How to build without an architect by S. Joshua Brincko

Don't. That's right. Don't try to build without an architect. It is best to team with your architect through the entire design, permitting, and construction process. It is most efficient to simply trust the architect to do what is best, and ask how you can help make the process more streamlined. Easy to say because I'm an architect, right? The fact is, how could you successfully manage an architect's work unless you have experience doing architecture? Otherwise, you are trying to manage something you know absolutely nothing about (although you may assume you know something about it), and you would be attempting to simplify a very complex profession. There's a reason why architects are required to earn a specific professional accredited architecture degree (or more than one degree), document and complete several years apprenticing under national architectural registration board requirements, pass all the state board exams, maintain continuing education credits, and carry $1 million or more in liability insurance. Close to 75% of my class did not graduate from my architecture program, and most of the ones who did graduate are still not licensed architects. To state it simply, the profession is very complicated and requires a high degree of specialized knowledge, creative insight, technical experience, and ability to synthesize and apply legal aspects of building code and business issues. Anyone who thinks an architect just draws a floor plan to get a permit is very short-sighted. Most people don't actually know or understand what architects do. Same for someone who actually thinks they sketch their own ideas on graph paper and hand it to an architect to get it permitted and built without making any changes to it. The people who try to take on the architect's work on their own are always the ones who don't really understand what architects do and believe they could manage this unknown work. If you consider the people who do tons of construction projects, they always hire an architect and understand the benefits. They also understand what architects do and have the better judgement to know they should not take on this work on their own. Did you know federal laws limit the use of the term, "professional," to the professions of doctor, lawyer, engineer, CPA and architect due to the high degree of required training and specialized discretion involved with performing the work? 

Managing the work of the architect on your own puts all of these ideas into question, and it's not prudent for anyone to question their architect without first understanding the entire background behind the situation. This would require the architect to explain the ramifications of land use code, building code, construction methods and materials, schedules, budgets, experience on previous projects, etc. This is why people hire an architect: because they don't know how to do these things (successfully). An architect is capable of explaining all these things to help the client make informed decisions, but why should he/she? The architect is already legally required to follow all these rules to ensure the building is safe and functions properly, and furthermore, the architect truly wants the building to be the best it can be under the parameters that govern it. Questioning your architect leads to a lot of time spent explaining why something must be designed a certain way which leads to less time spent completing the project, more time spent on professional fees, and eventually frustration from the architect. 

A client does have the right to question the architect, but they should focus on setting goals and expectations instead of aiming to change the way the work gets done. It is the job of the architect to understand the goals and ensure they are achieved. Questioning the architect's methods just inhibits this. I do encourage collaborative feedback, however. The distinction between the two is really a matter of respect and trust that the architect is being prudent to get the project completed in the best way possible. I believe architects receive more scrutiny than other professionals because there is also a layer of creativity and aesthetics tied to the design decisions. I always try not to consider aesthetics when solving any design problem, so the solution will be as pure as possible. The aesthetics are a latent effect of the function.

A builder I used to work with was a prime example of an uniformed party that would repeatedly attempt to manage the architect, and he would normally do it in an effort to try to skirt the rules. This is why I don't work with that builder anymore. At the end of a project, he would leave the client exhausted which reflected poorly on me. He is actually capable of building a good product, but the process of getting there always caused the client unnecessary stress, drama, errors, and consequently time and money. He would commonly start building the projects without consulting with the architect, and he would reference permit drawings for information as he built. Permit drawings only include some very limited information on a checklist provided by the building department, but they include none of the specifications, instructions, or dimensions necessary to actually build the project. The building department does not need or want this level of detail (such as finish materials, waterproofing details, anything related to aesthetics, etc). So it is simply not possible to build the client's vision from permit drawings. More detailed construction drawings which contain all the specifics are required. (See my earlier post on construction drawings vs permit drawings.) So this particular builder thought he could earn more money by convincing the client to spend more money on construction by "kicking out" the architect once he had the permit. He actually told me this. So the builder was essentially trying to build without drawings which is like trying to cook a recipe by only looking at the picture in the cookbook and not reading the instructions or ingredients. Good luck. This inevitably caused the builder to hit road blocks, blame it on the architect, and tell the client he needed the architect to "fix" the drawings. In reality, the architect really needs to finish the design process which then becomes more difficult if there are construction deficiencies to work around which the client did not want to spend time or money to unbuild and rebuild. As a result of this builder's approach, he would commonly not read the drawings and install the wrong materials. On one project, he put the wrong siding on an entire wall, put the wrong light fixtures in all rooms, nearly neglected to maintain the required fireproofing between tenant spaces, improperly built waterproofing details, neglected to properly sequence venting details, simply forgot to put siding on certain areas, and authorized the order of windows that did not comply with the energy code - all while understaffing the project which caused the build to take 2 to 3 times longer than it should have (which cost the client months of unearned rent from future tenants). There was literally a similar, but larger project being built across the street that started months later but finished months earlier. This all happened because he questioned the role of the architect and was in the habit of not reading the drawings.

