxes were designed that were supposed to be hung by the hearth to keep the salt dried out.

The profile of the Saltbox is its most distinctive feature and bore a substantial resemblance to the saltbox on the hearth. Seen from the gable ends, its short front roof and long slanting back roof (“lean-to”) give it the appearance of an old salt container, and thus the name.

The design of the Saltbox was practical. Since most early Cape Style homes faced south, the back roof bore the brunt of the winter storms from the north. Heat was conserved inside, and snow slid easily to the ground.

The Hoxie House in Sandwich (image below) may have been built as early as 1637, and qualifies as the oldest surviving house on Cape Cod. It is a beautifully restored example of an early Saltbox and open to the public – Check it out!!

Fun Fact: The Gambrel

Gambrel is a Norman English word, referring to a wooden bar used by butchers to hang the carcasses of slaughtered animals. It is said that the two-slopes of a gambrel roof create a form that resembles a butcher’s gambrels when in use.

A gambrel is a symmetrical two-sided roof with two slopes on each side. Typically, the upper slope is positioned at a shallow angle, while the lower slope is steep. This design provides the advantages of a sloped roof while maximizing height inside the building's upper level. Further, framing for a gambrel roof requires short timbers which were more readily available when the earliest gambrel roofs emerged in New England.

Possibly the oldest surviving house in the U.S. with a gambrel roof is the Peter Tufts House (1678) located in Medford, MA. Some historians consider this house to also be the oldest all-brick house in the United States.

Fun Fact: Color and Architectural Style

Painting can be a fun, economical way to refresh a room or even give your whole house a makeover. While the physical act is seemingly easy for the average homeowner, choosing the correct paint color is extremely important and can be difficult to get right.

It is important to understand that there is a relationship between architectural style and period appropriate paint colors. It's best to choose colors that are appropriate for the style of your house and that work well together. In 2010, Historic New England —a regional heritage organization - partnered with Andover, MA. based California Paints to design the Historic Colors of America collection, with 149 authentic shades used from the 1600s to 1895. The colors were taken from historic buildings and painted objects, and includes both early earth pigments and more brilliant colors that became available in the 18th & 19th centuries. Each color has been researched and verified for authenticity and captures the shades of the past.

According to Historic New England (HNE), many historians mistakenly assumed the colors of the past were somber and muted, based on colors that appeared when modern paints were scraped away from old surfaces. HNE has won national attention for discovering how paint looked before time, sunlight, and weather altered them.

Surviving 17th century (mid 1600s-1780) houses are extremely rare today, and any paint or color treatments should reflect the limited number of colors available at that time, most of which were derived from earth, stone or other natural pigment. Typical 17th century paint treatments detailed the trim in colors that contrasted boldly with surrounding untreated wood or masonry. 18th century homes fared better and the paint colors for these houses are frequently strong colors, again using naturally-derived pigments. See Fun Facts below to learn more about early color origins.

Most Historical Commissions offer an on-site consultation to homeowners if your home is located in a historic district since many times these properties are required to have exterior paint colors approved by the Historical Commission.

Fun Fact: Colorful Origins

New England’s early years were not colorless. Yes, the earliest homes often remained unpainted since early homeowners didn't have much extra money to spend on paint. But by the late 1700s, homeowners were looking to shield the exterior wood siding from the elements and thus began experimenting with minerals for ways to make their own protective paint.

Ready-made paint wasn't available so people mixed their own. It is said that a recipe consisting of skimmed milk, lime, and red iron oxide created a rusty-colored plastic-like coating that hardened quickly and lasted for years. Iron oxide, the compound that lends to natural red clay, was easily obtained from soil. Linseed oil was subsequently added to the recipe to seal bare wood against rotting. It was also discovered that the red color made for a warmer home in winter since it absorbed the sun’s rays.

Thus American “barn red” was born. Red paint came into being through function and utility, and spread in popularity becoming an American tradition that continues to this day.

