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The Client List: Sourcing

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Sourcing clients doesn’t have to be a mystery. As a service provider, you may not have access to someone well versed in business practices to help you navigate the waters of finding and securing new clients. This could be your first freelance gig, or you could be a seasoned veteran looking for some fresh tips to reinvigorate your business. Regardless of where you are in your journey as a services provider, there are several places that you can source new clients.

Many new contractors wonder where they will find potential clients. Luckily, Archability helps out in that department by connecting contractors and services providers with potential clients. Archability is the best way to start your search for new clients, but what if you want to expand your pool of potentials and draw in customers from multiple avenues? There are two main places to look for new clients: online and in person.

Online

When establishing yourself or your business, a prominent web presence is a no-brainer. But with the overwhelming number of options, which platforms should you invest your time and money in, and how do they differ from one another?

Social media is a great way to connect and interact with potential customers and peers in your industry. Social media is quickly becoming the best way to build relationships with those apart from your immediate geographic area. Twitter is a place for networking with like-minded individuals who share interest in similar topics as you. Facebook is a way to broadcast your portfolio images in a casual, conversational way, and LinkedIn is a place to stash your impressive resume and find referral sources from colleagues who are swamped with work.  Try creating profiles on social media platforms that relate to your area of expertise or your client base’s interests. After time, you’ll begin to find leads and see relationships blossom.

Forums are a place where many people go to discuss the specifics of challenges they face. If you are good at articulating your thoughts in written form, try joining a few forums on topics related to your services. Answer questions from other members and volunteer your knowledge; soon you’ll be considered an expert in your field and people will continue to seek you out for your skills, knowledge and company. Just be sure to charge for your time if you are providing professional services!

Emails and e-blast campaigns are akin to paper mailers one receives in the mail advertising new businesses or services. You can collect emails from visitors to your website, ask for everyone to sign up for your newsletter, or give you their contact information in exchange for useful free information. Once you have a decent list of contacts, send out an e-blast or newsletter with great content focused on what you do, why it matters and how to get in touch to start new projects. Read up on proper etiquette, as you will want to be respectful of your potential client’s inboxes – don’t over-use this feature!

Websites are the best way to put out your digital shingle. A simple but easily navigable website is essential for projecting an image of yourself as a competent professional. You can design your own website on free web-builders, or pay someone to do it for you. Either way, a website is the best way to let people find you; make sure your SEO is well done so that search terms lead to your site. As you build relationships on social media, you can point potential customers to your site for more information that you created once, but can reference in perpetuity.

In Person

Networking Events are a sure-fire way to meet lots of interesting people. Try to attend events that are geared specifically to your area of expertise or interest. While you can meet clients at any party, you are more likely to rub shoulders with potential customers when they attend a function with the purpose of hiring in mind. Conventions, mixers, and volunteer activities are all places you can meet potential clients.

Giving seminars or educational talks is a great way to establish yourself as an expert on a topic and meet a large amount of people without having to shake each person’s hand individually. Those who are impressed with your skills and knowledge will approach you after the seminar to find out more information, ask for your contact card and generally get to know you. Find opportunities to educate others, and clients will find you.

Direct Referrals are the best kind of clients. As you provide services on more and more jobs, you will gain a certain amount of momentum from your existing clients’ referrals. Make sure you keep in contact with past clients and check in with them on occasion to see if they need additional services (repeat clients) or if they know someone who may (referrals). The advice of  a friend is usually the first we choose to listen to, so make sure you stand out among your clients as the person to go to with any need, big or small!

These are just a few ways to source clients and establish relationships with future customers. What are some ways you have found clients for your projects? If you have any tips, be sure to leave a comment below! Tune in next time for more Client List tips.

Brinn Miracle is a licensed architect working in Houston, Texas. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog, www.architangent.com/blog

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Architectural Services Defined: Part 6

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If you’re new to Archability, the breadth of services available to clients can be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the field of architecture. To help clients understand the variety of services and select the best talent for their job, this series of articles will give an overview of each service type available through Archability. Be sure to start with the first installment to learn about them all: CAD, Interior Design, Specifications, Design, Landscape, Estimating, Rendering, Planning, Structural, Modeling, Urban Design, M.E.P., Animation, Photography, Web Services, Graphics, Environmental, and more.

