Architecture: Finding the Right Architect

Reprinted from PN February 2002
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Owners of homes and commercial facilities who want to remove access barriers or add accessible features often require architectural and engineering services. Architects are trained and licensed professionals who perform many services that produce functional and cost-effective designs. They help owners establish a project scope and develop alternatives for addressing their design objectives. The completed architectural design becomes the basis for a building permit, a construction contract, and, often, a financial loan.

A good design is integral to success. To find the right architect for accessibility projects, building owners need to understand the profession's structure and common types of practice.

Architects are licensed by individual states based on a period of internship, educational requirements, a written examination, and a background check. Most states have reciprocity procedures for out-of-state architects.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is the leading professional organization for architects. Membership is voluntary, however, and many outstanding architects elect not to join. AIA has a national headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 300 state and local chapters throughout the United States.

Most architects and architecture firms focus their practice on specific project types in terms of the size, scope, and occupancy classification. Large commercial firms, for example, usually don't design small residential projects.

Accessibility is an important component of all types of commercial architecture by virtue of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and the many state and local building codes. Some architects with the most extensive accessibility experience are those who design medical and long-term-care residential facilities.

If you are a homeowner with a disability, you may want to construct a residential accessibility project. In choosing an architect for your project, it is important that you hire someone with whom you feel comfortable. Every stage of the design process depends on clear communication between client and architect. The process of designing, permitting, funding, and constructing can be trying. The chances for success are much higher when you work with an architect you trust.

Ideally, you can begin your selection process by word-of-mouth. A personal recommendation from a trusted acquaintance is always a good place to start.

Once you have narrowed your choices, look at some projects the architect or firm has completed. If you don't like what you see, you might want to look further. You can also check with previous clients to see what their experiences were.

People are often in a hurry to start a project. They rush the selection of an architect and then hurry the design process. This is a shortsighted approach. Haste at this stage will have a detrimental effect on all the work that follows.


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