Kevin Dean | Kitchen Designer | Dean Cabinetry
By Kevin Dean

When you’re considering a construction project, you want the knowledge to consider all the options available to you.  One consideration you might have is whether you need an architect for your project. The purpose of this blog is to help you honestly answer this question.

What does an architect do?

An architect is someone who designs buildings and spaces.  They do this on a professional level to earn a living. They collect all of the information necessary to make their plans become a reality.  Information about the construction site, the environment, zoning laws, and necessary building codes. With this info they are able to generate the construction ideas and turn them into buildable plans. 

How do architects work?

They can work individually or in firms ranging from large to small.  The size of the firm generally relates to the size of the projects they undertake.  For example, a large firm would design and draw skyscrapers, while a lone architect would work on residential projects.  

What is an architect’s license?

In order for an architect to operate and create buildable designs, they must be licensed.  Their license includes a college degree, passing the Architect Registration Exam, ARE, and in most U.S. states a three-year internship with an established architectural firm.  This license allows them to create designs and “stamp” them. This stamp allows building regulation committees to validate their designs. Without the stamp, a regulatory board will not grant a building permit, which is required in most states to begin construction.  Essentially, an architect’s license is just like any other licenses, it proves that the owner has the knowledge and experience to create designs that are structurally sound and will not put the owners or inhabitants at risk.

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John Dean Meeting with Our Architect in Our New Building

How much does an architect cost?

Architectural firms operate in two main ways.  With an hourly rate or a per-project percent. The hourly rate is typically $100-$150.  The project rate is usually 10% of the total project cost. These are general rates, and they can certainly vary depending on the project scope and the architect’s reputation.  More information on: budgeting for your project.

How do I know if I need an architect?

The scope of your project will determine if you need one.  They can provide their services on any construction project, but they are not always necessary.  Any project that does not involve structural changes does not require an architect. For example, an architect could help with getting new kitchen cabinets but their services are not required by the building department.  Whenever a project has structural elements and plans need to be submitted to the building department, an architect’s stamp of approval will be needed. For example, if you are removing a load-bearing wall between your kitchen and dining room you will need an architect.  

Keep in mind that there are alternatives to an architect’s stamp.  A building department will also accept an engineer’s stamp, which is a similar license.  And lumber yards are often licensed to stamp plans for simple engineered beams.  

An architect can be tremendously helpful in understanding the local building department codes.  These vary from town to town and can be tricky. They will make sure to design the space in accordance with the codes.  For example, when Dean Cabinetry was moving locations, our architect notified us that the local building department required a fire protection wall around our wood shop.  Without his expertise we would not have been approved to remodel the space.

They can also help with the overall coordination of a project.  They can be onsite overseeing the construction and making sure things happen as planned.  However, this type of work can overlap with a general contractor or project manager.

Dean Cabinetry John-Dean Custom Cabinetry Beams
John Dean Custom Project that Required an Architect

Should I hire an architect?

You need to hire an architect any time structural plans need to be submitted to a local building department.  

You should hire one if you want their design expertise.  They provide valuable insight into the flow and function of a space as well as the aesthetic appeal.  If you want a unique look or outside the box ideas you should hire an architect.

If you are confident in your ability to design a space you are fond of, you do not need one.  However, it is recommended to get other perspectives on your design, even if they are not an architect.  Allowing additional viewpoints on your design can reveal opportunities or issues you may not have noticed.

Here is some more information on: how to hire a contractor such as an architect.