Graphics

Graphics is a broad category of services that is an important aspect to all projects. Graphic design influences everything from business logos to presentation images to print and web design. Graphic design is all about how an idea is communicated clearly in a visual way with consistency and impact. Graphics is also incorporated into marketing, signage and wayfinding. Graphics can be designed for small projects such as packaging, business card design or they can be created for large projects such as identity pieces for large campuses or city designs. Graphics play a large role in the creation of websites, apps and digital media as well.

If you need a new logo, printed materials or consistent imagery, graphics may be right for you.

Environmental

Environmental design can refer to both sustainable (ecologically friendly) design practices as well as location based design strategies. Environmental design often goes hand in hand with urban design, graphic design and landscape design. For sustainable based designs, Environmental design encompasses sound MEP design to control indoor air quality and implements appropriate acoustic and lighting solutions to mitigate noise and light pollution. Environmental design considers the comfort and health of the occupant and proposes solutions that meet the needs not only of the current user, but also future generations. How an environment is utilized and perceived is a large part of environmental design. Creating spaces that are inviting, comfortable, warm, and energizing are all challenges that a qualified environmental designer can help with.

If you need to adjust your environment to achieve specific user goals, environmental design may be right for your project.

And More!

Archability is uniquely positioned to connect clients and contractors across a wide range of disciplines relating to architecture, engineering and construction from across the globe. Beyond these listed categories, contractors will often have additional services they can offer to potential clients and many form lasting relationships that lead to future work. If you need to get connected to professionals with the right experience and skills, look no further than Archability. Start today by reading all about the process and start looking for jobs or posting your projects for bids.

Brinn Miracle is a licensed architect working in Houston, Texas. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog, www.architangent.com/blog

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October 15, 2013
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Architectural Services Defined: Part 5

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If you’re new to Archability, the breadth of services available to clients can be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the field of architecture. To help clients understand the variety of services and select the best talent for their job, this series of articles will give an overview of each service type available through Archability. Be sure to start with the first installment to learn about them all: CAD, Interior Design, Specifications, Design, Landscape, Estimating, Rendering, Planning, Structural, Modeling, Urban Design, M.E.P., Animation, Photography, Web Services, Graphics, Environmental, and more.

Animation

Animation is a broad category of service that can involve anything from simple rotating objects, to complicated ‘walk-throughs’ to feature length digitally created movies. Animation plays an important role in architectural visualization and opens the doors for how designers can communicate their ideas to clients. For the product designer, an animation illustrating complicated pieces coming together to form a larger whole can aid in manufacturing and fabrication of products. For architects, animations may consist of a virtual walk-through of a new building or a ‘fly-by’ of a larger urban design. For building component suppliers, adding a video showing the steps of installation can help consumers and contractors understand the value and proper installation of a component. Animations can assist in educating your audience and is a key component in explaining difficult 3D concepts visually.

If you need to visually demonstrate fabrication processes, clarify spatial forms, or emphasize how your product is unique in a simple way, animation may be right for you.

Photography

Quality photography is an essential component to every project, as it is often the image that will catch a buyer’s attention. In the age of smart phones and Instagram, some may question the need for a professional photographer, but rest assured that hiring a qualified photographer is worth more than the paper the image is printed on. Experienced photographers will come equipped with the right tools to make your project shine. Whether you need to capture images of a physical model, document the progress of a construction project or desire to submit images for publication, photography of your project is something that will last far beyond the changing ‘documentation’ trends. Photographs that capture the essence of a space and reflect the designer’s intent are the ones that move people and ultimately draw in new clients. Making a sound investment in quality images is as important as the project itself.

If you need to market your work to new clients, document projects for a portfolio or want to submit work for publication, photography is essential for your project.

