Here’s the latest question the Ask the Architect column received from a reader: “Do I need to hire an architect in my city?”
This question can be taken two different ways, so I’ll answer them both! The first way this question can be read is, “Does my city require that I hire an architect for a building or remodeling project?” The simple answer is “no.” There is never a requirement to hire an architect, but there are many instances in which an architect will greatly benefit the project.
First of all, the scope of the project needs to be considered. If it is a ground-up (new) build, an architect should definitely be involved. The same goes for large remodeling projects that involve adding square footage or moving walls. For smaller remodeling projects, an experienced general contractor or a drafter could draw up the plans for approval by your city officials. You could still hire an architect if you want their expertise or if you need help visualizing what the finished space will look like, but if you already know what you want, you may be able to forego hiring an architect on smaller projects. But be advised, some projects that seem “simple” may not actually be. I addressed this topic recently on my architecture firm’s blog.
In my years as an architect in Long Beach, California, I have seen people try to “go it alone” and draw up their own plans for a home remodel. Their line of thinking tends to be, “I know exactly what I want to do, and I can draw up accurate-enough plans that the city should be able to approve them.” This might work in some areas of the country, but in California, it’s rarely this simple. There are so many complex building codes in California that it is almost impossible for someone who isn’t familiar with them to be able to draw up plans that will be approved. After presenting their first set of plans to city officials, the homeowner will most likely be asked for changes and revisions that they won’t know how to make. It’s at this point that people tend to realize that they really do need to hire an architect.
The second way the initial question could be read is, “Do I need to hire an architect who is in the same city in which my project is located?” No, you don’t need to hire an architect in your city, but you definitely should hire one who is nearby and who works fairly regularly in your city.
My firm does the majority of our work within the City of Long Beach, but we also take on many projects—both commercial and residential—in neighboring cities like Los Alamitos, Signal Hill, and Seal Beach. Each city planning department tends to have its own “personality.” They also have preferences in the ways in which they want to see plans drawn up. As an experienced architect in the area, I am often able to anticipate what city officials want to see and draw the plans up accordingly. This can save a ton of time in the approval process.
It’s also helpful if your architect has a good working relationship with the planning department in your city. Not so he or she will get preferential treatment, necessarily, but so city plan checkers and your architect can work collaboratively to get your plans approved in a timely manner. As an architect who has worked with the City of Long Beach for 20 years now, the people behind the counter recognize me as someone who produces detailed and well-conceived plans. They are less likely to nitpick every detail, and they tend to approve the plans my firm draws up fairly quickly. When there’s a question about code interpretation (not every part of the building code is cut and dry), the people in my local city planning department will often work with me to come up with a solution that meets their interpretation of the building code. I don’t know that they would do this with someone who was completely unknown to them.
You could certainly hire an architect outside of your area, but there may be more back and forth in the approval process, which will definitely affect your project’s timeline. So, for that reason, your first choice should be to hire a local architect.
“Ask the Architect” is a regular column of Businessing Magazine. It is written by Mark Grisafe, owner and lead architect at Grisafe Architecture in Long Beach, California. If you have a question for the architect, send it here, and you may see it answered in a future column.short url: