Questions to ask during an interview

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QUESTIONS TO ASK DURING AN INTERVIEW

For our 40th episode I wanted to dive into something that might provide some value to you guys. Especially if you are in the beginning stages of hiring an architect. I am going to go over the questions you need to ask your architect which was put out by the AIA the American Institute of Architects.

They say that these are the questions that you need to ask and I will try to see what these questions are really driving at. What is the goal with the questions and what do you as the client potentially get from asking these questions.

Or better yet how can asking these questions really help you do define what you might be looking for.

So The questions are broken down into 5 sections. They are Experience, My Project, Design, Green Design, (which I not sure how that is different than design, but we shall see) and the final one is Fees.

AIA Questions
So the AIA starts by saying these are some questions to address when meeting with a prospective architect.

In their Experience Category they ask, “What is your design philosophy?” With this question you are really trying to hone in on what type or what style of design the architect does. Are they more modern and sleek or more traditional? It also touches on what drives the designer. What excites them. Perhaps they feel their design philosophy is that they like to connect people to nature. And that drives their style and design. What you are looking for here is that you need to understand that their design philosophy is something greater than your one project, it is something that they have been focused on for some time during their career. It is a greater over arching theory that interjects into each project so if that philosophy does not align with your values or your goals then they would not be a good fit. Most likely you would have seen their work and understood or had a hint of what their design philosophy was before you brought them in.

The next question is, “What sets your firm apart from other architects with similar experience?” I can almost guarantee that the answer to this question will be our personal service. “We match a level of service that can’t be matched.” If you really want to dive deeper into this question my suggestion would be to follow up with another question. Ask, “What do you do as a service that others do not?” This might find them scratching their heads a bit but it will allow them to explain further what they do and how they can help you through the process. What is it in particular that sets their service apart from others?

The third question is, “Do you have experience with the building type and size of my project?” This is an important one. You want to make sure that what you are trying to achieve has been done by them before. You don’t want an architect that has only designed industrial warehouses to design your home. This leads to the next question.

“Will you share with me a portfolio of similar projects and provide a list of client references?” And of course they will. They probably have it with them right now and are eager to get it out and talk about it. This question will spark a series of things that will derail your series of questions. What will happen is they will most likely have a portfolio with them that they will start pulling out and discussing each and every project. Pointing out all the fine details, the challenges, the obstacles and how they were overcome. I suggest that you save this question to lower down in your list. Maybe towards the end.

The fifth and final question in the experience category is, “Who from the architecture firm will I be dealing with on a regular basis? Is this the person who will design my project?” Depending on the size of the firm you will be working with you might experience a situation where you initially meet with the owner or an architect and then once through the initial stages you are passed off to an intern or someone who has the ability to draw all the details and construction drawings. In smaller firms you will find that the owners tend to stay involved further into the projects where as larger firms tend to pass the project off to staff.

Now at first this might sound like a bad thing and it is not necessarily bad. It all depends on who you will be working with. If you approach a larger firm you have to understand that the owner of the firm cannot possibly be involved in all the stages of design and construction. So the have to delegate. Just be sure to meet the people that you plan to be working with so you understand who will be taking over the project once the owner steps aside. Be sure you fit with their personality and style as well. A lot of times owners will bring this person a long to the interview so you would have a chance to meet them and feel comfortable.

So it's good to understand who the team will be and who your main point of contact will be as well. If you are unclear on who that is make sure you ask that way you can insure that things you communicate to your architect are not lost in the duffle of the project team.

The Next category are questions that pertain to Your Project. Project specific questions.

The first in this category is, “Are you interested enough in this project to make it a priority?” I can't imagine anyone saying no to this question and it actually would turn off most architects because I would assume that you don't really understand the process and you might be somewhat of the wrong client for me. I can see why they added this question but it strikes me as odd. For one the architect has already taken time out of their schedule to discuss the project and shown a certain level of enthusiasm for the work. If you can sense no excitement what so ever and you want to kind of politely ask this question because it appears that the architect does not really care then by all means ask but if you have to I would assume that this architect is not right for you.

What challenges do you foresee for my project? This is a good question but it assumes that you have already gotten into a large amount of investigative work. If all you have told the architect is a rough outline it might be difficult for them to give you an honest logical answer and they may just give you some challenges that they faced with a previous similar project that might not necessarily be the case on your project. If you tell them that you would like to build a house for 60$ per sf in 2 months then they might be able to let you know the challenges with doing that and what the results of that goal might be.

The next question is, "What do you see as the important issues or considerations in my project?" Most likely this question will spark discussions about time or schedule and your budget. Those are usually the two most difficult items that clients have poor expectations with. Generally most are somewhat shocked by the time required and floored by the potential costs.

What is your estimated timetable for my project? Again this can be a difficult question to answer at such an early stage but it can be estimated based on past projects. There are two phases to this question or actually three. Design phase the permitting then construction. We have found more and more time being added to the permitting phase be prepared for that.

What means will you use to collect information about my needs, goals, etc.? This is a great question. This will give your architect the chance to explain their process and assure you that all your goals are understood and that the project will be meeting your needs.

How will you help me to fully understand the scope and sequence of the project? Will you utilize models, drawings, or computer animation? Again part of the architects process. This question also starts to get into some of the deliverables. These will be spelled out with a lot more detail in the project proposal which might be several steps away.

The third category is Design.
This category focuses on how your architect will approach the design of your project. These five questions are excellent ones and each is something that I suggest you ask.

The first is, "What are the steps in the design process, and how are they organized?"

"What criteria will be used to establish priorities and make design decisions?"

"What do you expect me to provide?"

"How disruptive will construction be?"

"What role do you have during construction? Am I expected to work with the contractor directly?"

Fourth category of questions to ask your architect during the interview process are related to Green Design.

These questions could be part of the overall design questions.

"Do you have experience with “green” or sustainable design?"

"Do you regularly integrate low or no cost sustainable design strategies into projects?"

"Considering the many areas that may be affected by sustainable design, how will you determine which options to pursue?"

"If sustainable design technologies are implemented, do upfront costs exist that may affect the construction budget? What are the expected pay back times?"

The final category and list of questions are related to Fees.

"How do you establish fees?"

"In anticipation of a formal proposal with costs, what would you expect your fee to be for this project?"

"What is included in your basic services and what services would incur additional fees?"

"If the scope of the project changes later in the project, will there be additional fees? How will these fees be justified? How will this be communicated to me?"

"What is your track record with completing a project within the original budget?"

I hope that you are having great success with the planning and construction of your home. If you want to get in touch with me please reach out to me on twitter or google plus.

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