Updated: May 31
by Ar. Abhishek Dutta, Principal Architect, ArcOn Design
“We shape our buildings; thereafter it shapes us.” - Winston Churchill
When you had applied for a plot to WBHIDCO or WB Housing Board, you probably had not expected too much from it, may just have responded to a few friends call and agreed. Now, that years passed by, and you are ready with your plan to move to New Town, Kolkata, where, at least on the face of it, basic Urban Infrastructure looks to be in place. As you are confused and do not know whom to look for the proper guidance. (& the architect who actually can steer the ship is yet to be appointed) you probably are heading to your Accountant or Advocate to guide you with a typical and grossly inadequate format for asking quotation from architects, (For the selection of architect no tender process is needed as same for selection of doctor or the advocate, who may be guiding you on the format right now)
Choosing your architect is not a decision to be taken lightly. The architect you select will be the brains behind your project, he/she must be an invaluable problem solver, a good listener, and the one keeping your budget on track.
Architecture, by the nature of the business, is a service-based profession. Architects provide design services and typically bundle other administrative, planning, and construction services into their fee. Each architecture firm is structured differently, has varied design aesthetic preferences, and is skilled at different subsets of the profession. While not exhaustive here are a few thoughts to use as a starting point to get the candidate that’s right for you and your house.
Why typical quotation based selection doesn’t work:
Architects’ fees typically vary from 1.5% to 7.5% (min. 5% as per Council of Architecture, Govt. of India guidelines) of actual project cost depending on the complexity and size of a project and architect’s scope in it. For Multi-family residential projects, 2.5%-4% is more of a rational figure including the structural design, basic services design, and periodic supervision. (while in New Town one can find a few firms working even below 1 % which implies that the firm is surely not design-oriented and maybe going to sell you one of their typical ready-made solutions, or, maybe looking for other, perhaps unethical, avenues to ensure the profit). For the selection of architect thus never go for the lowest bidder as to minimize fees one have to customized service thus, the project eventually be costing much more or end-up with poor quality design, than a properly designed house which is more often than not the biggest investment of your whole life.
“If you think good designs are costly; look at the cost of bad designs”
- Dr. Ralf Septh (CEO, Jaguar)
Before selecting ask each firm for a list of clients (both current and previous) that have built projects with that firm. Interacting with previous clients can give you a high level of insight into the working relationship you’ll likely have with your architect/firm.
View Previous Work of that firm chronologically if possible, and notice if each project is better than the previous or not. Look for similarities in design, material motifs, quality of design, and other aspects that give you a hint into how their finished products turn out. This gives you a great opportunity to talk with the users of their design, who often know their buildings in intimate detail.
Look for design optimization of functional space, Is the services integrated well into the building? Are the bathrooms planned poorly (or brilliantly)? Does any habitable room need to turn on the lights during the daytime? Does it have proper ventilation? Are there bottlenecks in the egress or misuses of space (or the opposite)? Are there brilliant design moves that make the building stand out within the limited scope? Did the architect make adequate site visits? Had he been available for any problem at the site? Has he helped clients to resolve disputes with contractors? These questions, which add up and can cost a lot when not well designed, might only be apparent when touring a building and physically inspecting the design decisions made by the architect.
Talk to the Lead Architect and Understand whether he/she has the right design orientation (or just a mere prosaic knowledge of budget, FAR and building rule/sanction, and ‘profit’ in mind) and clearly understand whom you are going to interact with on a day-to-day basis.
All architecture firms have the exact same opportunity to showcase their creativity, level of expertise, and design aesthetic–their office. When you tour an architect’s office, look for details and space utilization, etc. that clue you into their personality and design preferences. Side note: a messy office doesn’t always mean the firm produces messy work. Actually, this could be quite the opposite many times. Architectural design is a messy endeavor!
Judging the design ability of a firm is a difficult job as to judge the quality of design you are expected to be an expert, which is a difficult task for most prospective project owners. Thus, look for academic records, awards, and recognition by experts in the field before selecting an architect merely on the basis of Quotation.
Understand Firm Scale/Constraints/Ambition: Each architecture firm is structured differently, has different goals as an organization, and can provide different levels of service. It can be a tough decision to turn down a young, ambitious firm for a more senior one with years of experience. As best as you can, try to gauge the constraints your project will place on the firm.
Ask about other Projects in their Pipeline. This could be a sub-point to understanding the scale and constraints of the firm. The experience of handling a bigger and variety of projects ensures their ability and strength. On the other hand, if a firm does too many projects at the same time, then the concentration is, perhaps, more on making a profit than providing the needed care, love, and level of service your project deserves.
Good architects often do subtle things throughout the design process which mostly is not going to yield them too much profit, but if the sincerity and love for design are there that’s what will make your project best suited to you. A most important character of the architect you are looking for is honesty and trustworthiness. So look for that and then trust him/her.
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The Author, Ar. Abhishek Dutta is a National Award-winning architect (also a gold medalist (thesis) from J.U.) and Environmental Expert with more than 15 years of working experience in New Town. He is the Editor, of IIA-WB Chapter, Hon. Secretary of the Institute of Indian Interior Designers (IIID) Kolkata and a visiting Faculty/Critic of Various Institutes including National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, IDEA College, Nashik, Bharti Vidyapith College of Architecture Mumbai, Amity University, Techno-India University, Om Dayal College of Architecture, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
He is the founding Partner of the architectural Firm ArcOn Design.
Please feel free to suggest or comment. Enjoy.