I have been fortunate enough to be working as an architect on the beautiful island of Barbados for over 20 years. One thing that has surprised me is that most Barbadians appear to not grasp the importance and benefits of using an architect when embarking on a construction project – for many it is seen as a surplus expense that only the rich and famous are able to afford. In fact, many people do not even know the exact role an architect plays in a project.
Let’s first establish that the architect IS the most important investment you will make as it relates to your construction project and that any alternative system of achieving your project goals, will be tantamount to a poor investment of your hard-earned money.
Simply put, an architect is key to the success of your project. If you have used an architect in the past, you will undoubtedly agree with my bold statement and that this professional should always be the first person you call when planning your project.
So, why should you hire an architect for your next endeavour?
For all of us a construction project is a big investment. For the majority of us it’s the biggest investment in our lifetime whether we are building that dream house or a commercial building. At the same time the majority of us know very little about the construction process, if anything. This is where an architect becomes invaluable as his job will also be to protect your interest and investment from the get-go. Another key aspect of the architect’s job is to make good use of the budget available.
Let’s say for example, an architect charges anything between 5% to 10% of the total cost for a new house; and let’s say for $500,000 an architect should charge as an average, $38,000. For some this may seem a large amount that could be saved, or which can go towards purchasing that extra piece of furniture, or used to air-condition the bedrooms and so on. But the reality is $38,000 and more can be misplaced and lost easily in a half-a-million-dollar contract without ideal design and project managing.
You will also discover that a house designed and built in conjunction with an architect for $450,000 (plus $38,000 for the architect fees) will have a better end value than a house built for $500,000 without hiring an architect in a straight contract with your builder.
So instead of asking, “Why should I use an architect?” or “Can I build my house without an architect?” or “Can I afford an architect?”, it should be “How can I NOT afford an architect!”
Some people are also of the belief that architects are not interested in small-budget projects, but this is far from the truth. For example, in my office at the moment, our smallest project is a $40,000 renovation. So basically, there is no excuse for not hiring an architect for your project other than not properly understanding the process of construction or being unwilling to risk this investment.
Entering into a straight contract with your builder is a risky exercise that should be avoided unless you have experience and a very good understanding of the process. It is so easy for a builder to manipulate the project to his advantage if not kept in check. A couple of years ago I was interviewed by the Fair Trading Commission, in response to some reports from people who had run into problems with their builders and lost money as a result. I immediately asked, “In each of these cases, was there an architect or other similar professional involved?” The answer of course was NO.
WHAT ARCHITECTS DO
Another trend on the island is the enrollment of a draftsman to take the place of an architect. Part of this comes from the perception that all an architect does is ‘a few drawings’.
A draftsman is a person who makes detailed technical plans or drawings. These technical drawings are not limited to architecture and can include: industrial design, mechanical design and so on. A draftsman does not have the training to understand human needs, but is trained to make good representations through understanding the language of technical drawings.
An architect on the other hand, is exposed through his studies, to all elements of architecture from design to psychology, history and physics, with drafting being only one subject of the career which, where I studied, was covered in one of my 11 semesters.
A draftsman lacks the creative training that is the base of architecture, and is only trained to represent that which is created or already in existence in a way that others can build or replicate it. Of course, some draftsmen gain experience by working for many years with architects, but this does not equate to the training an architect receives. Another major difference is the services you will obtain. A draftsman in Barbados is hired mostly to produce basic drawings to be submitted to the (Chief) Town Planner and achieve the approval to build. In most cases, this is about two sheets of drawings.
An architect’s full service also includes a feasibility study, a full package of working drawings, which for a house should not be fewer than 20 sheets. These drawings are an important resource for your protection when building, as they describe your house down to the smallest details which are to be priced later, accordingly. For this to be achievable, drawings need to be very detailed and specifications need to be made, down to the size of screws and nails as well as amount to be used, type of materials, the numerous ways that they are connected to each other; layouts of floors and so on.
An architect will help you to engage in a contract with a builder with mechanisms in place to protect your investment. Part of this contract contains the working drawings mentioned above, outlining a clear documentation that describes the service expected by the builder and his monetary reward, including elements that protect the client as it relates to potential shortcomings of the builder.
An architect will also provide construction administration with regular supervision of the project. He or she makes sure the final product is as designed and agreed to, in the contract. Another vital service provided by the architect is help with a valuation/payment system that ensures moneys paid to the builder correspond with his achievements on the project.
In the industry, it is considered a risk to pay the builder at the wrong time. There are many respectable builders but unfortunately there are also some with the grab-and-run mentality; many are inexperienced also and all of this presents the potential to cripple any project.
When your construction is completed, your architect will always be ready to help with maintenance and modifications. Part of our reward is seeing our designs becoming a reality. It is in our best interest to ensure the end product is all that you envision. Just remember it costs nothing to go and discuss your next project with an architect and if you value your investment, I highly recommend that you do.