This builder would also question things he knew nothing about such as land use code issues. For a simple project he assumed no new parking spaces would be needed since other nearby projects didn't need additional parking. He was right, but he failed to understand the process of getting that approved. I told him I would have to spend time calculating the number of parking spaces needed based on the current code for his situation, then I could determine and subtract the exceptions and exemptions from the parking rules applicable to his scenario which could equate to no additional parking necessary, so his project could get approved. Instead of hiring me to do this, he chose to hire another designer who agreed not to check the codes but to simply submit basic plans without that information pursuant to his request. Public records indicate this did, in fact, result in revisions mandated from the building department, which costs additional time and permit fees. (At the time of this post, nearly a year has gone by, and that builder is still without his permit for a very simple project). This could also end up with extra requirements for additional parking spaces, fire sprinklers, earthquake retrofits and other unnecessary items that an architect can get exempted IF he were to authorize the architect to apply those rules. Instead, he fallaciously decided to manage his architect and now has larger, more expensive (project stopping) planning issues to resolve, and he will have more design fees to pay. Architects have the ability of saving clients and builders time and money, but only if they can do their jobs. Managing the involvement of the professional really inhibits the success of a project and typically makes the construction cost more money due to the chaos and added permitting consequences. 

It is not uncommon for a builder to try and circumvent the architect, but this is mainly because they are inexperienced in the work they do and don't understand the role and benefit of the architect in the process. These are not good builders to work with, and they don't even realize that fact about themselves. Think about it: in the role of an architect, I have the opportunity of working on many similar projects at the same time, so I can make direct comparisons on how one builder conducts business over another builder. Each builder works in a vacuum and therefor has little reference for how their workflows compare to one another. I am in an ideal position to monitor the success of many different builders, and it is clear to see that the most successful builders carefully rely on the advice of their architect. It is a major red flag when the builder tries to eliminate the architect and take on that role themselves. Caution. Builders know that architects can hold them accountable for their work, so beware of a builder who says the project is straightforward and they don't need an architect. Don't fall into that trap. 

Former clients really learn to trust the judgement of their architect by the time a project is over, and they begin to understand what an architect really does and how the process works. (See my previous post called In Architect We Trust). Clients often learn the hard way about keeping their architect intimately involved, and they frequently tell me, "I wish we would have listened to you when you suggested ....."  

Digital Seals and Signatures by Josh Brincko

Dear Building Dept,

This page has been created this page to address your concerns regarding digital signatures. Please note that professional licenses, such as architects' and engineers' licenses are governed by the state, and administration of those requirements are under the jurisdiction of the state and not local governments. For several years, the state has allowed digital seals and signatures pursuant to the following provisions:

  1. RCW 18.43.70: http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=18.43.070
  2. WAC 196-23-070(2): http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=196-23&full=true#196-23-070
  3. WAC 308-12-081(3): http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=308-12-081 
  4. RCW 18.08.370 allows digital signatures and seals for architects per the requirements of: http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=18.08.370

This is not a complete list of all provisions governing the use of digital signatures, but thank you for your consideration in accepting digital signatures and seals pursuant to the ordinances enacted by our state law. I would also encourage you to consider reviewing plans electronically to save paper, and I would be happy to help you instigate this into your protocols.

10 Construction Errors Architects Commonly Find by S. Joshua Brincko

It is very common that I find errors on a job site. That is part of an architect's job, and it's a good thing because I propose remedies to problems before they develop into catastrophes. I often spot construction mistakes before they even happen. Although many people think a building inspector is checking the whole project for your best interest, the inspector is not required or legally obligated to thoroughly review and protect the biggest investment you will ever make (your house). They are mainly just checking in to see if the builder has a minimum level of competence to apply the standards. 

As an architect, I need your project to turn out awesome for two reasons: 1. I need the great photos of the finished project for my portfolio, and 2. I need my clients to love their project, so they refer their friends and family to me. Well another reason: 3. It's just really fun to design cool buildings! I really care about the success of my clients' biggest investments, I accept their trust very seriously, and I am an expert in my field because of my extensive experience and knowledge. 

