Architects perform a unique set of tasks from the artistic to the scientific. Primarily, they visualize and create plans for a built environment. An architect can take you from the early design stage to finished, approved plans that will meet code requirements.

Architects are licensed by a self-regulating professional body in their particular state or province. Once registered, an architect agrees to work within the established guidelines of that body and carries liability insurance to cover his or her work. An architect's stamp is usually accepted by building officials as a sign that the architect assumes legal responsibility for the plans in question.

Your area may support several architectural firms and individual practices; each will have its own specialty, fee structure, and style. You can set up an initial consultation with an architect — it should be free of charge — to discuss ideas, fees, and scheduling and to determine compatibility. Finding an architect with an interest or specialty in natural building styles like straw bale is a good idea.

Take your ideas and questions to the initial meeting. Even if you intend to use a professional to design and plan for you,it is worthwhile to play the Design Game before you make an appointment. Anything you take into the office will help you communicate your vision and goals more clearly.

It helps if you know why you have chosen certain options and not others.If you feel strongly about some aspects of your design, be sure to let the architect know. He or she might be able to tell you about options that make sense to you that you didn't even know existed. On the other hand, you might meet with strong disagreement.

If so, you may want to work with someone else.

Ask to see pictures of buildings the architect has designed or planned; it may be possible to tour one or two. Remember, you are hiring someone to help you achieve your goals. As long as your demands are reasonable, you should expect them to be met. Consult with several architects and take time to evaluate them before choosing one.

11.6: Allow yourself some design freedom, and include some elements like this octagonal stained glass window that will be highlights in your building.

Good referrals are the best way to find good architects. You may want to talk to some previous clients to get their opinions on the quality of work and level of service. Check with a contractor or builder who has worked with that architect's design. He or she can tell you whether or not the plans were practical and economically feasible.

Regardless of the architect you choose — and it is perfectly valid and common to hire a professional — be sure you proceed at a pace that allows you to feel comfortable with the important decisions you'll have to make.

Budget, fees, and services. Determine how you will be billed, when you are expected to pay, and what services the fee covers. Know what you are purchasing. If you want finished plans, make sure you will receive all the relevant drawings and references required by your building inspector and financiers.Also,make sure that you can understand them. If you cannot follow the drawings or feel that certain details have not been adequately addressed,request clarification.

Be clear about how changes and modifications will be handled and billed. Building inspectors, hired carpenters, or even your own eagle eye may spot problems with the plans that will require changes; if your professional is not available to make or approve changes, you can experience long delays and incur extra expense.

Finally,you should be comfortable with the amount of support your architect offers. From site inspections and meetings with building officials to advice on materials and finishes, you should both be clear about the amount of involvement your architect will have in the project.

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