What exactly does an architect do? Hint: it’s much more than drawings.

Many of us fancy ourselves designers at heart. We can ask for that thing to be moved a little to the left and decry that no, of course not, that blue chair dare not go in that corner. Suffice to say, we all have opinions. (And as New Yorkers, we get by because we’re very opinionated.) But when it comes to designing and architecting an entire home renovation, you’re not going to want to go at it alone.

Plain and simple, all successful home renovations require an architect to ensure your design is compliant and can be built on time and on budget. (Sorry, but the Department of Buildings isn’t going to accept that napkin scribble!) Also, to be fair, architects often have smarter and clearer ideas of how to get things done–it is their wheelhouse, after all.

But when you’re working hand-in-hand with your architect, sometimes the roles and responsibilities can feel blurred. Most people know that an architect is tasked with designing your home’s vision on paper (or, these days, using advanced software). But once you get working… what exactly does that mean, on a tactical and day-to-day level?

Renovating a home is an intricate and complicated process–and your architect takes charge of more than you’d think. Let’s talk about a few of the lesser-known roles and responsibilities.

 

The schematic

We all understand “design,” but a schematic is a whole lot more technical. Think of the shape and perimeter of your apartment–and then think of the myriad ways this space can be subdivided. Taking pre-existing structural and design elements into mind, the schematic is an overview of your apartment layout options. (Maybe you no longer need that formal dining room but would fancy a larger kitchen, for example.)

This stage also includes a detailed survey to double check exact dimensions, which your architect will manage. More often than not, the due diligence conducted at this stage will also require the architect to guide the contractor to probe the site, and conduct any other research to ensure all the information is known as soon as possible. At the end of the schematic process, you and your architect (and typically with the input of your contractor!) will make a game plan for where rooms go, where walls are built or removed, and so on.

 

Design development

The design development stage requires all hands on deck, from third party engineers to regulatory city bodies. Beyond the aesthetic and structural designs, this stage includes a lot of logistics and administration. But don’t worry–everyone is managed by your architect, who serves as your advocate and your liaison, ensuring that all plans are compliant and approved by the powers that be.

 

  1. Your architect will produce a set of plans that will be approved by the building management (if applicable), the Department of Buildings and Landmarks commission. Here in NYC, many different parties need to give that seal of approval before anyone even utters the word “build.”

  2. In order to ensure your designs are compliant and engineered correctly, your architect will coordinate all third parties, including structural engineers, expeditors, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing professionals (MEPs). It’s worth noting that these third parties are absolutely critical to the design development process, as they provide required calculations and plans needed to action the build. After all, if you’re installing HVAC, you’re going to need to know how much electricity is required to power it, and how exactly to wire it.

  3. Alongside these more logistical tasks, architects as well guide the discussion around finishes. With Bolster, your build estimate will include “allowances,” which is your shopping budget for more subjective materials like tiles and trim–items which are yet to be decided upon. But now’s the time to make some choices! Lean on your architect to help you select your finishes–and make your desired level of engagement clear. You can receive finish recommendations in a number of ways, depending on the way you’d like to work–from an email to a showroom field trip or a late night Pinterest binge.

 

Construction documentation

Think of this as the holistic master plan moving forward. You architect will compile relevant documentation and important dimensions of the build, all in one place. This often includes recommendations from a building engineer or the DOB. Expect a ballpark of fifteen to twenty pages–it’s a set of instructions that must be extremely detailed in order to ensure a successful and accurate build.

 

Construction administration

A savvy architect should pop by the construction site regularly to ensure everything is going to plan and to provide supporting documentation, should this be needed. And if you decide to change your mind regarding design and a change order is issued, your architect will produce new drawings or schematics, if necessary.

 


 

In any successful renovation, it takes a village–populated by the right people with smarter ways of doing things. For us, design is a crucial and intersectional element of the larger whole. Our design work doesn’t start and stop in linear ways, but rather it’s a driving and ever-present force in the renovation operating system we’ve lovingly engineered.

And frankly, the word “design” doesn’t do our pre-build process justice. It’s got far more to do with exhaustive research, due diligence, engineering, and instruction–and the trust that’s developed in working in tandem with good people. After all, this is your home we’re talking about–you don’t want to invite just anyone through that door.