Architect Vs. Architect: Six Key Questions to Picking the Best


There’s much more to choosing the right architect than blasting out a bunch of RFP’s, glancing at the numbers and hoping for the best.

SEE ALSO: Drawn Together: The Dynamic Duo Behind Lubrano Ciavarra Architects

When tenants are weighing one architect against another, they should be able to see, right from the start, what key differences set them apart. Here are six quick questions you can ask to help you determine which company is the right choice for yours:

Are they experienced? Does the firm have the track record you’re looking for? And by that, I don’t just mean that they’ve put in the time. For instance, though we’ve been around for 50 years and are established, we also have a proven history of working with start-ups and rapidly growing young firms. In fact, designing for Millennials is something we specialize in (though we also have the know-how to cater to the Boomer crowd).

Some newer businesses gravitate to new-to-market firms themselves (and that’s a legitimate preference) while others opt for the comfort of a company that is innovative, hungry and successful, yet has time-tested experience to base their opinions on. Do you want the guidance of a company who has “been there, done that” or someone who is there in the trenches with you? Either way, asking this question is a great place to start.

Who will be on your team?  Your project is only as good as the people on it. Ask to meet with the members of the team before you commit — those individuals will create a unique work dynamic, for better or for worse. Since all of you will be working very closely together, it’s essential to spend the time making sure that each person has the energy, enthusiasm and competence to get the job done within a budget and on schedule. It’s how we select the contractors and vendors we work with and how we advise others to pick their own project team.

Do they know the lay of the land? Depending on where you are thinking about going, you may want to work with an architect who has intimate knowledge of that region, city, neighborhood, block — or even the particular building. That specialized experience may expedite the approvals process and provide you with a greater comfort level.

However, on the flip side, some tenants prefer to bring their architect along with them, even as they expand to new cities (or overseas on international projects). We’ve been in that situation ourselves, helping a commercial client from the New York metropolitan area bring their vibe and vision over to Austin as the firm’s national architecture firm of record.

Will you get face time? Every office has its own process for creating a project from scratch. While there are some universal steps architects use to get from A to Z, there are subtle differences along the way that give a firm its “personality.” For instance, we consider the personal touch to be equally as important as the technological one. While cloud-based software systems are fantastic — we use them often — there is no substitute for a hands-on, face-to-face approach. It’s more than a Go To Meeting, it’s going to the meeting! Being in the room, reading the emotions of the clients you work with;  looking into their eyes as they speak; walking through a project personally; and touching a feeling the materials gives you valuable information that you simply can’t get though a computer screen. So ask: How often will you see your team?

Do they nurture their own business? Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to judge. Take a look at the firm’s website that you’re considering working with. Are the details current and relevant? Is the site maintained and representative of the company’s style? Does it mesh with yours? There is comfort in knowing that the architect you may hire is up-to-date and knows what’s going on in their industry. Seeing regular postings and/or news coverage lets you know that the company is building on its past by thinking about its future.

Where’s the proof? As a final step, before you enter into a contract with an architect, check their references. Dig deep and make plenty of phone calls… then go one step further. Tour spaces they’ve completed for other firms and ask detailed questions about how the process went. As I tell people we work with, seeing is believing.

Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 2,000 projects.