The Preston – Foster House, Ipswich MA. The date of construction of the house is listed as 1690

The Preston – Foster House, Ipswich MA. The date of construction of the house is listed as 1690

Fun Fact: "Good Morning" Stair

Cape Cod Style homes often had what was called a"Good Morning" stair that rose towards the chimney block to reach the upper chambers. These stairs that rose from the front vestibule were always steep, weather they were supported by the chimney block or were placed at the end of what was called the Keeping Room. When the steep stairs from the front hall stopped at the top of the landing they faced a wall and forced one to turn 90 degrees to either of the two upper rooms. These stairs were aptly called the "Good Morning" stairs, for when the occupants from the bedrooms arose each day they faced each other and could say " Good morning" before descending to the first floor.

Typical stair risers are 7" tall (rise) x 10" long (run). Here, the "Good Morning" stairs have a rise of 10" and a run of 7". Steep but classic!

The Orleans Cape House Project has these exact "Good Morning" Stairs. Images below are of the existing stairs.

Fun Fact: Levittown, NY

I grew-up on Long Island and my recent visit sparked a desire to highlight the first suburban mass-produced housing development in the country, Levittown. Built between 1947-1951, the identical houses would become a symbol of the "American Dream" as it allowed thousands of families to become home owners.

The building firm, Levitt & Sons, began before WW II, however, during the war, William "Bill" Levitt served in the Navy and developed expertise in the mass-produced building of military housing using uniform and interchangeable parts.

After the war, with his architect-brother, Alfred, he designed a small one-floor house with an unfinished "expansion attic" that could be rapidly constructed and as rapidly rented to returning GIs and their young families.

Levitt & Sons built the community based on speed, efficiency, and cost-effective construction. They used pre-cut lumber and nails and built on concrete slabs. The building of every house was reduced to 26 steps, with sub-contractors responsible for each step. His mass production of thousands of houses at virtually the same time allowed Levitt to sell them for as little as $8,000 each.

The Cape Cod model: The 750-square-foot Cape Cods featured two bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen, a living room and a staircase to an unfinished attic. There were slight external differences. Homebuyers could choose from one of five colors and one of five window-arrangement patterns.

The Rancher model: Larger, 32 by 25 feet, and more modern then the Cape Cod. The ranch homes built on concrete slabs, included an expandable attic but no garage, and were heated with hot-water radiant heating pipes. This model was altered in 1950 to include a carport and a built-in television. In 1951, a partially finished attic was added to the design.

In all, 17,447 homes were constructed in Levittown between 1947 and 1951. Levittown has become so ingrained in American culture that the Smithsonian Institution in Washington would like to put on display an entire Levittown house.

Above Images of Levittown NY by Others

Why homeowners should not pull a permit

As an Architect I come across many homeowners who would like to perform their own renovations or pull their own permits to oversee the construction team or project.

By law, MA homeowers are allowed to obtain their own builing permit for renovations and improvments to their homes. While you are allowed to pull a permit it is very important to know that it comes with significant responsibility and risk.

I do not recommend any homeowner who isn't a licneced contractor pull their own permit. It is exteremly important that the permit holder has significant experience and an up-to-date knowledge of all related state and local requirements. It is imperative that you have a keen knowledge of all that is required to comply with the MA codes and not knowing can cause significant problems and potentially cost thousands of dollars to rectify. Meeting Structural and Energy code requirements are one of many examples of code requirements that will need to be removed and rectified if not complient.

When a homeowner obtains a building permit they are not eligible to access the Guaranty Fund established by the Home Improvement Law that was created to protect homeowners from losses incurred as a result of contractor or sub-contractor work performed in a poor or un-workmanlike manner, or work that violated code. Even if a contractor abandonds the job beacuse he priced it to low, the money lost cannot be recovered.

Even if a homeowner obtains the building permit, everyone performing construction work is required to be registered in accordance with the Home Improvement Law. This includes contractors who perform remodeling, window replacement, siding, insulation, demolition, roofing and masonary work. I recommend avoiding any contractor who agrees to perform work without permits for code related work, for cash payments, or don't provide evidance of insurance.

Further, it is a requirement that all state (IRC) and local codes be present onsite during construction. If you do not possess these books, it is a clear indication that you shouldn't pull your own permit.

