I always find it quite humorous that people are impressed when I tell them the career path I chose for myself. There are many professions that are just as impressive (if not more so) when one thinks about the multitude of skills one needs to master for each one of them. Nevertheless, my response usually leads to a series of questions about the profession from the other party, which I can only surmise, must innately be shared by most people. “Isn’t that a hard job?” “Doesn’t that require knowing a lot of math?” “What type of architecture do you design? “ Do you focus on more traditional or modern?” “Did you ever have anything built that you designed?”
The answers in brief are: “Yes, it can be very demanding at times.”, “Not as much math as you’d think.” “My specialty is medium and high-end residential but I have experience in commercial and restaurant spaces as well.” “No specific focus — it depends on the project/client demands.” “I have been fortunate enough to have several of my designs built.”
I also find it just as humorous that people are very surprised (and not nearly as impressed) when I tell them what an architectural set of drawings will cost them for a potential project. Upon receiving a work proposal for a project, the response most clients generally have can be best described as “shock and awe.” I have been trying to understand this phenomenon for quite some time but have yet to come to a conclusion on it. I can only figure that it is a combination of unfamiliarity in the time, energy and effort expended in creating a set or architectural drawings in addition to misunderstanding the pivotal role the architect plays in a project.
For most people working with an architect is uncharted territory. The closest contact they have ever had with an architect is either having briefly considered pursuing it as a career path of their own or reading about them in a popular novel. People understand they might need an architect but have never had access to one before their current need arose. Most clients begin their foray into the architecture and design world by discussing their project scope with a friend or colleague of theirs who had work done on their house or building. In doing so, they make a well-intentioned attempt to glean as much information about the design and construction process that way.
They might actually speak to several people about it (friends who did work, friends of friends who did work, friends of contractors, a contractor friend, designers, interior designers, friends who own real estate, etc….) but it might be some time before they actually speak to a licensed architect about their project. The prospective client typically feels they must accumulate enough information to stand equal ground with the architect in discussing the scope of the project and what it will cost before actually approaching one in the flesh.
Unfortunately, this is the worst mistake a potential client can make and happens more often than not. What usually results from this intensive research is extensive misinformation about what the client can and can’t do and what services should and shouldn’t cost. As a rule of thumb, no two projects are ever exactly the same and therefore each requires a specific set of drawings and filings that cannot be easily compared with another project. I have heard too many times from clients how they initially were told one thing by non-professionals but then was told something completely else by their design professional.
This brings me to my next point — architects are licensed professionals, just like a doctor or a lawyer. As such, architects must go through an intense educational process followed by an equally demanding internship process. Finally, after they have completed their educational and experience requirements they must then successfully pass the licensing examination which consists of seven separate full day examinations — approximately 33 hours in total. Only once they have successfully passed all the examinations within a specified time frame can they then be granted a professional license to practice architecture from their state board.
Why does this matter? Perhaps it can explain why architectural fees are what they are. An architect is a licensed professional whose has gone through a very lengthy, costly and demanding education, internship and licensure process. No matter what the scope of work is on a project at the end of the day an architect’s main goal is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the clients and those who will be directly affected by the proposed work. As such, in addition to the design services architects provide there is also professional liability involved. This can contribute to the cost of hiring a licensed professional as their professional liability insurance fees double as your mental reassurance in case something doesn't go exactly as planned.