an architect’s process – part one


In the last couple of months I’ve seen a number of posts on various blogs about the architectural process, or the value of an architects services, or why you need an architect, etc. All of these posts stem from the same basic principle – convincing potential clients that we are valuable and that our services are in your best interest to ensure a sound investment in your building project.

So, I felt like I should take some time and walk through my own process. And, as luck would have it, I just signed a new client that has hired me to design a new home in the Hot Springs area of Arkansas near the Ouachita Mountains. And that is where any architect’s process starts – with a  client who needs your help. I won’t bore you with all the reasons you should hire an architect and how it adds value to your project and saves money during construction, etc etc. We’re already there. We’ve got a contract.

But what does it take to get to a contract? What are the steps you and your architect should go through to learning if this is going to be a good relationship or not? For me, there are three things, or three steps, that I go through with a potential client to determine if we’re a good fit.

1. Initial Meeting
Just like a first date, you’ll know within the first 15 minutes of your initial meeting whether or not there will be a second date…er uh, meeting. In that first meeting I ask my clients a good deal of questions. Some of them may or may not have anything to do with their project, though project specific questions are important. Ultimately, I want to get a feel for who these people are, how they live, what their day to day life is like (young or grown children, newly weds, party animals), what they do for work (do they work from home or commute?), are they outdoor types or more cerebral. Basic first date chit chat.

If all goes well and they haven’t pushed/thrown me out the door, I try to schedule a second meeting to discuss their project more in depth.

2. Project Meeting:
Things like total budget, contractors, renovation/construction experiences in the past, etc will all come up. And, if new construction, I like to visit the site and get a feel for the land, scope out possible building sites, drive access, utilities, and anything that may influence the work and/or require additional fees that may need to be considered.

3. Project Proposal/Contract:
Once that is done it’s time to sit down and review the Client’s wants, needs and desires in relation to the budget in order to generate a preliminary building program and calculate a proposed fee. The building program and fee should be centered around a well-defined scope of work. For small projects, or projects with limited fees I will even list in my proposal and contract what drawings/services I will and will not provide. It’s imperative that you manage expectations from the very beginning and put in writing exactly what you will do as part of your fee and what will be considered an additional service. Otherwise you end up doing anything and everything under the sun. Trust me. I know.

If you’ve done your job right, if you’ve represented yourself well to the Client, then #3 is the beginning of what should be a fun and exciting relationship that can last longer than the design and construction schedule. If you start by taking care of your clients before they’re clients the rest of the project is a relative breeze.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

how I became an architect – a not so short story

On the morning of April 2nd I checked my online account and discovered that the board had still not approved my license to practice architecture. By chance I checked again about 30 minutes later and they had approved and issued my license number. I am now a fully licensed architect in the state of Florida. To say I was excited, relieved, elated, overwhelmed and just… WHOA, would be an understatement. And so I thought I’d write a post about how I got here, my own personal journey of How I Became an Architect.

Counting the time I’ve been in practice, this day has been 10 years in the making. But if I’m truly honest, this day is really 30 years in the making because I first fell in love with architecture at the age of 3 during a day trip to New York City. I was 3 or 4 years old and all I recall is sticking my head out the window starring up at those amazingly tall buildings all around me. I was fascinated and fixated. That is, until my mother yanked me back in the car and told me never to do that again. Parents are big on the whole “heads and bodies in the car at all times” thing. Pssh. Whatever.

But anyway, back to how I got here and the road I took.


I graduated college in 2003 with a Masters of Architecture from the Savannah College of Art and Design, but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2004 when I began my first internship in Jacksonville, Florida. I was, looking back, incredibly fortunate to be hired on at KBJ Architects, one of the oldest firms in the state.

This being my first time even setting foot in a real life architecture firm, it took very little time to realize I knew nothing. And the shear magnitude of the nothing that I knew was staggering. So, I latched on to whomever happened to be sitting next to me and I asked every question that I could think of that had anything to do with whatever task I was performing at the time. And I payed attention to every answer I got. Soon I realized that I finally knew some stuff. I was still closer to nothing than I was to something, but I was moving in the right direction.

I left that firm for a few others in Jacksonville, with a brief stint in McLean, Virginia before finally getting my act in gear and beginning the IDP and ARE process. Once all my paperwork had been processed and my record was officially established it took another year before I took my first exam. This was in ARE3.1. I passed the first two and felt really good about my progress. Then the next two I failed back to back and was completely deflated. That feeling was compounded by the letter I got from NCARB informing me in a very pleasant tone that I was being rolled in to ARE4.0 and was so very lucky to start over from scratch. All my previous exams were null and void. Thanks for that.

So, once I got done yelling at everyone that picked up the phone at NCARB I sucked it up and scheduled two exams in a row – ones I knew I could pass because I had already taken them: Construction Documents and Services and Building Systems. BAM – Pass and Pass. Then signed up for my third. Fail. Back to defeated and deflated.

Fast forward 3 years and I’ve still got 5 exams to take and pass. Then I get another letter from NCARB. “Oh, by the way your rolling clock runs out in 2014.” It’s not the beginning of 2013. Time to get serious otherwise I get to start over with the exams AGAIN. No thank you. So, I set a schedule and got busy. I basically haven’t had a life for the last 8 months as I hurried to finish the last 3 exams: Site Planning and Design, Programming Planning and Practice and Structural Systems.

But now I’m done. I’m free of the ARE. And now the only thing I have to stress about is maintaining me record (pay money), maintaining my license (CEUs and pay money) and choosing which states I want to practice in (pay more money).

Lessons learned:

1. Don’t be a slacker. As soon as you’re able and allowed start taking exams. Keep up with your IDP and get it over with as soon as humanly possible.
2. Don’t take no for an answer when it comes to experience and mentorship. Your boss should be actively involved in your development and helping you move through the NCARB nightmare. If not, find a new boss.
3. If you see the word FAIL (and yes it’s always in big bold caps like that) take it as a challenge, a call to action, something that drives you forward instead of holding you back. This profession is not for quitters.
4. Do not let “life” get in the way of finishing your exams. Excuses are just that – excuses. Push forward and get it done. You’ve got the rest of your life for everything else.
5. Get licensed as soon as you’re allowed. If I had followed this advice I’d be in my 5th or 6th year of license practice instead of my 5th or 6th day.

Becoming an architect starts with a calling. The decision is made young, sometimes even if we’re not aware of it at the time. But that calling has to be followed with a determined action and a resolve to see it through. Becoming an architect is not the end. It’s the beginning.

Time to get to work.