I only align with homeowners who intend to hire a licenced contractor to build the project. While many homeowners feel they have a good handle on building and remodeling I strongly discorage anyone who isn't a licenced contractor from pulling a building permit for construction / remodeling projects.

Permission Please: Permitting

The Zoning By-laws are local ordinances regulating the use and development of property by dividing the jurisdiction into land use districts or zones represented on a map and specifying the uses and development standards (e.g. maximum height of structures, minimum setbacks, minimum useable open space) within each zone.  Zoning ordinances should be the first area of review as they are the most critical factors in all building projects.

Adhering to all of the zoning and building code requirements will result in the issuance of a building permit.  Permits are approvals required by local building authorities, including building, land use, electrical, HVAC, energy, conservation, etc.  As stated in my previous blog Do I need an Architect , an Architect is the person who will help you identify what you can and cannot do with your home and property legally based on the local zoning by-laws.

Many times a traditional Building Permit cannot be obtained without a preceding permit granted by one (or many) local town boards.  In all cases a public hearing before the board will be required.   Below are the types of permits a residential project might need before a building permit will be granted.

Variance – A limited waiver from the requirements of the zoning ordinance, or building code, that may be granted because of special circumstances regarding the subject property. A variance requires a public hearing before the Planning Commission or Zoning Board.  If needed, a variance is required prior to obtaining a building permit.  Keri Murray Architecture (KMA) was granted a Variance for the Cambridge Urban Addition Project.

Special Permit - A Special Permit isn't actually a permit in the familiar sense, but permission to construct a building or establish a use that is not allowed by right.  Special permits are often required when special site characteristics or design features warrant a deviation from the zoning standards for a typical lot.  Common requests for exceptions to these standards include variations in building height, setbacks, and floor area ratios (FARs). Sometimes a proposed project has unique characteristics that warrant special review to make sure it will be compatible with other uses nearby – such as an In-Law Apartment. The Planning Board is the Special Permit Granting Authority and their approval is required prior to obtaining a building permit.  KMA was granted a Special Permit for the Scituate Expansion Project.

Certificate of Appropriateness -  If your home is considered historic or lies within a historic district, you are bound by the regulations of the Historic Preservation Commission regarding the external appearance of your home. Any additions or changes have to comply with the rules of the commission and a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) will need to be issued prior to permitting.  These certificates approve work done to anything that can be seen from outside the house; including windows, doors, paint colors, materials, rooflines, gutters, etc. A COA confirms that the proposed design is appropriate and acceptable. KMA was granted a Certificate of Appropriateness for the Orleans Cape Project.

Use Permit - Rarely a Conditional Use Permit is required for residential projects. An example would be a residential building (house) looking to function as a daycare or play-school in addition to housing the residents.  Pursuant to the zoning ordinance, a permit to authorize uses not routinely allowed on a particular site subject to compliance with specified conditions.

In my next blog I will discuss the various city and town boards that grant permission.

Cost of Construction

As someone that directs and designs building projects, clients often assume that I will be able to provide them an accurate and up front price to have their project built. However, it's not always easy to estimate - project price is affected by any number of factors and the combined matrix of these factors determine the ultimate cost, the primary being that I ultimately don't build the project, contractors do! In general, there are a few givens that will always affect the price of a project:

  • Location - different geographies, building codes, and economies affect costs
  • Size and complexity - will a contractor need multiple subs? is the scale and shape of the design complex? will new construction marry up to old construction?
  • Quality - is time important? materials? etc.

Architects may have an idea of a range of Construction Cost, but no rule of thumb can determine actually cost.  There is however one certainty about construction costs: owner(s) don't accurately anticipate the true cost of construction and are often surprised that their project is going to cost what the number(s) come in at.  Owners planning on building a custom house, building an addition, or renovating their existing home in New England should expect estimates to be an average of $200+ SF; and it can be upwards of $300 SF depending on location, topography, desired features, materials, size, etc.

