Choosing the right architect is not a small decision.

So, you’ve decided to build your dream home and seek the right architect. Congrats! This is a big step in a journey that can change your life.

You are looking for a person or team who shares your values, understands you and what you want from your project, and has the skills, time, discipline, and organization to translate your hopes and dreams into something real.

Whether you’re building your dream home or a commercial space, the architect you choose will play a pivotal role in bringing your vision to life. But how do you ensure you’re making the right choice? By asking the right questions.

1. What will the design experience be like and how much time will it take? 

If you’ve never built a home before, this is all new territory. As much as the process is about creating something beautiful, there are many parts of it that aren’t glamorous. There are budgets, red tape and layers of relationships that all need to be organized and managed for the project to go smoothly.

The first thing you need to know is that your architect is there for you. They are there to take care of all these parts and little details that you may never have thought about.

Every firm has its own style and procedures. Asking the architect you are interviewing to walk you through their process will be important to gauge how well you will work together.

Also, it’s good to be clear on how involved you want to be, how many meetings you want to be part of, and so on. This will help you dig deeper into whether the architect’s process jives with your own.

In terms of time, it will depend on the scope of your project. A large project can easily spend a year in the design phase. You’re in it for the long haul. Things can be sped up to a certain extent, but it’s important for you to gauge whether the architect has the staff, the organization and the capacity to handle the work. An architect who is too busy to respond or misses deadlines is going to bog down your timeline and be a source of frustration. On the flip side, keep in mind that you have a responsibility here too. If you are too busy to respond or take a long time to make decisions, it will slow down the process, delay your schedule, and will affect cost.


2. What is my role in the design and building process?

You as the client have many key responsibilities in the process, notably giving clear/specific scope direction, making timely decisions, and keeping “fuel in the tank” with timely bill pay to keep your team working hard for you. Determining your level of involvement is an important part of your initial conversations. You want to work with an architect that takes care of all the little details so that the decisions you have to make along the way are clear. How do you get a sense of this from these early interviews? Ask these questions and have these conversations. Request a schedule of important client approvals needed. Voice your concerns, fears, and aspirations. This is your project.

3. Who will manage my project and be my point of contact? 

An architecture firm is almost always more than one person, and clear communication is the cornerstone of a successful architectural project. Knowing who’s at the helm, how they plan to oversee the project, and who to reach out to for updates or concerns is vital. This question helps establish a clear chain of command and communication. Whether it’s a firm Principal, Project Manager, Designer, or BIM Manager, understanding their roles and responsibilities can streamline interactions and foster a collaborative environment where your vision is prioritized and executed with precision.

Understanding how the architecture firm operates, who will be on your team, and who to call when you have questions is valuable in order to decide whether a firm is going to meet your expectations from the outset.

4. What are your design fees?

One of the crucial inquiries to pose to an architect pertains to the financial dimension. For a project to be successful, it must accommodate your financial wellness just as much as it provides for your physical space needs. “What are your fees?” is often a question we receive early on in client conversations. This is answered with key information gleaned from our clients: 1) The specific scope of work requested (square footage, space types required, general aesthetic, quality wants/needs, and services requested), 2) Ideal schedule details (speed and timing can certainly impact cost; planned construction start is an important detail), and 3) Construction budget (cost per square foot construction budget is indicative of the level of finish and thus level of architectural detailing required).

Since every client’s financial preferences and comfort level are different, ask about different fee structures – do they charge a fixed fee, an hourly rate, a cost per square foot, or a percentage of the project’s total cost? Some architects offer options or a hybrid model, combining various fee structures depending on the project’s complexity. Will they provide regular updates on expenditures? How do they handle unforeseen expenses or changes in the project scope? By delving into these questions, you can align your budgetary constraints with your architect’s pricing model, ensuring a transparent collaboration.

5. What is your role in the construction process, do you have someone on the team with construction experience? 

You might be surprised to know that, in terms of hours spent, the architect’s time on the construction site is a small portion of their overall hours on the project. It makes sense when you think about it. The architect designs and does all the drawings to tell the contractor what to build. The contractor builds.

Still, the architect’s site visits are a crucial part in making sure you get the home you want. They are there on your behalf to check in to see that everything is going well and to look for errors or quality problems. Because they aren’t going to be there all day every day they can’t be expected to see everything, but the more they know, the more valuable these visits will be. You want to know that your architect is taking this role seriously and that they have the experience to spot an issue.


6. What project challenges do you foresee, and are you open to feedback and criticism?

Every project, no matter how well-planned, comes with its unique set of challenges. By asking this, you’re tapping into the architect’s foresight and experience. It’s an opportunity for them to highlight potential hurdles, whether it is related to the site, design aspirations, or regulatory constraints. Addressing these challenges early on can pave the way for proactive solutions, ensuring the project progresses smoothly without last-minute surprises.

When discussing open communication, this is also a good time to ask how they respond to feedback and criticisms. You want to find an architect that is confident, creative, bold, and decisive. You are hiring them to come up with something amazing, after all. On the flip side, you probably don’t want to work with someone that is bringing too much ego to the table, who gets overly fixated on their design and isn’t listening to you or is overly sensitive to feedback. You might as well ask…

7. What other services do you offer that can help with this project?

There are many services an architectural firm may offer beyond their basic architectural services. Whether it’s an in-house interior designer, a specialist in landscape design, an expertise in kitchens, environmental or wellness certifications, they might have something you hadn’t thought about that can add significant value to your project.

By understanding the breadth of their services, you can determine if they are a one-stop solution for your needs, which may often streamline your project experience and cost, or rather if you’ll need to engage other professionals. This clarity can simplify the collaboration process and ensure that all aspects of your project are in capable hands.

8. What other consultants do I need to hire? 

Building a house has many layers of complexity. Once you add lighting designers, home theater consultants, environmental engineers, and so on, the relationships intertwine in ways that need to be understood and managed.

Typically there are certain consultants that the architect hires, who need to be organized to get the building to work; and there are certain consultants that are your responsibility. The architect is in charge of the key players that relate to the building: mechanical, plumbing, structural, electrical engineers. Everything related to the site conditions such as civil engineering and landscape design is typically your responsibility. Some specialty consultants such as audio-visual, pool/spa, or specialty lighting depend on your specific project and preferences.

Asking the architect this question will help you understand who they like to work with and will also give you more information for what additional services or complexities will need to be addressed throughout the project.


9. What is your experience in my city, state, or region? 

Familiarity with climate considerations, regional landscape/topography, local regulations, and cultural nuances can be a game-changer in architectural design. This question for architects aims to gauge their experience and adaptability within specific locales. An architect with prior projects in your city or town will likely be well-versed with the local building codes, permit processes, and even the idiosyncrasies of regional design preferences. Their past experiences can streamline processes, ensuring a smoother execution of your project. Additionally, they might even share insights from previous projects, giving you a clearer picture of what to expect.

10. What’s your favorite place you’ve visited or what has inspired you the most? 

Call it a ‘getting to know you’ question… When selecting an architect, you aren’t simply asking for a set of plans. You are seeking a trusted partner to listen to your needs, discern and cultivate your style, observe what inspires you, and deliver something beautiful that will impact your life for many years to come. Questions to understand your architect’s own inspiration, background, and thought process beyond technical qualifications may be enlightening as you find the person or team who fits best.

Good luck embarking on the design process! It’s more than an investment of time and resources; it can be an enlightening and rewarding journey of discovery.