Selecting a Site and Getting to Know an Architect

Selecting a Site and Getting to Know an Architect

Eagle Rock Reserve, Bozeman, Montana

SELECTING A SITE AND GETTING TO KNOW AN ARCHITECT:  You have just purchased the place of your dreams, the views are spectacular and the possibilities seem endless. You want to protect your investment and to fully realize your hopes and aspirations. Perhaps you are ready to hire an architect….but which one, why and what kind of service should you expect? While I could write an entire book on this topic alone, I’ll begin by hitting upon just a few key points; helping you along in a process that may otherwise seem intimidating.

Asking that an architect walk a parcel or two before your final purchase is perhaps one of the most overlooked opportunities that I know of. A casual stroll over a plot of land allows you to measure a number of variables: the architect’s temperament, personality, competency, communication skills, artistic vision, passion, respect for place and a holistic, educated, informed opinion about location; helping you to arrive at that next level of decision.

For larger tracts of land (multiple acres), the best opinions will generally come a few days later; after the many possibilities have had a chance to cook….or reduce to the essence of place. If available, be prepared to offer a topographic plot of the parcel or an aerial illustrating property boundaries, adjacent improvements, etc. before walking the land.

HOW TO COMMUNICATE YOUR WANTS

Architecture is technical competency expressed as art. Competency alone will not guarantee you of a successful solution; however an artistic professional may very well achieve something remarkable. Look for passion, sensitivity, reservation, a quiet soul that will allow themselves to be absorbed by the intangibles. When expressing your project to an architect….think about how a radio works. In other words when discussing a vernacular or architectural vocabulary, dial in on the channel you would like to hear…say Modern Mountain, Western Rustic, Post & Beam, Craftsman, perhaps a mix of two or more and so on. Then think about volume, how loud would you like to hear the music? Just like the volume knob on a radio, you can turn up or down the variables of design and character to suit personal taste and budget.

YOUR ROLE IN THE PROCESS

Once you have decided on which architect to hire, execute your understanding of fees and services with a Standard AIA Owner-Architect Agreement. AIA Agreements have withstood the test of time, are impartial and have proven to be the best document available for defining the obligations of both parties. Have your attorney review the agreement before endorsing the final contract.

Before beginning the first phase of activities with your architect, have a topographic survey for your parcel prepared at 1’-0” increments and anything else your architect may request. Such surveys should include easements, setbacks, utilities, building envelopes, compass bearings of near and distant views, improvements and alike noted and illustrated plainly on the document. You’ll want a “boots on the ground” survey, commonly referred to as a field survey. Do not trust aerials as a sufficient tool for understanding much of anything; other then a rough idea of the property lines. Now is not the time to save a few bucks and an inaccurate survey can cost you big time later on. Do not expect your architect to provide survey services, the liability associated with this practical need cannot be justified.

If you haven’t already ordered a geological survey of the bearing capacity and underlying geology of the site before purchasing the parcel, then you will need to under take this task next. Your architect will want to understand the particulars of the proposed building envelopes and the required built solution response to each unique location. The idea is to avoid differential settlement and perhaps if located in mountainous terrain, the avoidance of below grade obstructions, etc. Again, do not expect your architect to provide this need to service. However in each case (surveys and geotechnical reports), your architect can be helpful by providing you with reputable companies, approximated costs and contact information.

THE BUILT RESPONSE

Early on you will want to consider how to manage the built response. Because the many advantages…Design-Build has exponentially become one of the most desired methods for project delivery. Design-Build is by where the architect will contractually provide all services; from concept to completion. Often times the architect will engage a pre-qualified general contractor and provide as “Single Source” accountable, professional services, construction management, project budgets, allowances, progress review and delivery of the final product. As always exercise good judgment; not all architects will be qualified as capable in delivering this level of service. Discuss your architects experience, capacity and understanding of the process. (please see Design-Build link below)

The alternative to Design-Build will be to engage for the built response directly with a reputable general contractor; the architect in return would be designated as the projects construction administrator. Under this type arrangement each entity will report to you directly for the services provided. Again AIA Standard Agreements are available for your use. Either way, insist that budgets be respected and quantified for each level of the evolving design.

PROFESSIONAL SERVICE TASKING

Each architect will possess their own way of tasking through schematic design and design development; however each will need to gather the stats: budget, site improvements, square-footage, programming, captured views, building vocabulary, etc. Sketch renderings of elevations and floor plans will assist you with understanding that the tones of the architect’s intention, are demonstrating a working comprehension of your preferences.

Design Development is generally your last chance to direct changes before entering into the preparation of the Construction Documents. Construction Documents are the blueprints of your final built solution. It is the responsibility of the architect to provide all consulting services (structural engineering, civil engineering, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, geothermal, specialty and alike), necessary in the preparation of the construction document. I prefer that consulting fees be separate from the architects, so that when comparing services of another, it is plainly evident what the costs are. Afterwards, a competitive solicitation of supporting services can be shared with you and a simple overhead and profit margin applied upon the final selection. Final selection of consulting service can be made under a joint review performed by owner and architect alike, with preference given to the best qualified respondent. The owner should yield to the architect’s qualified and professional judgment; however the architect must be prepared to make the case as to why or why not a particular consultant is to be considered. An owner should never engage consulting service directly and will be discussed further under “Chain of Accountability”.