My involvement during the construction process does cost the client money, but it is negligible when compared to fixing a construction mistake. Builders typically have all the best intentions, but sometimes things get missed or some errors are out of a builder's control. Some of the builder's errors are even the client's fault at times for not giving the builder enough direction (by simply NOT authorizing the architect to manage the construction process). Even if an error is the builder's fault, fixing problems could still take months (of your time) to remedy. The person building your project works on one project at a time while an architect works on dozens of projects at a time and therefor sees a plethora of different construction methodologies in action. Since architects are faced with so many varying construction situations, we have vast experience to foresee potential problems before they arise. Although a builder's experience is more practical, architects see the big picture which also includes coordinating the work of various sub-contractors to make sure it all fits together. I also happen to have years of practical experience doing construction labor, so I thrive on a job site. Paying an architect for an hour to do a weekly job site meeting saves clients loads of money down the road, and I've listed the most common mistakes I see below:

  1. Inadequate crawlspace venting. You would be surprised at how many people end up with moldy crawlspaces. Rain and construction do not mix well. Postponing (or forgetting) crawlspace venting inevitably results in mold. Construction materials should not be wet, and if they are, they NEED a way to dry out. I can often spot these errors through construction photos or by simply driving by a job site (without even exiting my truck).
  2. Inadequate attic venting. Drink a beer on a hot day...what happens? The bottle gets wet on the outside. It's not sweat from your palms. It's not magical free beer. It's science, and it's called condensation. Cold attic + hot house = condensation. Condensation on your construction materials = mold if it does not have a way to dry out. This is where soffit vents, ridge vents, and mechanical vents come into play. Based on the size of the attic, there's a specific amount of ventilation needed at specific areas of the attic to keep the air adequately flowing, so this condensation can be evaporated before mold develops. I can calculate this in my sleep - don't let your builder just slap up some random vent strips.
  3. Inadequate insulation. You can insulate all you want, but if you leave a gap here or there, it's like having a hole in your house. Would you expect a winter jacket to keep you warm if you don't zip it? Of course not. Your insulation around your house works the same exact way. It must be continuous and tight. I have learned some strategies that allow your insulation to actually do its job, and this saves you big time on heating bills.
  4. Improper installation of weatherproofing. This one really bothers me. We build with wood mostly, and we know that wood swells and rots when it's wet. It has become common practice for builders to frame houses in the rain and cover it with house wrap: it's a white tarp-like material that they staple to the plywood. Staples put holes in the house wrap. The house wrap blows off with a little bit of wind leaving the wood exposed until they do the labor of re-installing it again and again and again which leaves more and more and more staple holes in it. The sun's ultraviolet rays degrade the house wrap in as little as three days. And perhaps the worse thing is that the house wrap is often installed over wet plywood which actually prevents the wood from ever drying out. There's better products and methods out there that I'd be happy to share with you. Just ask. Installation of windows, doors, and integrating different materials into one another is another area where the help of an architect is essential in the of weatherproofing of your project. Nobody wants leaks to develop a year or two or ten down the road.
  5. Ceiling framing that prevents lighting where you want it to be. You want recessed lights in the middle of your hallway? You better make sure the framers don't put a joist or rafter down the center of your hall. This happens a lot. The framers often don't refer to the whole set of plans to coordinate with the lighting, speaker, or duct locations, and this causes unnecessary compromises or costly rework. I work hard to spot these problems before they arise so everything integrates properly. It is the responsibility of the builder to do this, but they are less familiar with the concept which causes things like this to be overlooked. 
  6. Door/window framing that will later cause awkward trim details. Have you seen a door trim in the corner of a hallway with a 1/4" strip of drywall next to it that is too skinny to paint? This comes down to careful planning, design detailing, and follow-through during construction to get these fine details to work well.
  7. Clients buying things that won't work. Clients get really excited about their projects - this is very understandable. Sometimes too excited though. Don't just buy a window or a refrigerator because it's a good deal. There's certain size requirements, insulation specifications, etc that must be followed for certain products to work. It's also not fun to move a refrigerator around from room to room during construction while trying not to damage the pretty stainless steel finish. Let it be your architect's fault or your builder's fault if something won't work by letting them buy it (at the appropriate time).  
  8. Wet building materials that should not get rained on. This goes along with #4 above, but I see builders storing lumber on a muddy job site in the rain. The lumber should really be kiln dried to a certain moisture percentage and kept dry to ensure it will not host mold, mildew, and shrink and swell in unpredictable ways. You wouldn't want to see tile popping off of your wall or hardwood floors buckling because the framing behind them are shrinking and swelling.
  9. Wrong materials installed. A simple job site meeting is so helpful when it comes time to install finish materials. There are so many unique construction details where one material integrates with another that it's not possible (or practical) to depict it all on drawings. Or sometimes there's so many drawings and changes to drawings that builders overlook something that was planned. Would you rather have a builder guessing at your design details, or would you rather have your trained architect spend 5 minutes to provide the necessary direction?
  10. Builders not reading or improperly reading drawings. A picture is worth a thousand words, so it's understandable that things can be missed on drawings. There is so much information packed into a drawing that certain things can be missed while trying to read the plans on a dark, cold, windy, rainy, dusty, noisy job site. There's also decisions that are made that are not illustrated on the drawings. A weekly job site meeting is crucial to review progress and upcoming work to ensure the builder is aware of everything necessary on the plans before building it. I've also common unfortunately that builders never bother to print the drawings and therefor never read them. Sigh.

