Choosing the right architect is the key to success in any home design project

Building or remodeling your own home can be one of the most exciting and rewarding life experiences, but it can also be a complex and daunting challenge. Finding, choosing, and working with the right team of professionals is the key element of any home design project, and the secret to success lies firmly in the business and personal relationships between owner and architect.

An architect plays a pivotal role in the planning, organization, and management process—professionally, creatively and sustainably—and it’s essential to put considerable time and effort into choosing the right person for the job. Thankfully, help is at hand.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), based in Washington, D.C., is not only the ideal place to start your search but is an invaluable network of professionals, services, and resources which can help guide and support you through your home building or remodeling project.

Founded in 1857, the association represents more than 83,500 licensed architects and industry professionals across the United States, many of whom are at the forefront of the ever-changing trends, innovations, rules, and regulations which drive the complex and fast-moving world of architecture.

“An architect is a bit like the director of a movie,” says John Isch, a principal of Cincinnati based RWA Architects, and current chair of CRAN, the AIA’s influential Custom Residential Architects Network—a “knowledge community” of 1,500-plus members at the leading edge of custom residential architecture.

“Of all the people involved in the construction of a building,” he adds, “the architect really is the only one to have the most holistic viewpoint of the entire process. We’re considering everything from the aesthetics to health, safety, and welfare issues, the product selection, sustainability, and economics, and managing all those things simultaneously.”

A good architect, says Isch, should be the client’s advocate at all times, helping an owner to make decisions, managing the outcomes, communicating quickly and clearly, and being a responsive and flexible intermediary and problem solver as issues arise. “The client must always come first,” he adds.

Isch warns against what he calls “imposters” who are not registered but still portray themselves as architects, and advises working only with architects who are members of AIA. “They’re the ones who are really trying to develop themselves, to elevate their game, and who are passionate about the profession,” he adds.

Isch asserts clients who choose AIA member architects also benefit greatly from the association’s expansive support network, adding: “If you’re not a member of AIA, you’re really a voice of one.” Members must also adhere to the AIA’s strict Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, assuring clients of their dedication to the highest standards of professional practice.

The AIA can also save homeowners time and money with an array of free, downloadable online documents, such as You and Your Architect, offering guidance on how to find the right architect and establish solid working relationships,


Every architecture firm brings its own combination of skills, expertise, interests and values to its projects. The challenge is to find the one that aligns most closely with your project’s needs. Here are some crucial questions to address when meeting with a prospective architect:


  • What is your design philosophy?
  • What sets your firm apart from other architects with similar experience?
  • Do you have experience with the building type and size of my project?
  • Will you share with me a portfolio of similar projects and provide a list of client references?
  • Who from the architecture firm will I be dealing with on a regular basis? Is this the person who will design my project?

My Project

  • Are you interested enough in this project to make it a priority?
  • What challenges do you foresee for my project?
  • What do you see as the important issues or considerations in my project?
  • What is your estimated timetable for my project?
  • What means will you use to collect information about my needs, goals, etc.?
  • How will you help me to fully understand the scope and sequence of the project? Will you utilize models, drawings, or computer animation?


  • What are the steps in the design process, and how are they organized?
  • What criteria will be used to establish priorities and make design decisions?
  • What do you expect me to provide?
  • How disruptive will construction be?
  • What role do you have during construction? Am I expected to work with the contractor directly?

Green Design

  • Do you have experience with “green” or sustainable design?
  • Do you regularly integrate low or no cost sustainable design strategies into projects?
  • Considering the many areas that may be affected by sustainable design, how will you determine which options to pursue?
  • If sustainable design technologies are implemented, do upfront costs exist that may affect the construction budget? What are the expected pay back times?


  • How do you establish fees?
  • In anticipation of a formal proposal with costs, what would you expect your fee to be for this project?
  • What is included in your basic services, and what services would incur additional fees?
  • If the scope of the project changes later in the project, will there be additional fees? How will these fees be justified? How will this be communicated to me?
  • What is your track record with completing a project within the original budget?

Questions courtesy of the American Institute of Architects,