Red Barn Renovation: Hiring An Architect

Red Barn Renovation: Hiring An Architect

Johnny Williams
Jan 11, 2010

When we think of architects, we think of the great Franks: Gehry and Lloyd Wright. But not every structure is built like a Gugghenheim — by and large, architects work on a far humbler scale. Take our barn renovation: in order to acquire a building permit we needed a set of basic architectural drawings. That's when we hired our very own Frank.

I initially questioned the need to hire an architect. I thought today's breed solely designed mind-twisting skyscrapers, leaving contractors to handle matters on the ground. But our barn presented its own lofty design challenges. And while many contractors do provide design and drafting services, ours proposed hiring an architect. Rem Koolhaas was already working on a barn in Abu Dhabi, so we went with a local guy.

First, we invited him round to check out the space. After a thorough walk-through and explanation of our design goals, he told us he'd get back to us with an estimate. Shortly thereafter, he emailed us a "design agreement," a detailed document itemizing his compensation, scope of service and work schedule. We were initially dissatisfied with the estimate, but he scaled a couple items back and slashed the price to our liking. Once he received a 50% down payment, he measured and photographed the barn for his drawings. In addition to his "design time," his services included a "code compliance review," in which he ensured the renovations met the town's building codes. A month later, after a series of back-and-forths concerning layout and building materials, he delivered the drawings.

Could we have proceeded without a set of drawings and a permit, saving ourselves a bit of time and money? Absolutely. Yet we would have risked a hefty fine from the town or, even worse, an order to demolish any unpermitted construction. That said, hiring an architect isn't all about covering your ass — a good architect will transform your layman's vision into a valuable working plan. A set of drawings will smooth the process of acquiring a building permit and provide your contractor with useful construction guidelines. Just make sure they don't pull any of that "starchitect" business or you might end up with a ten-story glass minaret poking out of your attic.

Images: Johnny Williams

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