Alki Perch Residence by Josh Brincko

 Alki Perch Residence

Alki Perch Residence

I think I'm a good architect - except at one thing: marketing. Fortunately, my business has been busy for the past 11 years despite limited marketing efforts. I have so much fun designing new projects that I rarely take the time to brag about my work publicly - because bragging about your work is really what marketing is, right? Another way of describing marketing could be to explain the value of your product or service to a targeted audience, so they know they should hire you. I tend to do this on a one-on-one basis with potential clients since all of my work has been from referrals and not traditional advertising methods. Therefor, most of my marketing efforts are a consultation with a client to educate them on the design process, construction process, and other related factors. 

Well, here's one of the few times I have taken a step back to get professional photographs (from my pro-photographer wife, Heather Brincko), and show them to the world simply for the fun of doing it. I designed this project almost 10 years ago, so it feels great to revisit it, finally take photos, and share them with you. I hope it doesn't take another 10 years to photograph more of my work! 

I call this project "Alki Perch." The property is simply amazing (click to see photos). As you go up the driveway, you scan the landscape and are quickly infatuated with a stunning piece of architecture. Getting closer to the house, you study the materials and contrasting forms and sort of forget where you are for a moment. As you get to the front door, the architecture makes you feel warm and welcomed. Then you glance over your shoulder, and your eyes pop open. You knew there was a view, but you've never quite seen a view like this one. It's not a 180 degree view. It's much more than that. You can see from Magnolia to Bainbridge Island to Blake Island to Vashon Island and down towards Tacoma. Since you are perched so high on the hill, you also have a view down to Alki Point, Alki's beaches, and far across the islands onto the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic Mountains . Although you are quite close to downtown Seattle and you can see a variety of activity such as ferries, cyclists, other homes, and people on the beach afar, this place has an amazing sense of serenity perched atop the beach community. As this calming sense and amazing view overcomes you, it is easily forgotten that you are standing on Ron's front porch waiting for him to greet you at the door. I'm sure Ron greets the backs of his guests' heads more than he sees their faces as they are in a trance gazing at his incredible view. The combination of the exciting architecture, the expansive view, and Ron's calm persona makes you not want to leave. Maybe this is why Ron converted his daylight basement into a rental apartment for visiting guests. It's so nice that it's booked up for the foreseeable future. 

A little about the project... It started as a tiny bungalow. Very typical. Outdated. Nothing was really special about it except for the view. Ron asked us to help him find a new house to buy and freshen up. Knowing that remodeling is a major ordeal, we told him to pass on other homes that did not have the special potential that this home has. Our design solution involved removing the gabled roof, converting a bedroom to a stairway, adding a second floor, and also adding an addition that cantilevered over the sloped site to avoid additional ground disturbance that is not allowable on steep slope areas. We created contrasting forms that define the different areas of the home such as the stair, the entry, the kitchen, the master suite, and the office. The roofs slope to frame the views, and the highest roof over the master bedroom slopes to the south to enable future installation of solar panels. It also creates a higher, more dramatic ceiling in the master bedroom. We cantilevered the roof from the office to extend quite far over the roof deck which is adjacent and accessible from both the master and office. As Ron works from home, he can walk outside anytime of day and stay under cover from the rain or sun - or not. This extended roof plane allows a lot of flexibility. I don't know how he gets anything done with such a provocative view that he stares at every day. The only remnants of the original house are the main entry, living room, and main floor bedroom which we refinished on the interior and re-sided on the exterior. We actually used the old siding on a cabin on Guemes Island for one of my other clients. I am very proud of the outcome of this project, and I hope you enjoy the photos.

Alki_Perch_10.jpg

Keep The Architect Through The Whole Project by S. Joshua Brincko

 Here's an example email string between the architect and the client. The architect was inquiring about the construction progress after not hearing from the client for several months. 

Here's an example email string between the architect and the client. The architect was inquiring about the construction progress after not hearing from the client for several months. 

The emails above are just one of so many examples where an architect's involvement throughout the entire construction process is valuable in preventing costly errors. After happening to drive by a client's project under construction, (in a matter of seconds) the architect noticed inadequate crawl space ventilation and wet construction materials which is a perfect recipe for mold. The architect promptly asked the client what their plans were for addressing this issue since the architect had not been consulted by the client after the permit was approved. The client never responded until months later when mold had developed in the crawl space and cost thousands in remediation fees. A few minutes of consultation on phone, email, or on-site meetings easily prevents these issues. The permitted drawings are only detailed enough to state that a crawlspace must be ventilated to satisfy code requirements, but those basic drawings do not actually describe how to build the vents. Although the hourly rate of an architect may seem like an unnecessary expense to a first-timer, it is a wise investment to protect one of the largest investments a client will ever make. Architects design dozens of buildings every year and have inevitably experienced a myriad of issues and have the experience to easily resolve them. Would you give yourself anesthesia to save money before a surgery? Would you represent yourself in court to save money on a lawsuit? Would you refinance your home without consulting with a loan officer? Your home is your biggest investment. It makes a lot of sense to include an architect on your team throughout the entire construction process to protect that investment.

