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Ask the Architect

Who can we trust?


Q. We met with three architects, three contractors and an interior designer and also went to our building department because we just want everything to go smoothly, with no problems, since we’re doing a big job, adding a full second floor on our cape, a family room, garage and kitchen extension. The problem we’re now facing is that we got a lot of the same answers from everyone, but we also got a lot of conflicting information. One contractor and the interior designer told us that many things we were doing could be done by them, and the architect would just draw from their sketches. The building official told us basics, but said it’s best to speak to the architect (we choose). Family members who have used the interior designer say they’re very knowledgeable and can handle everything, but some of the answers didn’t square with the building official. We’re very confused, so how do we sort out what advice each one is giving us before we start?

A I know I’ve written this many times, that when I sat in classes in architecture school, design studios, art classes, art history, physics and calculus, I never knew that what lay ahead for me was that others who have no background, no qualifications and only a smidgen of training would be the ones to wrongly steer the projects I would be developing. I thought I’d be able to freely create. Instead, I often find that I have to spend most of my time trying to straighten out messes, fill out paperwork and try to troubleshoot.

Why this happens isn’t a mystery. Armed with computers and the internet, everyone who wants to believe they can design and solve building problems feels empowered.

In any endeavor, there must be one responsible leader. The word responsible isn’t to be taken lightly, because it doesn’t mean the one most easily able to dump the blame on. That individual must be the most capable of solving every angle of the project, starting with the most restrictive issues, like the law, otherwise known as government regulations, and also the laws of nature, such as structural, mechanical and technical issues.

Who would that person be? While the interior designer may be comfortable and confident at advising you about space planning and finish selections, can you trust them to engineer the building loads, snow and wind loads or even the project’s energy and ventilation calculations? And while the contractor is great at hands-on problem solving, putting every detail of the building together, will they be able to follow all the regulations and be called on to sign documents guaranteeing your safety?

Government, at every level, has imposed a ton of restrictions on the building process, mostly as a reaction, over centuries, to building disasters. You must decide whether overly confident, under-qualified people will be there not only to be creative, but also to protect you. Good luck!

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.