Six questions to ask before hiring an architect

BPAS has also put technology to use to improve client experience in terms of visualising the end product. (Image: supplied)

Taking on a new building project is no small task. Given the resources involved, whether constructing a home or a commercial development (or even renovating), it’s important to partner with the right professionals. This includes finding an architect who not only understands your brief and your budget, but who can bring the right expertise to your project to ensure it’s a success. This includes the aesthetic components, but also knowledge of building regulations and codes, zoning schemes, and risk management principles. However, choosing the best architect for your needs can be challenging. That’s why it’s important to ask the right questions before making a final selection. These six questions are designed to assist in this process.

Why would I be a good fit for your firm as a client?

“The best partnership between a client and architect is one where there is mutual respect and a shared objective,” says Landseer Collen, Principal Director at BPAS Architects, a multidisciplinary architecture and design firm based in Cape Town. “When choosing an architect, you’ll want to select someone who has expertise in your space and who can deliver on your brief with confidence. For example, if you’re planning to build a luxury guest lodge or city apartment complex, you’ll ideally want an architect with either a track record in these types of developments who understands the niche requirements or who is actively looking to enter the market and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure your project will be a success. You also want to work with someone whose ethics and philosophy match you well.”

Can you execute my brief within my budget?

While clients often hesitate to share their budget with an architect, Collen says that doing so ensures you are not sold a design that cannot be built with the funds available. “This avoids frustration on both sides,” he says. “Being upfront from the start also avoids wasting time that might be spent redesigning a building to cut costs later on.”

Are there any challenges you foresee with my project?

This question can help you manage your expectations on a project and also make you aware of problems you might not have thought about. “As a professional consultant, your architect is a bit like a medical specialist who can diagnose potential issues with your project and ‘treat’ them to ensure they are resolved as best as possible,” says Collen. “But great architects go beyond problem-solving – they also look at how to proactively get the best results for you. Think of it as prescribing the right vitamins and minerals to ensure your project is in top health.”

Why should I choose to work with you?

“It’s important to understand what sets an architect apart from others and where they believe they can deliver value on your project,” says Collen. “This question allows an architect to highlight other services, relationships and advantages they can offer you.”

For example, you might be able to streamline your project if your architectural firm can handle multiple aspects of it, such as master-planning, urban concepts and landscape architecture or interior design. The firm might also have strong relationships with other professionals who could assist you, such as engineering and construction firms, or they may be able to point you to specialised products and accomplished artisans.

How does your firm prioritise sustainability?

“Sustainability goes beyond green building principles – which should be standard practice today,” says Collen. “It should incorporate financial robustness and economic contribution too. Find out what the philosophy is at the firm you’re considering, how they ensure environmental care, and where they go beyond it.”

How does your firm leverage new technologies to better serve clients?

With all the talk of generative AI in architecture and using digital tools to improve the client experience, it’s important to know whether the firm you’re considering is up-to-speed with making these a reality for clients.

“For example, at BPAS, we have a division called Archithera, that’s focused on putting technology to the best use for our clients’ benefits,” says Collen. “We’ve used generative AI to streamline our design process and rapidly trial a range of designs, such as two – or three-bedroom apartments in various configurations, and parking lots for developments we’re working on.”

BPAS has also put technology to use to improve client experience in terms of visualising the end product. “During Covid lockdown, we hand-delivered VR headsets to clients, with a private video link to a 3D project walkthrough,” Collen explains. “While they weren’t able to physically visit their sites or our offices, they could do a 3D walkthrough at home to see what to expect. It was a popular intervention that we’ve since implemented into our regular practice processes.”

He suggests asking prospective firms about their own technology and digital transformation initiatives.

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