Web Services

Web services are an essential component to every business. Whether you need assistance with occasional back end services or a full website design, Archability can put you in touch with the right talent for the job. Web services can include anything from basic website design to setting up hosting and domain registration to managing the content uploads and ongoing maintenance. Website design ranges from simple template based sites with minimal customization to fully custom sites that involve a high degree of integration with outside platforms. A web designer can guide you on what type of site will be best for your needs. Blog, e-commerce, and social media integration are additional services provided by many web designers. Finally, web services can include the day to day or annual maintenance of a website, from completing backups, facilitating hosting transfers and managing content.

If you have a need for website design, social media integration or back end support, Web services may be right for you.

Join us next month as we discover the other services offered by contractors through Archability. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read all about the process and start looking for jobs or posting your projects for bids.

Brinn Miracle is a licensed architect working in Houston, Texas. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog, www.architangent.com/blog

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September 27, 2013
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Architectural Services Defined: Part 4

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If you’re new to Archability, the breadth of services available to clients can be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the field of architecture. To help clients understand the variety of services and select the best talent for their job, this series of articles will give an overview of each service type available through Archability. Be sure to start with the first installment to learn about them all: CAD, Interior Design, Specifications, Design, Landscape, Estimating, Rendering, Planning, Structural, Modeling, Urban Design, M.E.P., Animation, Photography, Web Services, Graphics, Environmental, and more.

Modeling

Architectural modeling is an integral part to most projects in some form or fashion. Models can be physical objects, or they can be 3D digital representations displayed on a computer. Models help translate a concept or two-dimensional drawing into something tangible and easy to understand for most people. Models can be simple ‘study models’ created throughout the design process which helps both the client and the designer understand the various forms, spaces and materials and aids in decision making. Highly detailed models may be created for presentations to investors, community groups or as a commemorative object documenting the long process. Physical models can be made of almost any material, from paper to cardboard to metal and more. The realm of 3D printing is also a viable process for creating models, wherein a digital model is sent to a 3D printer and created by applying multiple layers of material to form the object.

If you need prototypes, or want to understand a complex object or space in three dimensions, modeling may be right for you.

Urban Design

Urban design is a broad reaching discipline that encompasses the design of buildings, landscapes and entire communities. The design of a community is complex and often calls for intense logistical planning and long-term strategies. Urban design requires open communication and planned interactions with key members of the team, including officials, investors, contractors and even the general public. Urban designers must take into account the needs of multiple user groups and simultaneously satisfy broad goals and implement specific interventions. Urban design may show up in the planning and design of master planned communities, large multi-use or mixed use developments, public spaces, transit oriented developments and regional growth planning. Urban designers often employ a team of experts to deal with the individual pieces of the larger whole.

If you have a large, complex project that spans multiple disciplines or needs to satisfy multiple key groups, urban design may be essential for your project.

MEP

MEP stands for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing. These services are typically housed within a single office that provides engineers and professionals to assist on a project under one roof. The integration of MEP systems usually requires close communication and consistent contact with the project designers. Most large projects require the use of mechanical engineers to develop specific systems for HVAC and specialty equipment while plumbing specialists help ensure that the correct specifications are in place to handle the volume of users. Electrical engineers ensure the project has the correct power requirements and components to meet the intended use of the end users. Even on small projects it can be beneficial to consult with MEP engineers to ensure the right equipment and infrastructure is specified with the appropriate amount of space allotted to each discipline prior to construction.

If you have a construction project with complex mechanical, electrical or plumbing  requirements, MEP services may be right for you.

Join us next month as we discover the other services offered by contractors through Archability. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read all about the process and start looking for jobs or posting your projects for bids.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog, www.architangent.com/blog

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Architectural Services Defined: Part 3

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If you’re new to Archability, the breadth of services available to clients can be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the field of architecture. To help clients understand the variety of services and select the best talent for their job, this series of articles will give an overview of each service type available through Archability. Be sure to start with the first installment to learn about them all: CAD, Interior Design, Specifications, Design, Landscape, Estimating, Rendering, Planning, Structural, Modeling, Urband Design, M.E.P., Animation, Photography, Web Services, Graphics, Environmental, and more.

