Value of an Architect

Value of an Architect

We'll Guide You Through The Approval Process

Designing and building from the ground up or doing major renovations is an exciting thing, but it will require certain legal approvals from governing jurisdictions before a permit is issued. Depending on the project there are many approvals that may apply: Zoning, Building Code, Utilities Code, Public Space Permits, Fire Marshall Review, Historic Preservation Reviews, Neighborhood Committee Reviews, and others. This phase of a project can be very cumbersome, frustrating, and expensive for clients, especially if not done the correct way.

Constructing a building - let alone designing it - is a very complex process. Many governmental offices and department will put their hands on your project checking for compliance with a variety of codes and regulations. This can be overwhelming. Architects are trained to decifer which codes and regulations apply and what documentation is needed to satisfy them, all the while progressing the design of the project. (Diagram by Marques King)

Architects know all the various approval processes and can determine when or if they affect a particular project. We guide our clients through these procedures by preparing the proper documentation to show compliance, representing the client and the project at public review hearings, and educating clients on the permitting process and fees. Architects take this burden off the client and lead a project to full permitted approval, making a stressful process much quicker and efficient. Contractors typically do not have this skill. They may be knowledgeable of the building code, but are often unaware of the many other restrictions that will apply to a project. Oversight of these restrictions significantly slow down the progress of a project and even prevent it from moving forward at all. The cost to the client to fix compliance issues could easily be in the thousands and result in more convoluted legal paperwork. It is important to get this right the first time. Architects ensure every legal implication of a project is accounted for and satisfied.

Contractors Build Buildings, Architects Design Experiences

The most valuable asset architects bring to any design project is the ability to craft buildings that offer unique experiences to their users. Architectural training consists of a comprehensive study of buildings and cities throughout history. We study hundreds of ideas and concepts that have been developed and perfected over the course of time. From ancient to modern architecture, we dissect the core concepts, master them, and add them to our repertoire to replicate and progress in our own architecture. As architects we understand how to organize and sequence space to evoke certain feelings and moods. We understand natural light and how to manipulate it to create spaces. We understand style, scale, visual composition and proportion. Yes, we use ‘brick and mortar’ to physically make a building. But, it’s the creative relationships between these physical components that make the structure unique and influential. We understand that well designed buildings and the communities they form, have the ability to create unforgettable memories and comfortable emotions. Architecture is unlike any other art form, in that to be good, it must be both functional and enjoyable for people.

This is not to say that builders do not care how people experience their spaces. Most do and some don’t. But most contractors are not able to create highly nuanced and memorable spatial experiences in buildings and cities. Contractors build. Their chief concern is with construction and not spatial exposure. So let’s set the record straight. Creating buildings with spaces that offer great experiences, takes more than applying over priced materials to a wall or using commercial grade kitchen appliances. It’s not about the materials used, it’s how they’re used. And it’s not about the spaces made, it’s about how people experience them. Architects have the creative mind and ability to create these enjoyable spatial episodes.

A rooftop sketch I drew while working in Seaside merged with a photograph of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico horizon. It is an accurate depiction of experiences afforded to the residents and visitors of Seaside because of good design vision by architects and urban designers. (Sketch by Marques King)

A rooftop sketch I drew while working in Seaside merged with a photograph of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico horizon. It is an accurate depiction of experiences afforded to the residents and visitors of Seaside because of good design vision by architects and urban designers. (Sketch by Marques King)

Architects See the Whole System

Architects visualize buildings as a holistic system consisting of many parts. We are a rare mix of artisan and scientist. Popular opinion suggests that architects are only concerned with how buildings look. Not so. We are trained and educated to be familiar with every aspect of a building’s functionality and beauty.

There are many systems that must be coordinated in order for a building to function properly: electrical, HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Cooling), plumbing, telecommunication,, irrigation, waste, and structural systems to name a few. Architects allocate adequate space to each system and ensure their proper placement, resolving any conflicts that arise between them. An example of this is running ventilation ductwork in a ceiling. Each duct must comply with the mechanical code, which serves as a basis of sizing the duct. The duct is positioned in the ceiling but its location must also be coordinated with other ducts, the ceiling structure, the plumbing pipes, thermal insulation, lighting, and the ceiling finish, all which require space. Finally, this assembly must meet building code requirements and the experiential intent of the overall design. A contractor would see the installation of an individual system as a success. An architect would judge success based on the installation of all parts in support of the building’s visual and spatial purpose.  