Most people have never built a house or worked with an architect. It is understandable that most people do not know what an architect actually does. Many people have an assumption that an architect draws the plans to help get a building permit - and that's the end of it. Although this is the minimum amount of professional service required by law in some instances, most of the value of working with an architect comes during the construction process. The permit drawings do not actually explain how to build a building. These drawings only prove to a building department that the building will meet the minimum required standards of safety, ventilation, and insulation. A city inspector shows up periodically during construction to confirm these things have been met, barely.

After the building permit has been approved, the architect adds more detail to the drawings to explain specific products and materials and how they will be integrated. This is effectively an instruction manual for the builder that explains how to build the building. This is also a written contract between the builder and the client that explains the level of quality and specific expectations for what is contractually obligated to be built. A higher level of detail on the drawings provides a more clear contract for the contractor to follow, and this helps to ensure the building is built according to the client's wishes. For example, a wall on a set of permit drawings is just two lines that represent the structure and some other materials that the building department is not concerned about. Building from these permit drawings allows builders to build whatever they want since nothing specific is required to be specified on permit drawings. This prevents builders from knowing precisely what to build, prevents them from knowing how much it may cost to build, and prevents the client from having any control over the outcome of the project. Not involving the architect after the permit is approved inevitably causes lower project quality and creates a likelihood for costly errors.

The architect's main value is in designing the details after the permit process to create very specific construction drawings and to regularly advise the client and builder during the construction process to ensure the built conditions will perform properly. This saves you time. This saves you money. This gives you sanity. And this ensures your project will turn out well. 

Do You Still Draw by Hand? by S. Joshua Brincko

 Example of a preliminary design sketch.

Example of a preliminary design sketch.

One of the most common (casual) questions I get as an architect is, "Will you design my house someday?" and also "Do you use CAD or blueprints?" The blueprint thing always makes me chuckle a bit. I have seen a blueprint once, in person. It was in the archive room of the first job I had as an intern. It stunk like mildew, was mostly illegible, and left a chalky feeling on my fingers from whatever chemical they used before copy machines. Asking an architect about drawing blueprints is worse than asking a millennial to fax something. You might have to go to the Smithsonian to actually find a blueprint machine. And no, I'm not old enough to have actually done blueprints in my lifetime :)

The intention of the question, "do you use CAD or blueprints" is likely meant to be stated as, "do you draw with a computer or by hand?" I do both. The majority of work is done on the computer, but preliminary planning is done by hand. It is much more accurate to do work on the computer, but that accuracy requires more time. When you are trying to explore a basic concept where accuracy is not important, drawing by hand is much faster. The computer requires you to input measurements and specify other parameters to draw a line. It also requires you to print it which doesn't always go smoothly. I get stressed out most times I need to print something: paper jams, out of ink, out of paper, wrong scale, etc.

Drawing by hand is a fun and critical part of the preliminary design process. Once you have determined the basic concept, you can continue to draw by hand, but this is where the computer starts to save a bit of time. Not only can we use the computer to draw things with 100% accuracy, it also allows us to make changes to drawings quite easily. When you draw by hand, this means starting over every time you make a change. The computer allows us to easily change the plans to explore dozens of design options. This is not necessarily practical when drawing by hand.

I was fortunate enough to enter the profession at a very unique moment of time where the transition between hand drafting and computer drafting was happening. The office I worked at had drafting tables and computer workstations. The drawings were a hybrid of computer prints with hand drafting overlaid onto them with photocopies of other things superimposed onto them. They were like a collage and sort of looked like some of the artwork of Robert Rauschenberg. The printers actually had pens in them. It was like a robot holding pens and drawing for you. It was pretty amazing at the time, but the pens dried out just like you would imagine leaving a marker with the cap off. The computers were also very finicky. You couldn't move the mouse and type on the keyboard at the same time or the computer would freeze.

Through this experience, I got to learn the benefits and craft of hand drawing and computer drawing, and I can employ the most appropriate medium at the most appropriate times. The old fogies always complained about the computers and grumbled about how CAD would never catch-on. The young architects today can't draw a line by hand. They go straight to the computer and consequently spend too much time in the early parts of the design process because they are bound by the limitations and requirements of the computer. Software is also changing to become more robust and requires the architect to input even more criteria to draw a line. A line is not just a line - it has a thickness, a material, a height, and it "talks" to other lines to communicate their relationships. This has tremendous benefits at the end of a design process because it outputs a lot of information "automatically," but it takes a shit-load of time up front to input all that information in the first place (which inhibits the creative aspects of the early design process).

