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  • Lorianna Kastrop

Skipping architectural design can be penny-wise, pound foolish

“I already have a design, I just need the plans drawn up.” This is a statement that makes architects cringe. In some cases, it will cause the architect to turn down your project. What someone thinks is a “design” could have a lot of missing pieces. Even when people use design software to draw up a floor plan, their idea typically hasn’t taken into consideration the building code requirements, local ordinances, structural issues, cost of construction, best use of space and other important factors. By saying they have a completed design, the client has boxed the architect into a corner. The client will get a lower quality outcome as a result.

We certainly want our clients to come to us with ideas, sketches, photos, and examples of what they like. They can bring us their version of the design. We will work closely with the client to incorporate their ideas, needs and desires into the final design. We don’t expect a blank slate. But we want the latitude to utilize our expertise and experience to come up with the best possible design within the client’s budget. We will then draw it up into a set of construction documents (plans and specifications). If the client thinks that they have already completed the design, they will only want to pay for the documents. They will be unwilling to engage in (and pay for) the creative thought process and design steps that are necessary for an optimal project.

If you have clear ideas about what you would like to achieve, and you like to dabble in design, even use a home version of design software, that’s great! Just don’t assume that you’ve done the architect’s job. Bring us your ideas and we will use those as a starting point for the design.

Licensed architects not only have to complete a college degree in architecture, they must work years of apprenticeship training and pass a battery of rigorous examinations. The amount of time it takes to get an architectural license in the U.S. currently averages 12.5 years! It takes not only artistic and creative abilities, it also takes geometric and mathematical skills and a strong understanding of physics. An architectural license is a matter of public health and safety, since we all spend much of our lives inside buildings. It’s not something you can learn by buying off-the-shelf software.

Here is an example that we encountered recently. A retail store owner wanted to remodel his store. He thought it was an easy project and he paid an interior designer to draw up a “design” based on his ideas. The interior designer is not a licensed architect, and although the drawings looked legitimate, they didn’t comply with building codes and accessibility requirements. The store owner hired a contractor friend, who started to work on the changes. The next thing he knew, the County slapped him with a stop work order. He came to us to create the permit drawings. (He didn’t want a new design.) We wanted to help him—we are customers of his store. But we couldn’t figure out an easy way to rescue the project (as it was currently laid out) to make it compliant. Basically, he would have to start from the beginning with a new design to fix the deficiencies. He felt that he couldn’t afford to do that because he had already spent money on it. We had to turn down the project. We are not sure how he will resolve the problem. The remedy will doubtless be much more expensive than what he saved with his do-it-yourself design.

On the other hand, we currently have a client who is an interior designer herself. She works on huge hotel projects, but the project she brought to us is the remodel of her home. Obviously, she knows how to design and draft, but she understands that she’s not a specialist in residential projects. She felt that she could use the guidance of an architect who has done a lot of residential work. This creates an ideal situation, where we have great ideas coming from the client who relies on our expertise to make sure that the project is designed properly, and the permitting process goes smoothly.

So, don’t be penny-wise, pound foolish. Hire an architect to go through the design process with you. It will save you money, time and aggravation in the long run. Thanks for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

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