Selecting the Architect for Your Church
This is the second part in a series of articles describing the different project delivery methods. The first part dealt with “Design-Bid-Build”. This article will deal with selecting the architect for this method.
As mentioned, in the “Design-Bid-Build” method, selecting the architect will be one of the most important decisions the church will make. The architect becomes the church’s advocate during the whole process and can assist the church not only in the design of the building, but in the bidding, negotiation and construction phases for the duration of the project as well. It is his talent and expertise that will play a major role in the success or failure of a project. If this method is chosen for church facility design, the church should be looking for the right qualities in the architect. In this author’s opinion the following questions should be answered:
• How much church design experience does he have? Obviously the need for design talent goes without saying. You need to be careful here. The architect who claims to have designed three hundred churches may have actually designed six churches fifty times. This illustrates the importance of asking the right kinds of questions during the interview process. A talented architect with little church experience can get the job done by employing good listening and discovery skills. However there is no replacement for experience, for someone who has been through the “wars”. You don’t want to educate an architect on your time. It is also helpful if he is a believer with knowledge of the church’s particular distinctives.
• Does the architect know what affects and how to control construction costs? This knowledge and skill will be of little use however unless the church has done its homework and knows how much it can afford. Keep in mind that project costs include much more than construction costs. Besides the cost of the building, the church must factor in professional consultants fees, permit fees, utility fees, land acquisition and development costs, FFE (fixtures, furnishings, and equipment), AVL (audio, video, theatrical lighting), unforeseen conditions, et al. Your architect should be knowledgeable and skilled to help the church account for all of these as you “count the cost” for the project. After the church has settled on a realistic construction budget, the architect is able to begin his design work. The church needs to be transparent and forthcoming regarding the maximum dollar amount which cannot be exceeded. Once this has been established, the church should keep the architect accountable to the budget. Make budget accountability part of the architect’s contract! This may be difficult as many architects don’t have the knowledge of up-to-date construction costs as most contractors do. This author has met with numerous churches that have a set of completed blueprints that were never built, usually due to budget overruns. If the church was anticipating a million dollar project, this lost investment in architectural services can be anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 or more.
• Third: What is the architect’s “style”? Many architects can be categorized into one of three styles, “The Black Cape Architect” is the one who has created a “name” for himself and he will tell you what kind of church building you want. He may not listen well and may not be that concerned about budget. “The Secretary” is the one who only listens while offering very little counsel or advice. He only listens. “The Coach” is the kind of architect you want. He will ask intelligent questions designed to get the church to think about the best facility design for them. He listens and advises and will employ his talents to align with the church’s goals and dreams.
• Fourth, Fifth, Sixth etc. Space prohibits this author from going into detail about all of the qualities you are looking for in an architect. Suffice it to say that the church must also investigate other qualities. How adept the architect is at working with committees. What are his communication skills (graphic and verbal)? What is his “change order” record?” How well does he work with contractors? (The Design-Bid-Build delivery method has the potential to brew adversarial relationships between the architect and contractor.) How busy is he? Is his project load so heavy that he cannot service your church adequately?
Once the church has selected the architect, the architect will collaborate with the church to develop a design that will fulfill their needs and budget constraints. Detailed construction documents or CD’s (blueprints and specifications) are then developed which are used in the bidding process with the invited contractors. The quality of the CD’s is extremely important. Any errors or omissions in the documents may bring unforeseen costs via “change orders”. For example, the architect may mistakenly specify grade 2 door hardware, when the church specifically requested grade 1. This error comes to light and if the church wants to stay with grade 1, who pays for it? The contractor is beholden to the drawings, so it’s either the church or the architect. More often than not the church ends up paying for the change which could run into unforeseen thousands of dollars.
If a church decides to go with this method (Design-Bid-Build) , selection of the architect becomes one of the most important decisions the church will make.