I'm glad I understand the old school and new school approach and can talk both languages. Employing both is necessary on every project, and the variety of drawing mediums make the work day refreshing.

The Wussification of the Architecture Profession by S. Joshua Brincko

 Michelangelo designed this...and built it. Could you imagine an  architect  doing this  today ?

Michelangelo designed this...and built it. Could you imagine an architect doing this today?

My vision of a renaissance architect is a completely skilled and all-knowing craftsman...an artisan...the go-to guy that can design it, build it, source the materials, coach a team of laborers, and get the job done. Over time, I think the profession has become more specialized just like anything else. Specialization can encourage innovation, and it can also dilute a profession into something which loses its original purpose. The original role of an architect is nothing like it is today. Today's architects don't build. Heck, many don't even design anymore. Many architects don't even know how to build or design. Some architects specialize in things like negotiating contracts, finding new clients for their firm, drawing waterproofing details for facades, managing their staff, interpreting complicated building/zoning codes, or in documenting notes and specifications simply to organize decisions to shift liability when future litigation may happen. None of these things really have anything at all to do with "design," yet they fall under the job description of "architect." 

Architects are sort of ambassadors or a concierge to the construction process. We have a diverse knowledge of the things listed above, so we tend to assist clients by being their representative in maneuvering through this process (maybe because nobody else wants to). What would Michelangelo think if you dropped him into today's professional climate? I bet he would be bored and confused. He'd probably think we are unnecessarily inventing extra work to do. He's also likely make fun of us for being such babies.

Because of all of these facets of the profession that get pushed on to architects, the profession has become quite diluted. We weren't trained to do most of these things. We were really only trained to understand three-dimensional spaces and the experiences of humans as they interact with them. The extent of our other training is really only limited to a couple courses in structural mechanics, environmental systems, a course on professional ethics, and a course on building materials. We also took all the same general level courses as any other college student such as a basic math class, a physics class, sociology, etc. People are always shocked to hear that architects don't take a lot of math classes. In fact, my math class was called "Math For Architects," and it was mixed with other college students taking basic college level math. The difference was that the architects were dismissed after 10 weeks, while the rest of the college students had to finish the entire 15 week semester. Apparently basic math still wasn't basic enough for architecture students. Even more interesting, we did not take a single drafting or drawing class even though we were required to successfully draw and draft in our design studio courses. 

This shows an interesting disparity between the reality of the profession and the type of training architects receive in school. During a required 3-year minimum internship, architects get their first practical training. This is where we learn the technical aspects of the industry. This is also where very little design actually happens. Design is the fun part. The boss of a firm isn't likely to let the intern do the fun part. Although design opportunity is very limited in the profession, design is the entire focus of an architect's education, and design is also the reason why most architects decided to become architects. Many architects just lose that focus as they find their place in a profession that has too many other requirements to fulfill before being entitled to be allowed to design something. 

In a larger firm, it tends to be a better business model to have an individual specialize and do the same thing every single day. Day after day after day after day until they become a zombie and can do the work in their sleep. This also leads to boredom, lack of interest, and errors in the work. Efficiency is a standard goal in any business. Efficiency typically yields higher profits. This model has a very negative outcome in an architecture practice: it does not build upon the creative problem solving skills at the root of an architect's training. Architects in larger firms get pigeon-holed into doing the same mundane tasks every day inevitably losing their creative drive. Would you want someone like that designing your project? Clients have visions of hiring architects to do spectacular things, and architects have the same visions. When reality sets in, the budgets and schedules take over, and the creative juices are smothered.

F that! This is exactly why I started my business. 

Creative problem solving is my thing. Budgets and schedules are motivators for me to be even more creative. A major part of my job is to demonstrate to clients that they can do something special with their project. It is to think differently, set the bar high, be optimistic, and to rely on my creative training and technical skills to develop projects that inspire at any scale. In my small company, I wear all the hats. There is no mundane. I'm awake at 3am sketching ideas at my kitchen table, the next day I'm convincing the building department to consider innovative solutions to problems, I meet with clients to display ideas they had never imagined, and then I teach a college course in between. Creativity is at the core of all of these tasks, and communicating is the product (graphic, verbal, and in written formats).

Maintaining this creativity is my promise to myself and my clients. This is why I do what I do. This is why my clients want to work with me. They know I have the resources to get the work done successfully, and they know I have the mindset to exceed everyone's expectations and creatively come up with inspiring solutions. 

