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Architect About Town

Every project needs to have an architect

Architect About Town - Special to the Fort Myers News-Press

Many think architects are hired only for designing museums or schools or, lately, baseball stadiums. However, an architect can help any building project be more comfortable, functional and energy-efficient.

But why would you hire an architect? What benefits will they bring? And, in difficult economic times, how can you justify the cost?

With less money available, the training, expertise and experience of a licensed architect enable an owner to plan and create smart, cost-effective solutions for every project, saving money up front and avoiding costly mistakes in the construction phase.

An architect's training focuses on problem solving and the creation of ideas. Combined with a broad education in the arts, engineering and construction, architects gain an overall approach to building design, site studies, construction methods and materials, the climate, codes, zoning, contracts and budget.

The formal professional training is long and arduous. Depending on the university, it takes five or six years to get the professional degree(s). That's followed by two to three years of supervised practice, before being allowed to take the rigorous nine-part national Architect Registration Examination leading to licensure.

That can be as much time as it takes to become a physician. So, when you are seriously ill or serious about building, isn't a professional the first port of call?

At the project's start, an architect is able to interpret a client's needs and provide solutions that get the function, size and budget right.

After working with Joe Madden of Fort Myers on his downtown office, I heard him elucidate: "As a real estate attorney involved with both commercial and residential real estate projects, our clients work directly with licensed architects in developing building plans for their proposed uses.

"Our clients rely upon the architect from design through construction, ensuring the building is constructed to meet their needs. They find that utilizing the skills of an architect can actually save money because they are able to design space more effectively and efficiently for the specific intended use."

Importantly, the architect can immediately determine: are you being realistic? That's an answer prudent to know at the beginning.

A good architect will investigate the site or building, consider the climate and determine how all existing conditions will impact the design and then, present not only a design but a solution.

Drawings, often presented in three dimensions now, make it easier to visualize proposals - avoiding surprises. Changing a drawing or a computer model is far less expensive than a change in the field.

Suggesting appropriate proposals and suitable materials is only one skill. How many times has an item, originally put in to save a few dollars, had to be replaced?

Designing energy efficiency into a building at the outset also saves money on running costs and reduces the consumption of natural resources.

Studying the history of art, and architecture, not only construction, prepares an architect to incorporate balance and proportion - the key to making buildings look good. Think of some houses in some gated communities, with massive overhead garage doors hiding the front door and dominating the front of the home.

Architects provide more than just four walls and a roof - they create environments, incorporating daylight, views and the climate, inside and out. And, did you know a considered design is even conscious of the space between the buildings?

The architect will use the vision of a client to produce dynamic creative space, which serve users and make buildings efficient and comfortable.

It is important to remember, if it can go wrong on the building site, it will. Inevitably, it is the time when the budget will spiral out of control. Given the opportunity and with cooperation from the construction team, the architect can be the one to keep a handle on costs.

Their comprehensive understanding of a building produces solutions to site problems that will make the least impact on all aspects of the building - minimizing cost increases. And, if they monitor changes and substitutions, quality is rarely reduced.

So if the cost of hiring a professional still seems high, think of it in the long term: include the actual costs of the mortgage, and fees will average about 1-2 percent of the overall expenditure. That's a small price for a building with fewer maintenance issues, better materials, improved quality of space and a reduced impact on the environment.

Further down the road, consider the resale value. Good design sells.

Remember what Red Adair, the American oil well firefighter understood: "If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur!"

Joyce Owens AIA RIBA