In my previous blog:  A Fee Based Expertise, I wrote about the way in which an Architect structures their compensation. This blog elaborates on how that relates to the Cost of Construction.  An Architect may base their fee on the Range of Construction Cost based on their better knowledge of construction costs.  For the Architect to have an understanding of what their fees should be, they may conduct their own guesstimate of what they believe the cost of construction will be based on standard Basic Services, past projects, and the knowledge of specific project needs.

On Residential projects in New England, it is common for Architectural fees to run between 8 and 15 percent of the cost of construction. The range in percentage has to do with the specifics of the project and the quality and level of services offered.  A smaller percentage reflects the minimum requirements to obtain a building permit while the larger percentage reflects full architectural services and a robust drawing set required to build the ideal project with fewer surprise costs during construction.  

The best approach for a homeowner is to first know how much they can spend, and then discuss their budget with the Architect. This will sever as the limiting factor for size, materials, customization, etc.  When preparing for a realistic cost of construction, owners should understand that architectural services are an important and vital component of the total design project budget and just like how construction cost are determined by a matrix of factors so too are architectural fees.

A Fee Based Expertise

There was a time when The American Institute of Architects (AIA) actually published a recommended fee schedule.  However, in 1990, the Department of Justice won a lawsuit where the AIA was to withdraw these recommendations and could in no way, directly or indirectly, restrain the way architects charge for services. Therefore, no real standard drives Architectural pricing which can pose a challenge for both Clients and Architects.  For Clients, it is common to select the lowest bidder and that can have costly downsides.  For Architects, it can be hard to successfully convey the value of their expertise.  

Rather than being paid for expertise, as some doctors or lawyers are, Architects are thought to be compensated for an object – a Drawing Set.  As mentioned in Beyond the Drawings, services provided by an Architect are so much more than just a set of drawings.  According to the National Council of Architectural Review Board (NCARB), it takes about 13 years for the average architect to complete school, solidify practice hours (Intern Development Program), and pass the seven required exams to secure their license.  After completing such steps, it is assumed they have developed skills and knowledge of great value to clients and should charge accordingly for professional services.  This expertise is what it comes down to thus a client pays an Architect for the hours it takes to design and document each unique project created for each individual client. 

While an architects' fees are an additional project cost, hiring an architect can actually save you money in many ways. Beyond the value of their expert professional knowledge of the industry, codes, and local by-laws (that fuel an in-depth and successful design project) Architects can monitor your budget, propose designs that reduce energy costs, and provide design and planning solutions that function efficiently. They can turn a difficult lot into a successful building site, and fully develop a project to avoid changes once construction is underway.

An architect's compensation can be based on time and/or a fixed fee.  It is typical to perform architectural services on an hourly basis, with estimated costs depending on client’s requested levels of service, anticipated project scope of work, and town/city requirements.  A hybrid fee that combines both an hourly fee and a fixed fee based on the individual phases throughout the entire project typically works best for both the Client and the Architect. 

It is best for an Architect to understand the scope of a project and the Client's budget in order to create a fee that makes the most sense for each specific project.  There should be a clear understanding of the scope of the work and a custom fee created to reflect that work.  It is reasonable that fees have a proportionate relationship to the cost of the project.  It is common in residential projects, especially additions or renovations, for fees to reflect a baseline of work.  This is due to the fact that there is a minimum amount of time required to document, design, permit, and coordinate the project; whether the project is a 300 SF mudroom or a 1,000 SF master bedroom and bath. 

A Registered Architect who believes in providing a high quality of service is able to keep fees in proportion to the project scope while working with the Client to meet the standard requirements that comes with every design project.  An Architect brings a valuable expertise to every project that strengthens the success of that project. 

FEASIBILITY STUDY

My previous blog post Working with an Architect touched upon the various steps and processes that define the services of an Architect.  After working with a Client in Cambridge MA to determine the viability of a project on a unique lot with many zoning restrictions, I thought it beneficial to discuss yet another aspect of service that benefits dimensionally challenged sites in towns with restrictive zoning - a Feasibility Study.

Most often an Architect will get hired to perform a feasibility study in towns that are known to have multiple lots/properties which don’t conform to typical zoning laws.  The benefit of a feasibility study is to determine the viability of a client’s anticipated project prior to engaging in full-blown design services.  The study will establish if the project is possible or what the potential problem(s) may be.  

