The quality of the architect you work with will significantly impact your final product. More importantly, you will be spending a fair amount of time with these people throughout the duration of your project. Your work together will be affected by their experience in your industry, their culture and their sense of quality.
Most would agree those characteristics are essential to discern, but unless you are an architect or know one well, it’s unlikely you will know what features distinguish one firm from another. We hope this Q&A will help you make the best possible decision.
What Does an Architectural Firm Do?
Good architects listen carefully to a client’s needs. We need to understand what they are trying to accomplish with the physical building where they will work. Once we know what a client wants, we draw on our experience in the client’s specific field to guide them to a solution that meets their goals.
How Do You Know You Need an Architect Firm?
If you don’t know where to start in thinking about a project, that’s a clue that you need some help. You have to know which questions to ask. Remodeling and rebuilding can be big, complicated projects. There is no shame in not having the in-house expertise to execute a large project.
What Are the Most Important Things to Look for in an Architectural Firm?
You’ll likely want to look for an architect firm that has worked on similar projects in the past. During your initial search for a firm, focus on the following credentials:
Experience and longevity
Culture and core values
Referrals and case studies
Why Is Longevity Important?
Longevity suggests solid leadership over the long term and a track record of success. Firms that lack those elements may not be around for much longer. Maybe they focus on quick, profitable projects or quantity over quality, but those values don’t make for a sustainable business.
Firms that are in it for the long haul prioritize partnerships and collaborations. They are motivated by long-term relationships and will put value in your project (and overall satisfaction) to impress and retain.
Why Is Industry Experience Important? Isn’t There Value in Having Broad Experience?
Broad experience is wonderful, and most firms have professionals with a range of experiences. But there is tremendous value in having deep, concentrated experience in several industries.
Certain common characteristics don’t change within a specific industry. For instance, the infrastructure of a bank will always have security elements. When a firm has completed several projects for banks or credit unions, these project elements are second nature and to be expected. Based on what has worked well or not so well for other clients, we can offer feedback and insights to banking clients based on projects we’ve completed with similar requirements to streamline the project and make sure that industry standards are met.
How Do You Assess the Fit of Culture and Core Values?
This is a sort of a trust-your-gut situation. It doesn’t take many conversations to figure out if you share values. A firm can have its core values posted all over its website and marketing materials, but you shouldn’t leave a meeting with a group of people you might be working with for several months thinking, “They didn’t hear what we were saying.”
No matter what they say their core values are, don’t work with a firm that doesn’t take the time to understand you and your needs. Period.
Why Are Referrals Important?
Referrals from your industry connections are your best resource for an architectural firm. Talking to people who’ve completed work similar to the project you would like to do can offer ballpark financial figures and insights into the firm they used. They may also be able to talk about the firms they chose not to use.
If you respect these peers, their recommendations are gold. If your project is similar enough, you can visit the location and see how it turned out. Essentially, they’ve done much of the work of scouting and evaluating architect firms for you.
An experienced firm should have many satisfied customers and hundreds of case studies in their portfolio — ask them for their portfolio.
How Do You Tell a Good Architecture Firm From a Bad One?
Good firms ask a lot of questions. And they ask the right questions. A good architecture firm will work to uncover the “why” behind your project.
Good questions demonstrate a firm’s desire to understand you, your culture and your business. They’ll listen closely to your answers. They’ll take notes. They’ll ask follow-up questions. They’ll hear more.
A good firm likely won’t always agree with your original plans and will work with you to find a better path forward that will be better long-term. Don’t push back as an immediate concern — honest feedback can save you money (and headaches) down the road.
What Are Your Next Steps?
Wondering how to move forward with your project? Your next steps should include the following:
Putting in the time and research to find a good fit (and get referrals)
Be open and honest in your communication — don’t be afraid to ask hard questions
Seeking out qualified people you’ll enjoy working with