How much will your construction and architect cost? by S. Joshua Brincko

This is a tricky topic since it can vary quite a bit based on project type, quality of construction, quality of materials, time of year, location, and other factors. For that reason, I will give you a few formulas below based on the types of residential projects that Josh PS ordinarily designs in the Seattle area to help you get a rough estimate of your project. We focus on offering a high level of detail and responsive, friendly service, so we are not typically the cheapest architecture firm you may encounter. We do, however, offer a great value for the high quality design services we deliver for the most important investment you will likely ever make. (Also note the federal government considers architectural services to be a professional service similar to legal and medical services, and the price to perform such services can vary quite significantly depending on a multitude of factors that vary in each case.  Federal courts have deemed it unlawful to set fixed prices on architectural services, and the architectural registration board establishes strict standards for the professionalism, ethics, and technical knowledge required to be exercised by a licensed architect.) Ok, here it goes...I dare to try to explain how this all works without getting too complicated:


NEW CONSTRUCTION: New construction is actually cheaper than remodeling in many circumstances. Lets assume you are doing average quality of construction with basic materials. The construction cost for low quality construction tends to be about $150 per square foot which might get you a basic garage. For average quality, $225 per square foot is a better budget number. Bathrooms and kitchens (with tile, countertops, appliances, fixtures, cabinets, etc) easily cost over $300 per square foot, and bedrooms and living rooms are closer to the lower end number of $150 per square foot since they are usually just drywall and carpet without any expensive finishes. This is how a basic level of construction averages out to around $225 per square foot. Enhancing the quality of construction or quality of materials to nicer finishes will easily bring a construction cost to $350 per square foot or more. If you'd like a project like you tend to see in magazines, plan for $500 per square foot. We have worked on high-end projects that are over $1000 per square foot. Design fees for new construction are also a little cheaper than design fees for renovations. This is because we do not need to measure, analyse, and coordinate new construction with existing construction. It is usually possible for us to provide full design services for around 10% of the construction cost. This includes designing the preliminary concept, drawing and coordinating the permit process, and producing construction drawings to get the builder started with the bidding and construction process. If the client and building department minimize design changes, we can usually also complete the construction administration (coordination of design detailing during construction) within that 10% fee. Almost all architects bill hourly since it is never possible to guess at the exact amount of time needed to spend on each project, so this 10% figure is just a guide since complexities of different projects can vary. New construction on a waterfront or steep slope (or both) can be much more difficult to design and build, or a simple box-shaped building with a flat roof can be much more simple than one with multiple building wings and roof lines. Also, smaller projects tend to cost more to design than larger projects since the legwork is similar for both: they both use the same permit forms/procedures, they both require the same number of meetings, specifying construction materials takes the same amount of time for a small room as it does for a large room. This causes design fees for smaller projects to be a higher proportion like 15% of the construction cost.

To give you an example of a new construction estimate, consider a basic quality home, with simple materials, on a flat site could cost around $225 per square foot to build. If it is 2000 sq feet, that would be a $450,000 construction cost. A design fee at 10% of that would be $45,000. Other costs to be aware of would be structural engineering which would normally be around $4000 and up, geotechnical engineering if the soil conditions are poor, a surveyor at $2000 and up, the cost of the permit which is around $5000 and up, and the cost of the land (to name the most common fees). Also, the construction cost quoted from the builder usually does not include their 15% overhead/profit, insurance, and sales tax which is another 10% in the Seattle area.


ADDITIONS TO THE GROUND FLOOR: Ground floor (single and double floor)  additions are handled very similar to the new construction commentary above if the construction is all new, and there are minimal changes to the existing building. Every addition is different in terms of how it affects the structure of the existing building, but the parts of the project that are considered "new" can be estimated according to the formula above. The portions of the project that require demolition, retrofitting, or attachment to the existing structure can be estimated according to the commentary below on renovations. For design fees, the 10% of construction cost fee described above is also applicable for the new portions of an addition project, but the architect is also required to measure, draw, analyse, and coordinate all aspects of the existing building. This takes additional time beyond the new construction formula above, and it varies based on the size and complexity of the existing structure. We can usually measure and draw an average sized existing building for around $2500 and up, and this becomes the "blank canvas" for designing and drawing the changes to the existing structure as well as the addition to it. Also, most additions are not simply "just additions." There's ordinarily some renovations of the existing structure necessary for the addition to function properly. These unknowns make estimating costs of renovated areas very difficult. Again, refer to the formula below for renovations to estimate the costs of the renovated portions separately from the newly added portions.

To give you an example of an estimate for an addition, lets consider adding a basic quality 200 square foot, single-floor addition of a family room (without a basement) to an existing residence. The addition would cost around $225 per square foot for basic quality (or more for higher-end quality). This would be $45,000 to build the addition plus the additional cost of retrofitting the portion of the existing house that connects to it. If 100 square feet of space within the existing residence needs tore apart, updated, and put back together, that could cost $300 per square foot for that portion of the work (which is another $30,000). That totals $75,000 in construction cost. Also, the construction cost quoted from the builder usually does not include their 15% overhead/profit, insurance, and sales tax which is another 10% in the Seattle area. Design fees at around 10% (give or take) would be $7500 plus another $2500 to measure, draw, analyse the whole house. Engineering, permits, and surveys are additional costs as explained above, Also consider unexpected costs for upgrading a heating system. If you are adding more space, can your existing furnace keep up with it? 


