The Fine Print: Architecturally Found

Those who have successfully completed building the perfect home or renovating an existing one will be the first to tell you: Hiring an architect is a top priority. From helping you make your dream home a reality to ensuring the builder stays on budget and sticks to the plan, an architect is no longer a luxury reserved for the building elite, but a residential necessity. But for those who are new to the world of building (and re-building), the idea of an architect may be daunting. To put you at ease, here are a few tips on what to look for
when searching for an architect, where to find the best one for your needs and how to work with the one you’ve chosen to build the perfect house.

Vital Representation

Aside from helping you put your ideas on paper and eventually into wood, concrete, brick or stone, the primary reason for hiring an architect is representation. “Having an architect is a checks-and-balances system,” says Warren Claytor, a residential architect who also holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture and is the owner of Warren Claytor Architects Inc., in Wayne.

“The architect works with the client to keep things on budget and to make sure their ideas are being represented to the builder.“ An architect serves as a watchdog as well as an interpreter, translating your ideas and goals for the builder.

“We’re your eyes and ears on the site,” says Peter Zimmerman, a residential architect and owner of Peter Zimmerman Architects in Berwyn. “A builder’s going to build, and a designer’s going to design, but an architect is monitoring everything from beginning to end,” he says. This includes meeting with the client and getting a feel for their needs, supervising the project for an appropriate design, then refining and tweaking as needed and putting together technical plans. Architects also make your life easier by dealing with the red tape that comes with the process, such as building permits.

If you’re not interested in building a place but want to buy instead, Claytor still suggests checking with an architect. “As soon as you even start looking at a house, bring an architect into the mix,” he says. “They can show you something in an entirely new light and maybe even turn it into the house of your dreams—for less money.”

During your quest to find an architectural soul mate, however, keep in mind that there are many different types of architects. “Each state issues its own individual license,” says Zimmerman. “But you can specialize in residential, institutional, commercial and landscape architecture,” he says.

From there, you can get even more specific. “It’s a big misconception that the only thing landscape architects are working with are plants,” says Anne F. Walters, a landscape architect and owner of Anne F. Walters Company in West Chester. “A landscape designer is not required to be licensed and does mostly work with plants, but a landscape architect is licensed and handles everything outside of the house, and this means dealing not only with engineering issues, but environmental ones as well.”

Desperately Seeking AIA

Once you have an idea of what your goals are, a good place to begin your search for an architect is online or call 800-AIA-3837. Check out the American Institute of Architects, where you can locate architects registered with the AIA by city, state and service.

But keep in mind that not all licensed architects are registered with the AIA, so your dream architect might not be listed. Some other sites to visit include Archinect,, and the Architectual Review, For landscape architects, visit the American Society of Landscape Architects at

For a more traditional approach, Zimmerman suggests paying a visit to the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects on 17th Street, where you can browse through resumes of local firms to find one that specializes in what you need. Most experts agree, however, that perhaps the best method for finding an architect is good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Ask family and friends who they used. “Most of my clients come to me as referrals,“ says Walters.

Take your time and make a list of architects who interest you, then interview each one—this will give you a chance to see if your personalities match and whether your styles are in sync. Although it might seem time consuming now, you’ll be saving yourself time, money and plenty of aggravation down the road.

“Although working with a professional isn’t inexpensive, it will save you money in the long run,” says Walters. “We can help you think of something you never thought possible. And that’s much more tempting than hiring someone to come in and clean up the mess.”