A sketch where I was working out how all of the building's systems and components will successfully work together. Buildings are very complex with many things that will have to occupy the same space. (Sketch my Marques King)

A sketch where I was working out how all of the building's systems and components will successfully work together. Buildings are very complex with many things that will have to occupy the same space. (Sketch my Marques King)

A sketch where I was working out how all of the building's systems and components will successfully work together. Buildings are very complex with many things that will have to occupy the same space. (Sketch my Marques King)

A sketch where I was working out how all of the building's systems and components will successfully work together. Buildings are very complex with many things that will have to occupy the same space. (Sketch my Marques King)


The buildings themselves are also apart of the system that surrounds them. In every situation, urban or rural, a building will have a relationship to its context. On a farm, there are a collection of buildings - main house, barn, stable - that require certain relationships on the land. The entry path from the county road would lead to the main house. The main house would be close to the well water supply. The barn and stable would be placed away from the main house and close to the crops and grazing lands. In cities and urban-like areas, there are master plans that detail an overall vision of how buildings should relate to one another. To retain the cohesiveness of this pattern, buildings must hold certain relationships with the street, adjacent buildings, sidewalks, open spaces as well as respond to existing aesthetic character. Again, it is within the architect’s job and ability to determine how buildings - pieces to a whole - will fit properly in the larger regional system.

Architects Can Save you Time and Money

Architectural services are too often seen as a cost rather than an investment. However, architects can save their clients enormous amounts of time and thousands of dollars throughout a project.

In the local Detroit Hip-Hop scene there is a rapper by the name of “Stretch-Money”. One of my favorite songs from Stretch is “Takes Money to make Money”. It’s a simple and groovy song about Hustlin’ - spending money to create more value in the future. This philosophy is true of many things. Good architecture is no different.

If given the proper amount of time to design a building, architects can craft a concise, complete, and well-thought out construction document set from which the project can be efficiently built from. From a capital cost standpoint, this ‘extra’ time will cost more than a hurried project. But from a life cycle stance, reducing an architect's fees by demanding unreasonable project schedules, will 99% of the time never save any money. It will however produce lower quality drawings and inevitably increase the overall cost of the project. Lower quality drawings and specifications will have details not completely thought out or missing. They will have building system coordination issues as well as a tremendous amount of ambiguity. Uncertainty in an architect's drawings will provoke builders and subcontractors to submit very high cost of work estimates to compensate for the uncertainty and unresolved issues. These ambiguities will eventually need to be resolved during the construction phase. Addressing them during this phase will seriously slow down construction and add even more costs to the project. Contractors will file for change orders - adjustments to price and/or schedule because of a change in work - and architects will have to respond to them, correcting issues they didn’t have time to before. In the end, the client will pay substantial amounts of additional money to the builder and architect, for issues that should have been resolved during the design phases.


So what’s the difference between a $15,000 set of drawings and $30,000 set of drawings? Simple.Tens of thousands of dollars in additional construction costs, prolonged project schedules, unnecessary paperwork, threats of legal action, a potentially crappier finished project, and a ton of ‘brain-damage”. The value of an architect is an investment, not a cost. Good architects are worth their fees. They will produce high quality drawings free of excessive ambiguity and exercise a high competence in constructibility procedures. During construction, this will reduce contractor questions in the field and save clients thousands of dollars in correction and maintenance fees.

Architects Provide Client Assurance and Insurance

Once the documents required to build a project are completed, the client enters into a contractual agreement with a builder who agrees to build it for a set price. Most clients of architectural services are not familiar with the intricacies of constructing a building. Contractors have an unfair advantage in this regard. They have the ability to deviate from the design instructions, to cut corners, to slack on craftsmanship, and to substitute specified products and materials for cheaper ones of lesser quality. This is done ‘secretly’ with the sole interest of reducing a builder’s costs, overhead, and construction time to make more profit. The client is usually left with a building of lesser quality than the one paid for. This is the source of many people’s fears when it comes to construction and renovation. It’s a sad story, one I’m sure you’ve heard before.

Architects are a client's only inssurane and assurance that a project will be constructed as designed and as desired. (Diagram by Marques King)

Architects provide insurance and assurance to clients that their projects will be built according to the drawings, specifications, and other contractual documents. In dealings with contractors, architects are the legal agents representing the client in all matters of construction. Architects will execute certain duties like periodically visit job sites to evaluate the progress of construction, make field notes, communicate progress to the client, resolve design issues on site, review construction submittals, control payments to the builder, and conduct a final check (punch list) to insure the project is complete. Most importantly, architects insure that the project is being built the way it is was designed - a design that reflects the client’s desires, personality, and lifestyle. Buildings are huge investments. You should get exactly what you pay for.

Architects bring tremendous value to each and every stage of making a building. We are not a cost nor a liability. We are an insurance. We are creators. We are managers. But most of all we are an investment that yields financial and sentimental dividends. Why? Because we have just as much interest as the client, if not more, in seeing the project completed as designed. We insure that happens. The end result maybe the clients building. But the building's  design is a direct reflection of our creativity and our work........... "work, work, work, work.”

Check out some of our other great STUDI materials and products related to this topic!!!

Architect + Entrepreneur Vol.1 and Vol.2 are fantastic business books written by Architect Eric Reinholdt of 30x40 Design Workshop. Each of these are books that i have personally read. They offer basic lean-start up business information relevant to any market, but also business information specific to an architecture practice. I personally recommend each of them for young architects as well as the more general curious entrepreneur. 

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