UPPER FLOOR ADDITIONS: These are among the most tricky projects to design and build because they rely upon being supported by the integrity of the existing building below (and thorough documentation of all of it). In almost every case, the existing building is not currently built to support the weight of additional floors, walls, and roofs above. By removing an existing roof to make way for new floors, walls, and roofs, the builder must significantly disrupt the existing building from the ground up. The existing foundations often need to be upgraded to carry the additional weight of the new addition above. Also, the existing walls on the first floor need to be upgraded as well. While doing this work, ceilings and walls are often damaged or demolished to enable access to plumbing, electrical, and duct work. When an exterior wall is torn apart, it is also required to be insulated to the current energy code standards (which often requires the wall to become thicker to accommodate the mandated amount of insulation). Most homes were built before the current requirements of the building codes, so the engineer needs to figure out ways to brace the building from side-to-side motion (lateral forces) such as wind and earthquakes. This usually entails adding plywood to the interior or exterior side of existing walls (which requires removal of siding or drywall). This also requires attaching the wood components of the walls and floor to the concrete foundations. Believe it or not, most older homes are not attached to their foundations - they are simply resting there. A simple side-to-side movement of a couple inches could cause the entire house to fall off the foundation causing a total loss. Adding an upper floor makes the house top-heavy which compounds this issue. People new to upper floor additions usually only consider adding stronger beams to accommodate the extra weight above that pushes down on the existing structure due to gravity, and they are unaware of the implications of lateral force upgrades which often affects areas of the existing house nowhere near the proposed upper floor addition. This commentary illustrates the complexity of adding an upper floor, and the ramifications it has on the rest of the building. For that reason, upper floor additions should be estimated at $300 per square foot and up for the addition portion, and another $150 per square foot for the areas below (and around) the addition that will need taken apart, protected, retrofitted, and rebuilt. The architect will also need to measure, draw, and analyse the entire existing home which is usually $2500 or more depending on the size and complexity of the building, The architect will also need to design, permit, and coordinate the affected areas around the addition. Because of the additional coordination, design fees can exceed 10% of the construction cost and approach 15%. All of the unknowns with removing a roof and supporting an additional floor on unknown existing conditions makes estimating upper floor additions very difficult. 

To give you an example of estimating an upper floor addition, lets propose adding a basic 200 square foot, upper floor, bedroom addition over an existing  single-floor residence with a finished basement, The added portion would cost around $60,000 (at $300 per square foot) plus any costs of rebuilding the first floor and basement below which could easily add an additional $60,000 if those areas cost $150 per square foot to deconstruct, upgrade, and rebuild. Also, the construction cost quoted from the builder usually does not include their 15% overhead/profit, insurance, and sales tax which is another 10% in the Seattle area. At a total construction cost of $120,000, the design fees could be $12,000 and up to $18,000. It also takes about $2500 and up to measure and draw the existing building. High-end and more complex projects could cost even more to design and build. Engineering, permits, and surveys are additional costs as explained above. Also consider unexpected costs for upgrading a heating system. If you are adding more space, can your existing furnace keep up with it?


INTERIOR RENOVATIONS (REMODELS): These projects do not add any new space to the home, but they refinish existing space which makes them a little more complicated than a new construction project. To refinish existing space, the builder needs to remove walls and/or finishes to access the structure, plumbing, electrical, and duct work. As they do this, they need to be careful to protect other parts of the house that are not affected by the work. This causes the pace of work to be slower, and retrofitting new finishes into existing ones is also a bit more difficult. Occasionally, interior renovations can affect other areas of a home outside of the area of the project if it is necessary to update plumbing or electrical, for example. For these reasons, it is advisable to estimate basic interior remodels of non-kitchens and bathrooms at $300 per square foot. Kitchens and bathrooms are going to be a bit more since they involve more expensive materials and labor to install tile, counters, cabinets, appliances, fixtures, etc. Design fees also tend to be 10% and up to 15% of the construction cost due to the extra coordination necessary with other parts of the existing building before we can begin designing the proposed changes. Integrating proposed changes within existing conditions is a bit more challenging than working with a blank canvas. It also usually takes us around $2500 or more to measure and draw the existing house depending on the size and complexity of it.

To give you an example of estimating an interior renovation project, let's consider a simple 200 square foot living room remodel within an existing house. It would cost around $2500 to measure and and draw the existing residence (assuming it is even necessary at all for this scenario). The construction cost would likely be around $60,000 if the construction cost is $300 per square foot. It could certainly cost less if the renovations minimally impact the existing conditions. Also, the construction cost quoted from the builder usually does not include their 15% overhead/profit, insurance, and sales tax which is another 10% in the Seattle area. Design fees for the remodeled portions would be around $6000 to $9000. Additional costs could include permits and engineering if load-bearing walls are being removed.