Rendering

Rendering provides visual interest, concept clarity and a sense of realism to imagined projects. Renderings are the still images of an object, building or concept that are typically an interim or final version of what the project is intended to look like. Renderings can be done by hand with multiple media (much like artwork) or they can be completed digitally using 3D modeling software and photo manipulation tools. Rendering can be simple or complex, depending on the level of realism and detail required as well as the complexity of the project or object itself. Renderers can often provide additional services such as animations to help further visualize a space. Renderings are often used to help visualize the final design and are sometimes instrumental in obtaining project funding, stirring excitement for the project or making final design decisions.

If you need eye catching images for your next project to help understand the design or sell it to investors, rendering may be right for you.

Planning

Planning takes multiple forms, but distills to a single concept: forethought, expertise and vision. Planning is typically catered to the specific project at hand and often requires the expert advice and direction of a professional. Planning spans all areas of architecture and design and could entail real estate selection for your project, anticipation of growth or company needs, strategic thinking for building design and long term impact, sustainability initiatives and implementation, establishment of graphic standards, and more. Depending on your project’s needs, your contractor may be able to provide planning as an additional service to help your project shine. A great designer will be able to listen to a client’s needs, anticipate their demands and work with them to achieve a viable solution.

If you need a sounding board, expert advice or general direction for your project, planning services may be right for you.

Structural

Structural services are vital to any building and construction project. Structural services can be basic, including general advice on structural systems, material choices and initial design sizing or the service can be fine tuned and detailed to your project. Intensive structural design can involve calculations, diagrams, drawings and models. Most structural service providers are licensed in their jurisdiction, so be sure to ask about any requirements that your project needs to meet and the contractor’s qualifications. Large projects often require intensive structural work, while small projects like residences can often be done quickly and easily using standardized methods and materials.

If you have a construction project in need of review or require licensed professionals for your work, structural services may be right for you.

Join us next month as we discover the other services offered by contractors through Archability. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read all about the process and start looking for jobs or posting your projects for bids.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog,www.architangent.com/blog

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Architectural Services Defined: Part 2

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If you’re new to Archability, the breadth of services available to clients can be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the field of architecture. To help clients understand the variety of services and select the best talent for their job, this series of articles will give an overview of each service type available through Archability. Be sure to start with the first installment to learn about them all: CAD, Interior Design, Specifications, Design, Landscape, Estimating, Rendering, Planning, Structural, Modeling, Urband Design, M.E.P., Animation, Photography, Web Services, Graphics, Environmental, and more.

Design

Design is a broad category of services offered by Archability’s contractors, but it is the building block of almost all other services. Design services may begin with general planning and strategizing about a design problem and potential solutions or it could be a consultation session covering the different concepts and goals a client has for their project. Design services may also focus on specifics and incorporate other service areas such as Interior Design, CAD drafting and more. Design services will usually consist of high level conversations to determine the specific course of action needed for a client’s project. Starting a project with an in depth review of expectations, desired outcomes and project goals will lay a solid foundation for the successful completion of the work. Let a contractor lead you through the steps of architectural design and advise on the best strategy for your project. Designers will express your visions in creative conceptual ways and help you get fired up about your next endeavor.

If you are looking for high level conversations and ideas to get your project started on the right track, Design services may be right for you.

Landscape Design

Landscape design is a broad topic that can cover everything from plant species selection for your job site to master planned gardens and communities. Landscape design is a careful blend of natural and man-made elements that compliment one another. Landscape designers may be formally or informally trained, and many will have specialties in different sized projects. Landscape designers advise on what types of plants will best meet your needs, whether you are looking for something low-maintenance, flashy and attractive, environmentally sensitive or native to the area. In addition to choosing the right plants, landscape designers can advise on optimum planting spacing, depth and the required care for your gardens. By combining a creative design background with expert knowledge on plants, landscape designers are able to develop beautiful responses to design problems which can enhance an architectural design.

If you are looking for a landscape design that will compliment your project or advice for which plants will work well for your site, landscape design may be right for you.

