Architectual design and construction awareness

Why Architects? Understanding the Process

Here are some significant items to consider when planning a building project.  Perhaps you are considering a new building, planning for a second floor addition or expanding the existing first floor footprint.  What ever the project or complexity may be, hiring an Architect is the sensible place to start.  You will quickly learn that many entities are stakeholders of your investment and project.

An Architect, as well as being a licensed design professional, he or she will guide you through process of the entire project.  Starting with your budget and working through the design process and contract documents to satisfy your budget.  Your Architect is responsible for coordinating and managing the engineering disciplines involved in your project and are often hired directly by the Architect as consultants. Your Architect will also guide and assist you through the complex permitting process to obtain municipality approvals, the bidding and negotiation process with your potential contractors, as well as the construction administration process and ultimately signing off and working with the local municipality to obtain your building occupancy permit.   Architects are also obligated and bound to protect the interest of their clients at all times.  Licensed Architects and Professional Engineers are required by law for all commercial projects.  What I mean by ‘Commercial’ is any building or space that is occupied by the general public.  Projects that encompass single family residences do not require the assistance of a licensed professional, although you should strongly consider consulting the expertise of an Architect to help facilitate a successful building project.

A proper zoning and building code review is required to determine what type of building, renovation or expansion is best suited for your site and particular goals.  Building codes and zoning by-laws will help point you in the right direction and one of the first tasks your Architect will perform after gathering your goals and Pre-design aspects of the project.  Your Architect will explain his or her findings and how they relate to your project and provide you with experienced suggestions.   The zoning and building department approvals are typically handled administratively, although zoning approvals may require a more formal presentation, especially if your project involves the request of a special permit.  This will depend on the municipality that you are working with.

Zoning by-laws are municipal or regional laws that govern and/or restrict land use and specify zones or districts within a particular town, city or village as either commercial, industrial, residential and other districts that may include mixed-use zones.  The by-laws generally limit building dimensions of each district.  They also specify green space requirements, adequacy of drainage and storm sewers, on site pedestrian walkways as well as building signage and way-finding signage requirements and limitations.  They can also require that certain building features be maintained and/or incorporated.  In addition, they govern the amount of parking required, the location of parking as well as any loading areas required for the building.  Typically these departments have strong considering for future growth and development and population density.  If your project happens to fall within a historic zone or district, other more specific requirements may need to be satisfied.  Specific areas or specific buildings and blocks can be deemed historical or architecturally significant and the owners of these properties are most often restricted to historic rehabilitation standards.  Approvals in these areas are usually not handled administratively during normal town or city business hours, but rather in a more formal setting as a hearing with a required presentation to its board.  The property owner’s Architect and attorney are typically present and handle the presentation.

Building codes are municipal, regional, state and even international codes, depending upon what your particular area or state has chosen to adopt.  The intent of these codes is to maintain safety consistency amongst buildings and to govern the structure and construction of a building.  These codes will determine how large a building can be based upon its intended occupancy use group, how many floors the building can be, how many paths of egress and egress doors are required, whether or not an elevator is required,  what types of building construction will be allowed, and if the structure will need to be fire protected with an automatic fire protection system.  Accessibility codes will also be explored either through the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or your supplemental state regulations.  The job of your Architect is to facilitate and incorporate all these regulations through careful planning and design.  All of which is put in place to protect the health, safety and well-being of every building, and most importantly, its occupants.

There are other codes and regulations that will also need to be considered; such as electrical, plumbing and life safety codes.  These codes are policed by separate departments at your local municipality.  Depending upon your specific project, overall scope, abutting properties and streets; the Conservation Commission, Highway and/or the Department of Public Works will need to be involved regarding surrounding site elements.   Portions of the project that are dictated by these entities are; connections to public utilities, adjacency to public streets and sidewalks, site entry and exit curb cuts, snow removal, and for protection of public water ways and habitats.  Often times, police detail is required (at the owners expense) for the safety of adjacent vehicular and pedestrian traffic during the commencement of this type of work, and most often related to site work.  Approvals will also need to be achieved through your local fire prevention department.  They have interest in the exterior circulation and access provided for emergency vehicles as well as carefully thought out water connections in the event that they need to fight a fire.  They will also require plans that show emergency devices throughout the building. These devices are intended to assist building occupants to safely exit a building during an emergency.  Devices such as: emergency lighting, horns and strobes, lighted exit signs, fire extinguishers and uninterrupted paths of egress to name a few.

 During the construction process, Architects and engineers involved in the project are required to perform periodic site visits to administer the construction process.  Careful inspections of the detailing and construction, verifying that the project is proceeding according to the contract documents and that all the federal, state and municipal codes are satisfied.  The Architect is also required to produce periodic written reports of the projects proceedings and will need to be submitted to the local municipalities.  Your Architect is also responsible for issuing drawing or letter clarifications as prompted by the contractor in the form of RFI’s (request for information) and is responsible for reviewing and approving all shop drawing submissions.  Contractor payment requisitions are also reviewed and payment approval is signed or a request of adjustment is made and then provided to the owner and project financial lender.  These payment requisitions are periodic payments and are based upon percentage of project completion as agreed upon in the owner/contractor contract.  The selected contractor, of course, is responsible for carrying out the project according to the contract documents, all site coordination, storage of all purchased construction materials, facilitating the construction means and methods as well as establishing  a site safety plan throughout the duration of the project.

I am generalizing with this statement, but as an Architect and based upon my client experience, I believe the design and building process is generally taken for granted by most individuals not involved in the industry.  As you can see, the process of a building project is much like a machine with many moving parts.  A carefully thought out design and successful building project requires the expertise of a properly educated, trained and licensed Architect along with the assistance and consultation of professional engineers.

This is a somewhat abbreviated version of the design, permitting, and building process, as several other factors may need consideration depending upon the complexity of your particular project. 

To reiterate the importance of Architects; the most important factor as an Architect involved in any project, is to protect the health, safety and well-being of the general public.

Did you know?  People spend more than 80% of their lives in man-made structures.

Sky is the limit!


Paul M. Velandry, AIA


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