Avoid the contractor blame game, hire an architect first

Chicago architect

Chicago architect

Peter Dreier, president

IDEA Architects + Builders, Chicago


IDEA Architects + Builders — short for Innovative Design Encompassing Architecture — has been around for 10 years, first as a development company and more recently as a design/build operation. Angie’s List members honored them with the Super Service Award in 2008 and 2009.

What should I expect from an architect I've hired to help with a building or remodeling project?

Peter Dreier: "The best time to have an architect involved in your project is the very beginning. Most people don't realize that we should be the first one in. I think most people see that the general contractors do the work, so they have this drive to get to them first.

"However, what we do is take the project from the beginning. The design/build architect's job is to be a ringleader, orchestrating everybody, dealing with the permitting and getting all the contractors together.

"It's important that everybody works together as a team. I had a traditional architecture firm for about eight years, and what I found kept happening was the architect would blame things on the contractor, and the contractor would blame the architect.

"In the design/build model, all the responsibility comes down to one person or company. I think that helps clients a lot. Sometimes, clients get caught in the middle and they don't know who's responsible for what.

"When I start a job, I'll sit down with the clients and ask carefully thought-out questions, and then build questions based on what they say, in order to draw out as much of what they're looking for as I can. I think that's very important, because I want the clients to get what they want.

"Make sure your architect is licensed with the state of Illinois. Getting licensed is more important than professional organization memberships. Licensing is what allows you to practice.

"Our firm charges an hourly rate for our services, which I think is standard across the architecture industry.

"People seem to think that what we do is very easy, and they always seem to be shocked at how much it costs. I find myself having to explain that this is very complicated and takes a lot of time. It's not something that happens in a couple of days, especially if you're going to do it right.

"You need to find someone who is not only experienced, but is also willing to listen to your needs. Don't get caught up on price, because you really do get what you pay for. If you go with a cut-rate architect, you're going to have problems with permits and construction. It's better to do it right from the beginning."

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Use Angie's List to find the best architect in your area. (Photo courtesy of Tad Craig )
Use Angie's List to find the best architect in your area. (Photo courtesy of Tad Craig )

Chicago's strict building codes often call for an architect's stamp on design plans. But, with building design software readily available, some contractors have expanded their businesses to offer design services for smaller jobs.

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