Estimating

Estimating is crucial to every project. The amount of money that is spent on construction projects is a huge portion of the overall budget, which includes land acquisition, design fees, regulatory fees and commissioning fees. Ensuring your project budget is on target is paramount to success. Estimators can approach a project from many perspectives and can implement a variety of techniques to come up with an anticipated cost. Materials, labor, shipping, handling and more can be calculated. Estimators can also advise on appropriate allowances and contingencies. If the entire scope of a project is unknown or in the early stages, an estimator can be a valuable asset in providing high level initial estimates to assist in feasibility studies. Working from industry standard price lists and prior experiences, estimators can calm fears and confirm numbers to help you get your project started on the right foot.

If you are looking for a starting ball-park figure before beginning work or need detailed cost analysis completed, estimating may be right for you.

Join us next month as we discover the other services offered by contractors through Archability. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read all about the process and start looking for jobs or posting your projects for bids.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog,www.architangent.com/blog

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Architectural Services Defined: Part 1

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If you’re new to Archability, the breadth of services available to clients can be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the field of architecture. To help clients understand the variety of services and select the best talent for their job, the next series of articles will give an overview of each service type available through Archability. Architectural services offered by contractors include: CAD, Interior Design, Specifications, Design, Landscape, Estimating, Rendering, Planning, Structural, Modeling, Urband Design, M.E.P., Animation, Photography, Web Services, Graphics, Environmental, and more.

CAD

CAD stands for Computer Aided Design, and typically consists of 2D line work (drafting) that represents a real object. Not too long ago, most technical drawings were made by hand using straight edges and pencils. Now, we have the technology which allows us to complete the same tasks in software such as AutoCAD and other similar programs. The basic premise of CAD work is that there is a need for precise, accurate line drawings that represent a real object. The drawings could represent mechanical parts, portions of a building, or anything else. Drawings are created using layers, which can control visibility, line thickness when printed and other parameters the user chooses. Common uses of CAD include floor plans, diagrams and other images which require a detailed scaled representation. For very complex projects, BIM software (Building Information Management) may be utilized. (BIM will be discussed further in Modeling). In addition to 2D work, CAD programs are also capable of completing 3D models that correspond to their 2D counterparts. Some software is better suited to this task than others, but most CAD 2D line work can be exported for use in 3D specific software if the need arises.

If you are looking for building plans, technical diagrams, or accurate detail drawings, CAD services may be right for you.

Interior Design

Interior Design focuses on space planning, furnishings and finishes. Interior design aims to ensure optimum use of space by creating efficient interior partition layouts, comfortable furniture arrangements and selecting surface finishes that will contribute to a user’s well being. Interior design takes into account the end user first and foremost, as that is who the space is designed for. The practice centers around thorough research of products and materials proposed for the space to achieve a blend of beauty, function, and sustainability. Interior designers utilize tools like CAD to create drawings of spaces and may employ the use of 3D models or physical material samples and hand sketches to convey the aesthetics they are designing. Interior designers will work closely with the client and rely on them for information on anticipated uses, number of users, and other programmatic elements. They will suggest innovative solutions to difficult problems and work to achieve the right balance for the goals at hand.

If you are looking for space planning, furniture or finish selection, interior design services may be right for you.

Specifications

Specifications gets down to the details, and complies the information on products and materials in a highly organized format. In every building project there will be a multitude of products, materials and assemblies that must be written down for purchase and installation. A specifier will compile all of the information needed to properly call out these items for a job, including their manufacturer information, finish options, and proper shipping and storage requirements. Many manufacturers supply this information, and specifiers can research the products needed and group them according to industry standards for easy reference. Compiling these information sheets into a single project binder will assist the contractor in bidding the job and provide a record of all materials included in the building. Specifications is quite technical in nature and requires a keen eye for detail to ensure the correct item is represented and works well with other specified components.

If you are looking for a compilation of items to be used in an upcoming project or need help researching and categorizing product information, specifications services may be right for you.