A Feasibility Study investigates in detail the requirements for the Client’s project as well as the constraints, resulting in a written and graphic documentation of the Client’s project’s potential. This service is performed in combination with Phase One: Existing Condition Documentation and Code/By-Law Research yet results in a more robust gathering of information related to challenging sites.   

The process begins with an initial meeting to discuss the requirements of the project and to establish the overall scope and preliminary budget. A thorough investigation of the existing house, in conjunction with a zoning code review, and a site analysis is performed. It is important to have an accurate and up-to-date Plot Plan generated by a licensed surveyor prior to beginning the study. Meetings with town inspections personnel such as the Building Inspector, Zoning Specialist, and Conservation Administrator are imperative to the accurate completion of the study.  The end result from this phase is the establishment of the overall parameters that will affect the design and determine any/all viable options to support zoning code compliance.

Performing a feasibility study is the ideal way to thoroughly evaluate a site in towns that are known to have strict building constraints, non-conforming lots, and dense by-law requirements.  It is important to engage the services of a Registered Architect to assess the viability of an anticipated project.

The non-conforming lot

My first blog post Do I need an Architect touched upon some of the factors that make building or remodeling a house overwhelming. Factors like budgeting, permitting, phasing, and construction are in themselves complex and multi-faceted. Today I am going to cover yet another confusing aspect of the design process - the non-conforming lot.

Many homeowners are justifiably surprised to learn that their property does not meet the city or town’s zoning code and that it is classified as "non-conforming". A non-conforming designation can result from a house occupying too much of the lot (known as Floor Area Ratio), or having improper distance(s) from the street or neighboring lot.  While a non-conforming lot is not uncommon and is not necessarily problematic, it helps to have an architect to explain and work through the intricacies of working with local officials to make sure all of the requirements are accounted for and met.

Zoning is complicated; each town has its own set of by-laws that are written and enforced differently.  Some towns have extensive regulations and dozens of pages with diagrams, charts, and tables.  Others are the opposite and have vague and poorly recorded requirements. To make things more complicated; the application process (be it a for a Special Permit, Variance, or Certificate) varies from town to town.  Regardless, in all instances town officials require supporting documentation from a registered professional, whether it be an Architect, Engineer, or Land Surveyor.

It is important to engage the services of a Registered Architect to navigate the complexities of zoning regulations and to guide you through the process of building on a non-conforming lot.  The key to successfully bringing your design project to life is working with someone who has an understanding of the nuances of local zoning laws and who can marry vision with the demands of local vernacular.

Continue to follow my blog to learn about each specific permit as well as the various city and town boards that grant permits and certificates.

Beyond the Drawings: Construction Administration (CA)

My previous blog post: Working with an Architect explained the design process and professional services performed by an architect.  Those services continue beyond completion of the drawing set, where the Architect performs Construction Administration (CA).

The construction process is just as important to the finished product as the initial design process.  It is the Architects’ role to assist the client in navigating the complexities of Construction; and plays an important administrative role during construction of the project.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) sets standards for services and activities performed during construction.  These services include assisting the Client with bidding the project by way of distributing drawings to contractors and providing answers and clarifications throughout the bidding process.  

Once a Contractor is selected and construction begins, the Architect will:

-Answer questions or provide clarification as issues arise in the field; and produce additional drawings or supplemental information to support the design. 

-Perform periodic site visits to observe the work and its compliance with the construction drawings and design intent. 

-Approve or deny (after careful review with the Owner) any change orders issued by the Contractor.

-Review the project for completeness and create a punch list of any outstanding work to be completed prior to final payment.

The above doesn’t highlight every activity performed by an Architect during CA but it identifies the majority of what is done to ensure a quality house is built.  It is important to note that the Architect does not control means or methods of construction; that is solely the responsibility of the Contractor.  What the Architect is expected to do is spend time working with the contractor to ensure they understand the design intent.  Expectations for quality are communicated to those performing the work and ongoing communication ensures the work performed results in the best finished product.