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS

The architects Construction Documents (Con Doc) must be sufficiently detailed as to help avoid Change Order extras that may arise in the absence of ones ability to quantify all work entailed. Missing detail is often the reason for escalating project costs and with some effort during the architect’s Con Doc phase of service, building costs can be held in check. Elaborating, while there is no one formula on how much architectural detailing will be enough….too little often means more profit for the architect and a built solution that will be delivered at a premium cost to you.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Now let’s talk ‘Chain of Accountability”…far too often over zealous owners and builders alike are quick to allow changes with substitutions of materials, inferior standards, means, methods or in other words to compromise performance and safety criteria of an approved and specified requirement, for a perceived savings. The very moment of this occurrence, a snowball effect of liability is placed upon the shoulders of the party breaching the architects approved standard. Some changes may result in nothing more then a cosmetic difference, while others could result in catastrophic failure, exponential cost in remedy, or in a worse case scenario…loss of life. Maintain a Chain of Accountability for which the architect is insured. If a change is desired, discuss it with your architect and have a Change Order (add or deduct) issued for the want. This process will keep everyone accountable, informed and most of all protected.

As always Dan Joseph Architects http://www.djawest.com/ is ready to serve your needs; give me a call….I would enjoy meeting you, walking the site and discussing my process of bringing you the best in Professional Services.

POINTS TO REMEMBER

1. Asking an Architect to walk your parcel(s) will help with understanding the potential of multiple locations, while also providing some feed-back regarding the Architect themselves.

2. Architecture is technical competency expressed as art. Competency alone will not guarantee you of a successful solution; however an artistic professional may very well achieve something remarkable. Look for passion, sensitivity, reservation, a quite soul that will allow themselves to be absorbed by the intangibles.

3. DO NOT USE AERIAL SURVEYS WHEN ACCURATE INFORMATION IS REQUIRED.

4. Early on you will want to consider how to manage the built response. Because of the many advantages…Design-Build has exponentially become one of the most desired methods for project delivery. Design-Build is by where the architect will contractually provide all services; from concept to completion. (see link below)

5. Request that consulting fees be separate from the architects, so that when comparing services of another, it is plainly evident what the costs are.

6. The Construction Documents must be sufficiently detailed as to help avoid Change Order extras, that may arise in the absence of ones ability to quantify all work entailed.

7. Maintain a “Chain of Accountability”; require that all changes…on any level, be managed by Change Orders (adds, deducts and even if there is no difference). #djawest

Click on the link below to view Design Build attachment:

http://www.djawest.com/DesignBuildBrochure.pdf

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Interview: Big Sky Journal – Mountain Living and Architectural Design

Interview: Big Sky Journal - Mountain Living and Architectural Design

Headwaters Camp, Big Sky, Montana

INTERVIEW: BIG SKY JOURNAL – Mountain Living and Architectural Design

Q & A – Headwaters Camp

Q.) What were you trying to achieve architecturally when designing Headwaters Camp?

A.) First and foremost Owner satisfaction; understanding hopes and aspirations is very important and certainly a prerequisite to the creative response. No less significant is the location itself; it is imperative for me to feel the site on a very personal and emotional level before tasking on a solution; sights, smell, sound, texture, sun, wind, wildlife, vegetation, etc. all are allowed to be absorbed by the inner person. I develop a very personal relationship with place and location before allowing myself to move forward with a solution.

Architects Journal Entry – November 2008: “…Words cannot possibly begin to convey a feeling or emotion well enough to be shared or understood by others. How does one capture the sense of place, song, passage or remembrance that moves the heart or soul? Such things are often deeply personal and occur in a moment of silence; the kind of silence I had experienced while in the palm of…”(see Architects Journal Entry for the entire journal entry.)

Specifically, the strategy behind the Master Plan was to create an encampment. The kind we all remember as children when for two weeks during the summer we would bunk with new found friends, explore our surroundings and enjoy a unique mix of liberty and freedom. Distilled to the basics, Headwaters Camp is about a series of experiences, preserving sightlines, locating building envelopes and thinking about their relationship to each other. Within this context the crown jewel; a substantial series of ponds, streams, falls and wetlands help to unify the entire concept. Often times in rural Montana the outbuildings are seen or experienced before the dwelling; Headwaters Camp is no different. From the main road a romantic notion of place is gathered by an over-the-shoulder preview of horse pasture and a high mountain barn; finished with beautifully weathered, reclaimed materials of wood, timber and corrugated roofing.

A single point of parcel entry allows for opportunities to pause and stand silently in wonderment and curiosity as to what lies beyond. Transitional pieces such as a bridge help to create a sense of departure and arrival. Avoiding existing meadows, water ways and placement of access lanes to the inside of a forested edge helped to preserve the feeling of minimal intrusion upon the land. Mr. Thomson (Todd) was very specific about setting up a visual relationship from the future primary residence to the distant summit of Lone Mountain. In particular from the great room, the need to experience the pond in the foreground, oblique view of a cabin shimmering over the waters edge beyond, each embraced by Lone Mountain seen in all its glory along a distant horizon.