Join us next month as we discover the other services offered by contractors through Archability. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read all about the process and start looking for jobs or posting your projects for bids.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog,www.architangent.com/blog

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The Design Continuum

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In the world of design, there are a multitude of factors that must be considered during the development of a project. Criteria such as quality, quantity, cost, and function may drive the design. Additionally, user experience has a big part to play in design, and things like convenience or luxury influence the final outcome. Design is really a continuum, in which all of these factors are considered in relationship to one another. No single criteria can be considered in a vacuum, since it would go against the principles of good design. The best way to understand design is to break it into three general categories: Basic, Tailored and Custom. While the focus will be on buildings, these categories can be applied to almost any type of design, whether the design consists of graphics, websites, fashion, products, or anything else. Understanding these fundamentals prepares a good foundation for discussing your next project.

Basic

Think of basic design as the foundation for the other categories. Basic design usually adheres to minimum standards and ‘gets the job done’. When considering architecture, basic designs will meet code (but rarely exceed it), support basic needs and functions, and use standard products to achieve these criteria. Basic designs tend to be the most cost effective, but they also tend to be the least unique solution. While basic designs don’t have to be bland, it requires extra effort by the designer to creatively use standard materials. The costs of this extra level of dedication to the thought process can often escalate the price, and quickly imbalances the economy of choosing a basic design. Since basic designs often conform to mass production or simple standards, there is a limited opportunity to use professional designers since their fees often overshadow the savings of a basic design. While there are savings in avoiding hiring a designer, the cost is usually project integrity. Some examples of basic designs would include sub compact cars, products generally offered at stores like Walmart, and tract or spec homes. The components used in these types of products are usually easily sourced, inexpensive  materials. Since the profits from these types of products usually come from high volume sales, quality and longevity can sometimes be an issue. Customer service surrounding basic designs is often simplified and limited as well.

Tailored

Tailored designs build from the basic design by improving select portions based on specific priorities. All designs must balance budget, quality and aesthetics, and tailored designs typically improve upon one or two of these options. Tailored design doesn’t have to be outlandish. In a tailored design, more thought is put into considering the functionality, aesthetics, and other criteria so that the outcome is above average. The extra thought and effort may occur during the planning and conceptual stage to anticipate user needs, or extra care and consideration may be given to important components. In a house, the tailored design may focus more on the structural design, the unique aesthetics desired, or the longevity of particular products. There will still be some give and take, and compromises are not absent from tailored design. It is not uncommon to spend a great deal of time evaluating different options to see what one must give up in order to meet a competing goal. It requires the involvement of a design professional to help identify and evaluate the various choices available on the project. Tailored design can be thought of as client specific design with tasteful constraint. It often consists of off-the-shelf products used in a unique way and focuses heavily on value. On the design continuum, there is opportunity to shift towards custom design or towards basic design depending on how one must balance cost, quality, and aesthetics. Some examples of tailored design would be beverages from Starbucks, or clothing that comes from a department store that is altered for a perfect fit.

Custom

True custom design typically refers to projects that are without limitations. Generally, the budget is very high and the client is willing to pay extra to get exactly what they want. These projects are typically very fun for a designer to participate in, but require a high level of customer service. Custom clients are often used to having their every need and desire catered to. Some may view custom design as extreme, lacking in restraint, luxurious or as a fulfillment of desire. In architecture, custom designs typically involve feats of engineering and a multitude of bespoke components. For custom designs, if you can think it, they can build it. Special sizes of standard components such as windows and doors, uncommon or expensive finishes and complicated structural pieces are typical in custom designed buildings. Some examples of custom design would be couture clothing, concierge services, and custom jewelry design.

Armed with a understanding of the different types of design, one can effectively communicate with a design professional.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog,www.architangent.com/blog

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Architecture and Design: Construction Administration 101

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For our final installment of the Architecture and Design 101 series, we will examine the construction administration phase of the design process. If you missed the past few articles, be sure to start with the first installment to get the best understanding of the role of an architect. This article series aims to explain all the steps in a design project in order to understand why architects are essential to ensuring a project’s success.

Construction Administration – The Basics

After the design has been finalized, documented and handed off to the winning contractor, construction commences. The client forms a contractual relationship with the contractor, and the architect serves as an ‘overseer’ of the project to ensure that it is built according to the design documents. The architect conducts periodic site visits to keep track of the project’s progression, and answers any questions that may arise during construction. Additionally, the architect will review any samples that are turned in by the contractor to ensure that the materials and specifications are upheld. If any changes are needed, the architect provides documentation which goes into the project records. The architect approves applications for payments from the contractor throughout the duration of construction, based on the amount of work completed as observed during site visits.