Involvement by the Architect has a direct bearing on the quality of the finished product.  If not actively involved, the final result may not meet expectations.  Direct involvement ensures the Clients’ desires, Architects’ vision, and Contractors’ concerns are all addressed and coordinated to result in the successful completion of the house. 

Continue to follow my blog to learn about the phase before all phases: The Feasibility Study.

Working with an Architect

Chances are you haven’t worked with an Architect before.  This is a new relationship and your understanding of how it unfolds is unclear.  Below I will describe how Architects go about designing your project and the various steps and processes that define their services.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) defines industry standards for professional services by an architect.  The AIA formalizes the design process in three parts: schematic design (SD), design development (DD) and construction documents (CD).  These are followed by two construction related activities where the Architect has an administrative role: bidding and negotiations (with contractors) and construction administration.

For all residential projects preliminary research is a necessary part of the process therefore some studios begin their services with a Pre-Design phase and combine SD and DD into one Design Development phase.

PRE-DESIGN: This is when all of the fact finding begins.  A very personal relationship between the Client and the Architect begins to form. Meetings are set to discuss design objectives, program needs, aesthetic desires, and construction budget.  Additionally, the Architect becomes familiar with the existing house, or plot of land, to gain an understanding of both the site and structure.  To develop this understanding, the Architect performs existing conditions documentation, extensive code research, and town by-law analysis.  This phase concludes with a set of existing conditions drawings to be used during the following phases.

DESIGN DEVELOPMENT:  This is when design begins and the exploration of preliminary spatial concepts and layout options unfolds. Design Development is typically the longest of the three phases.  A good Architect will provide the necessary guidance to keep the project on track while effectively meetings design objectives.   Multiple meetings with the Client contribute to the evolution of the design while any obstacles or constraints are address.  Ideas flow from Client to Architect and back again in an involved, imaginative process. Based on these ongoing conversations, two or three design options consisting of plans, elevations, and 3D vignettes are presented and a final design selected.

CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENTS:  Typically the Client is less involved in this phase since the design has been finalized and agreed upon. Now the Architect will create a technical set that conveys construction methods which are permit and code compliant.  Once the Construction Documents are complete the Architect will take on an administrative role to assist with construction efforts.  

The process of designing a home - from incorporating spatial quality, program, and building code requirements- is actually a formal, defined process.  Working with an Architect is a creative and exciting process that is ever evolving within a defined framework of service.  My next blog with discuss the administrative role an Architect plays during the construction phase.

Do I need an Architect?

So you have decided to pursue a residential design project; whether it be a remodel, renovation, addition, or new construction.  Now what?  Starting a project and following the correct steps throughout the process can be overwhelming.  Many homeowners are surprised by the numerous steps that are involved in even the simplest design projects.  Steps include: what is the first thing I should do; how do I properly budget for the project I imagine; where and how do I apply for a permit; which applications need to be filled out; and will I need a variance or special permit?  You also may wonder whether you need sign-off from the Board of Health or when you should involve a contractor and how do I go about doing so?  The list of questions (and steps) goes on and on.

An Architect can answer all of your questions and map out a path to guide you from your initial design goals through construction completion. Not only will the Architect identify what you can and cannot do with your home and property legally, but she will make careful and thoughtful decisions when planning for efficiency and economy.   

So do you really need an Architect?  In all Massachusetts towns the Building Inspector will require a set of drawings stamped by a Registered Architect if they determine the scope of the project requires code or structural information or if zoning and by-law requirements need to be met.   In many remodel and renovation projects this is the case and in all addition or new construction projects this is a certainty.

In sum, the services of an Architect are vital to completing your construction project.  It is important to hire an Architect with a reputation for honest and open communication, fair fee proposals, and a high level of quality.  Architecture is collaborative and you will develop a relationship with your Architect that is highly personalized; so take special care in checking with references and reading endorsements. It is important to know that residential projects consist of the best efforts from the Client, Architect, and Contractor.   

Check back for additional blogs about the value of Architects and explanations on why the role of an Architect is so important in your Residential Design Project process.