Q.) What were the owner’s requests and/or needs of the home?

A.) Todd and Melissa’s request was for an efficient Guest Cabin that contained the needed programming for serving the everyday necessities of life. The Cabins character was to be what is termed Parkitecture; or the more popular and contemporary definition known to many as Western/Rustic. Parkitecture by our definition is the exaggerated use of boulders and stone, large expressive tree trunks for columns, log beams, trussing and a mixed use of timbers. These elements of the structure appear to be emerging or growing from the earth itself. Mr. Thomson was very clear about capturing distant views deep within the space and that there be an iconic stairway leading to the upper level loft. At the end of the day, the resulting structure was the culmination of inspiration, place, program and a collaborative contribution made by Owner, Architect and Contractor alike.

Q.) How would you describe the home’s feel?

A.) Special, organic, original, well rooted and appropriate to place. The Cabin and the Barn for that matter, each convey strength, permanence and a sense of confidence amongst an overwhelming panorama of majestic mountains and weather extremes. If you reduce to words the definition of successful architecture you will discover three essential characteristics, they are: Expressive structure (experiencing working members, detailed connections, inside and out), site specificity (plugged into the site in a very specific manner), and a feeling of transparency (open air connections, large window openings, etc.). In comparing the Cabin to this measuring stick we hit a home run.

Q.) At only 1,800 square feet, what special challenges were encountered designing for that space?

A.) Actually the Cabin is defined by a 1377 sf foot print which excludes the loft and detached storage, mechanical space. This is a great question; to the average person the prevailing myth is….the smaller the project the easier it is to design, when in fact just the opposite is true. A small gem of a structure that succeeds at all the things that I’ve touched upon is very difficult to achieve. Thinking about how the structure would utilize a natural drop in elevation or a descending topography to waters edge was fun and a rare project opportunity. Our Structural (Bridger Engineers) and Civil (Allied Engineering) both from Bozeman, were a great asset during their respective phase of service.

Q.) How is designing a “green,” LEED-certified home different than a typical assignment for you?

A.) The big differences are in the control of the owner and contractor. Todd’s commitment to the process and the many requirements necessary to achieve LEED Platinum was extraordinary; certification would not have been possible without Mr. Thomson. The contractors sought good advice and direction from LEED consultants Kath Williams and Associates.  Again, certification would not have been possible without the contractors commitment to the process and execution of the many details and variables involved.

Aside from the previous mention, we as architects are always thinking about building orientation, adaptation to site, weather extremes, passive solar, code compliance and energy efficiency standards. Really what makes this project so special was the commitment on behalf of all the parties to push Headwaters Camp to the next level that currently has no equal.

Q.) Is this the first home you have designed to achieve LEED certification?

A.) Yes; however design or a particular vernacular is less critical to the achievement of a LEED Certification than say the efficiency of the building envelope and other systems supporting the use of the dwelling. Incidentally, I wish to acknowledge our consultant to the Geothermal Heating System/ Pond Loop, Major Geothermal located in Wheat Ridge, CO.

Q.) What trends have you noticed in people’s decisions to adopt a more “green” building sense?

A.) Green is red hot! Everywhere, in all walks of life there is a renewed excitement and determination to become good stewards of our remaining resources and to develop technologies for sustainable, renewable energy. We are poised as a nation to do great things; not only do we have the opportunity to deliver ourselves from a dwindling petroleum dependant system, but to also create new career paths and other related jobs currently needed to bolster our economy. We can provide opportunities for our country in a way not seen since the automobile was first massed produced in Detroit and believe it or not, it starts in our own back yard! It seems that at a time of our greatest desperation, great things are achieved. I have faith in our country, our technologies, our educational system and in our future. “Green” is beyond a trend, it’s here to stay, and if you are a business leader just beginning to think about green……you are already behind.

Q.) What is the outlook for new housing; is now a good time to build?

A.) Many experts have looked at every possible housing indicator you can imagine and the statistic that seems to be most relevant to business leaders is private, fixed, residential investment as a percent to the GDP. Reportedly the 60 year average is 4.8%. According to Home Depot CFO, Carol Tome, at the height of the homebuilding market, that number stood at 6.3%; at the end of the first quarter of 2009 the number equaled 2.7%; obviously indicating a huge contraction. Also according to Tome, when you compare 2.7% and 60 years of data it is logical to assume the worst is behind us. In conclusion she reminds us that the contraction could continue, however a serious decline as we have experienced should be over. (Fortune Magazine – August 2009; Renovating Home Depot; pg 46)

Bottom line, we are sharing with our clients who are poised to move in a soft market, to take advantage of pricing not seen in a decade. A home is an investment; investments are idealized when purchased low and sold high. It would appear that we have reached the bottom end of a declining economy, so now is the time to build.

Check out Dan Joseph Architects at: http://djawest.com/  #djawest