the value of an architect

February 10, 2011

Over the last few weeks I have been confronted by question, "what is the value of a residential architect?"
Two different scenarios:

1) A client was forced to make the choice to greatly reduce our services during construction. A year after construction began, I made another complementary site visit. The client was overhwhelmed with the need to make immediate decisions, frustrated to no end with the process, doubting the ability of the contractor, and generally exhausted by the whole thing. This is devasting to me to see good people suffer, and I am reminded of a key component to my profession – it is the architect's job to be your advocate. To protect your wants and needs. To help deflect frustrating circumstances and remedy the unknown. Most homeowners have never built an addition or a whole house before. We have. Many times, in fact. As the completion of the home drags along, the cost to have us available during construction may have ultimately saved the client money and perhaps even more valuable – time and heartache.

2) At an interview, I quoted a client $200-$300/sf for the cost of construction. Upon follow-up I learned from the owner that they had been quoted half that – $100 to $150/sf by builders, including "green" builders.  I honestly don't know how this is possible. Ok, maybe I do. Vinyl siding, vinyl windows, plastic this and plastic that, hollow core doors, plastic tubs, 2×4 construction, minimal air sealing, heat pumps, and my list could go on. Basically, materials that are not durable, mechanical equipment that is not efficient, construction that is not healthy and a home that is not "yours." In the long run, this home will likely cost more in repairs, replacement, health and energy costs than the $200-$300/ sf home that is thoughtfully planned by an architect. A home that uses natural, durable materials that will last and not cause its occupants headaches. With an architect, an envelope designed to reduce energy demands by up to 80-90% (with the help of a Passive House Consultant) is possible and can meet net zero (with the help of the sun). It will be designed to meet your needs, the requirement of your site, and be beneficial to our environment.

To quote Mr. Brennan, "an architect is your best investment."