Construction Administration – Digging Deeper

During construction administration, the bulk of the work shifts from the architect’s shoulders to the contractor’s. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the architect’s role becomes that of an observer and record keeper more than a designer or draftsman. A schedule of regular site visits is established for the architect to become familiar with the progress of the project. For many jobs, there may be a weekly walk-through of the progress with additional visits scheduled around particularly important phases of construction. An example would be viewing the project before the wall studs are enclosed on both sides with gypsum board to ensure any in-wall piping or wiring is present and conforms to the documents provided for the project.

If at any time the contractor has a question about interpretation of the drawings or documents, a formal Request For Information (RFI) is submitted to the architect. The architect may get questions for additional dimensions, clarification on a drawing notation, or direction on how to resolve a specific problem. The architect may respond to such requests with written paragraphs explaining the answer, or they may choose to supplement the original document set with a sketch or digital drawing. If an RFI requires there to be a change that affects the project timeline or overall budget, the architect will have the owner approve or deny the change as a ‘change order’.

In all construction projects, there are unknowns and variables that can affect the final outcome of the project. One example is if a particular product is discontinued before it could be ordered. In cases like these, the architect can act as a valuable resource, helping the owner navigate through selecting a new product, or approving a choice made by the contractor. In most cases, the architect serves as the mediator between the client and contractor in the case of a disagreement.

The contractor submits samples to the architect for review, which then serve as a standard for the installed version of that product. For example, the contractor may be required by the specifications to submit at least 3 samples of back splash tile for review. This submittal process helps ensure that the quality standard set forth in the project is upheld and prevents defective products from being ordered in bulk only to be returned. Another submission from the contractor to the architect is called shop drawings. These are drawings prepared by sub contractors of specific trades such as carpenters. As an example, cabinets are often designated as a number of ‘equally sized doors’ in the architect drawings. This vague instruction allows the subcontractor to go to the site while it is being built and field measure the opening in which their millwork will have to fit. They then prepare drawings which the architect reviews for design intent and approves for construction.

When the project is almost complete, the contractor will provide a list of items that needs to be addressed before the job is considered finished. This ‘punch list’ of items is inspected by the architect and final payment to the contractor depends on satisfactory completion of the included items. Typically, the punch list consists of minor touch ups on items like paint or cabinetry or final installation of any missing items like hardware or appliances. If the client has a need, they can often move into their new building before the final punch list is corrected.

This concludes our series. Hopefully this will serve as a starting point for conversations with an architect or designer on your next project. Be sure to check out the growing talent pool that Archability provides. Always remember to ask lots of questions when working with a design professional. No question is out of bounds when your goal is success.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog, www.architangent.com/blog

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January 25, 2013
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Architecture and Design: Bidding 101

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This month, we will explore what is involved in the bidding process to help us understand the role of an architect. If you missed the past few articles, be sure to start with the first installment to get the best understanding of the whole design process. This article series aims to explain all the steps in a design project in order to understand why architects are essential to ensuring a project’s success.

Bidding – The Basics

This short but crucial step in the design process pairs a client with a construction company to get the design from concept to reality. Much like an interview process, a call for bids is issued and qualified construction companies review the set of documents prepared by the architect and submit their qualifications and price to build the project. Construction companies – or contractors – compete against one another to balance quality, service and price.  This is also the step in the process where the architect’s role changes from that of product provider (set of drawings) to service provider once again (much like the first few steps of design). The architect or designer can guide the client through the bidding and negotiation process, but ultimately, the client will form a contract directly with the construction company of choice. Some architects provide design and construction services – known as ‘design-build’ services – but not all do, as it presents another form of liability in the long and complicated process of architecture and design.

