The First Meeting With Your Architect

You have interviewed several architects for your new house and selected one based on his portfolio, references, personal rapport and a fair fee.  During your first meeting your architect interviews you to get a sense of your likes and dislikes and then moves ahead to start the design phase with your wish list of rooms, room adjacencies, views, finishes and materials.

What Does An Architect Do During The Design Phase?

In short, during this phase the architect develops plans and elevations and perhaps even 3D colored renderings for your review.  There are many things for him to take into consideration, juggle and balance in order to produce something for you to review and react to.


Establishing Constraints

First of all, limits and constraints must be established.  Some are imposed by your lot size, program and budget, others by external forces such as zoning ordinances and building codes.  Despite the image in popular culture of architects’ thriving on blank check budgets and estate size country lots, in reality, our creativity is best stimulated by tight budgets and even tighter lots.  However, some urban lots are so tight that the building massing is defined by the zoning ordinance with the architect’s role reduced to interpreter of the ordinance.


Your Architect Researches The Zoning Ordinance

Almost every lot in America is placed in a zoning district and falls under a political jurisdiction’s zoning ordinance of prohibitions, mandates and constraints.  In addition to controlling what sort of use is allowed in a particular zoning district – residential, commercial, manufacturing, etc. – zoning also controls maximum lot coverage, total allowable area, minimum setbacks from property lines and maximum building height.  Zoning can also mandate parking and landscaping requirements.  Once your architect has researched the limits that the zoning ordinance places on your project, he then researches the limits and mandates imposed on your project by the building code.


Your Architect Researches The Building Code

Outside of large cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which have their own building codes, everyone else uses the International Building Code.  Building codes essentially address life and safety issues such as materials and systems for fire protection, exit requirements and minimum design loads for building elements imposed by gravity, wind and earthquakes.  Minimum room sizes and ceiling heights, minimum natural light and ventilation requirements as well as maximum energy usage is also addressed by building codes.  Codes also dictate all kinds of electrical and plumbing requirements.  A fairly recent development is accessibility requirements developed at the national level and further refined at the state and even local levels which mandate that, other than single family houses and small multi unit residential buildings, most elements of all buildings open to the public must be accessible to persons in wheelchairs.  For this there are detailed standards which must be complied with.


Putting It All Together

As you the client can now see, there is much preparation work for your architect to do to establish limits and constraints before he can pick up a pencil and begin sketching.  My next blog will peek inside your architect’s mind as he begins to put together down on paper everything that he is now juggling in his mind.

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