Hiring an architect when planning your home will typically save you money in the long run.  An architect is a resourceful ally who will help keep your project timing and costs on track whilst providing you with an original design that incorporates your wishes and also maximizes function and beauty.

Creating Your Design
Good chemistry is the key to great design, and this is especially important during the early steps. In order to tailor a design, you’ll need to share the details of your lifestyle, your needs and desires. Expect intense communication. The more you give the architect to work with, the better he or she will be able to translate your thoughts into a workable solution. Talk about any activities that are likely to take place in and around your home—your entertainment style, cooking, eating and privacy needs. No detail is too small: pets, automobiles, storage, workspaces, views, breezes and sun angles. Consider any future flexibility your family might need. Express your aesthetic preferences, for style, materials and colours. 


Collage by OBM International

After the research phase, and after thoroughly inspecting the site, the architect starts to organise the information into a coordinated design. Preliminary sketches help move you towards detailed drawings. Remember that while the architect’s primary job is to satisfy your needs, you hired a professional with talent and experience to help you create what you need within your budget. Their advice comes from years of experience dealing with situations and obstacles similar to the ones you may face, so you can benefit from what they’ve learned.

As the design develops, your architect will keep track of construction cost estimates. If costs start to creep up, you can discuss alternative options, such as less custom detailing, less expensive materials, smaller spaces or a phased construction sequence. An inventive architect can come up with creative solutions to transform what may initially seem to be a sacrifice into a design advantage.

The drawings start to take shape and communicate the design. The site plan shows the boundaries and topography of the land, the important landscape elements that impact design, the orientation of the buildings, and the placement of roads and driveways. Floor plans, sections and elevations show the buildings drawn to scale. A 3-D model may be developed to help to visualise the way the elements of the design fit together and sit on the site. Inspect the drawings carefully and imagine yourself inhabiting the house. Do the spaces work for their intended purposes? Does the flow and circulation work? Do you like the way it looks? Are the different finishes, doors and windows and built-ins what you wanted?


Photo courtesy of OBM International

Construction Documents, Bidding and Negotiation
Once the direction is established and the design is understood and approved, the architect works with the structural and civil engineers, and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers, to coordinate their input.  On smaller projects, the architect is often required to do the layouts of the electrical and plumbing systems. The architect and their consultants thus develop dimensioned technical drawings suitable for construction.

Once the construction drawings are complete and the Building Permit has been approved, the architect can help you interview and hire the general contractor and negotiate a contract.

On Site
Once the project is on site, the architect should visit the construction site on a regular basis, to ensure work is on schedule, the drawings are being followed correctly, and the standard of workmanship is up to par. He or she can also certify payments and may mediate minor conflicts between you and the contractor.

As the construction takes shape, the architect can manage changes that might arise. Even minor details like adding or moving a window mean amending drawings, readjusting your budget and creating a “change order” to keep control of costs. Ensure there is an appropriate paper trail and that you have final approval on any potential cost changes before the work is done.

When the work is finished and the utilities are turned on, walk through the structure with the architect and prepare a final “punch list” of workmanship corrections and nonfunctioning items for the xontractor. The warranty period (usually one year) begins once all these details are corrected and the final payment is made.

Too often in the BVI, we see unattractive buildings which don’t work well: steep stairs, awkward unusable areas, wasteful spaces, an absence of natural light and ventilation, severe and unnecessary cuts in the hillside. These are usually the consequences of a lack of thought and design consideration, which often result from limited fees, compressed time frames, or from simply not having the knowledge and experience to avoid these errors.

The value of hiring an architect should be apparent in the results. Well-designed buildings are efficient, sit comfortably on the site, and are well oriented for views, breezes and shading. And although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the building should be a well-proportioned and well-organised reflection of the owner’s tastes. You may have a reasonable concept of what you’re aiming for when you start the design process, but with a good architect on your side, your ideas will be developed, improved and executed with style while saving you time and money.