While the bidding process focuses heavily on overall project cost, there is also the issue of quality which is best proven through a track record of built work and happy customers willing to act as referrals. The process of bidding and negotiations varies largely among project types, with different rules and expectations. For instance, government work or other public projects have strict rules about the procedure for contractors to bid on a project while privately funded projects are not always held to the same standard. Each project will adhere to a set of rules to ensure that the process of evaluating different bids is fair and timely. Ultimately, the client must be satisfied with the level of service they’ll receive from their chosen contractor to ensure their final product will be money well spent.

Bidding – Digging Deeper

Generally, a project is announced and invitations to bid are sent to qualified contractors whom the client is interested in working with. These contractors or builders will review a copy of the construction documents as well as the materials and specifications to determine the price that they can construct the project, including their overhead and profit costs. The contractor submits a written statement containing the information on how much the project will cost, and the timeline for how quickly the project will be completed. Some contractors will offer a job on a fixed fee while others will charge a base cost plus a fee for other items in the contract. Still another option is to set the price with a ‘guaranteed maximum’, often accompanied by a bonus clause that rewards the contractor for staying under budget, or even ahead of schedule. Many clients prefer to minimize their risk by having a firm number for their project, ensuring that no ‘hidden costs’ will pop up during construction. There could still be additional costs for those who agree to a firm price, but those increases are usually caused by changing decisions that were already made during design or documentation phases. It is always important to understand how future changes will affect the bottom line – both for the contractor and the client.

During the review of the construction documents, questions may arise necessitating clarification of the documents. For many questions, a simple written statement can be issued to all bidders, while other questions may be complicated enough to warrant the creation of an additional drawing by the designer or architect. To ensure clarity and fairness, each question and answer is distributed to all bidders. It is important that the architect or designer answering questions from bidders is knowledgable about the design intent of the project so that the integrity of the project is upheld.

It may seem that bids submitted for a single job would be relatively similar since each contractor is essentially providing the same service for the same project. However, there are several areas where the price between contractors starts to vary and can have significant impact on the final bid price. Some contractors focus on their profitability and aim to either maximize their profits or undercut their competition. This can result in inflated profit margins for one company while another submits a bid that seems ‘too good to be true’. Another area where companies can differ in their bids is through material selections and labor. One company may have deals set up with suppliers around town that provides steep discounts on certain materials while other companies may have a great list of acceptable substitute specifications. Substitutions are often a method that contractors use to trim a construction budget without changing the design or quality intent of the project. During the materials and specifications phase of the design process, the architect or designer may have listed some materials or equipment as a specific brand name item “or equal”. This term allows contractors to offer suggestions for suitable substitutions that can trim costs. For instance, if a contractor is asked to provide a high end brand-name windows “or equal”, the contractor may submit a request to use an alternate brand name with similar attributes and performance criteria that offers him significant discounts on products. In this way, one company is able to underbid competitors. Labor is also a big factor in the bids that come in from various companies. Specialized laborers or tradesmen will often be hired to perform specific tasks on a project. Most contractors have a relatively small team and sub-contract out the majority of their actual work to various trades. Many construction companies have a go-to resource list of subcontractors that they are comfortable working with. Depending on a contractor’s resource list, the timing of the project may shorten or lengthen depending on their availability.

When reviewing bids from contractors it is important to review not only the dollar amount but the qualifications of the bidders themselves. What experience do they have on your project type? Do they have references or built work that you can inspect? How did they handle past projects – did they complete them on time and on budget with a proven method for identifying and solving problems? It may also be a good idea to investigate their safety record. While it is ultimately the contractor’s responsibility to ensure job site safety, it is always good to know that you’re working with a company that values safety and takes all necessary precautions to ensure their workers are abiding by standards. Another consideration is job site cleanliness. This may seem like a bit of a contradiction, but job sites should be kept relatively neat and orderly. An organized job site allows all the different trades to work more efficiently, saving the client time and money. It also helps ensure a safe working environment and makes it easy to notice when something is out of place or missing.

An architect can help their client understand the differences between bids and point the client towards making the best choice for their project. Talk to an architect about their experience with various contractors and ask lots of questions to understand what makes a great project team.

Next month we will take a look at the construction administration process and how it affects a design project. Always remember to ask lots of questions when working with a design professional. No question is out of bounds when your goal is success.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog, www.architangent.com/blog

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December 20, 2012