The popular misconception about the role of the architect
Architect is not a person who releases drawings. He is not a person who released the 'plan' for the house. Of course, he does these things, but his role is definitely more than that. It is more or less like saying the role of a car driver is to steer the wheel, when steering the wheel is just one of the things that the architect does. Architect's job is to envision the life of the occupants in the new building and make the design and set the specification to fulfill that vision.
The key role of the architect
The architect understands the clients. He/She is trained to do that. In my opinion, the key role of the architect is understanding the lives and lifestyle, priorities and desires of the client and then envisioning a space for them which will serve the purposes that the client is aware of and sometimes not even aware of. From the experience of the architect, he/she should be in a position to advise the client regarding all their choices and work with the client to finalise the physical parameters of this space. I would argue that this is the main role of the architect.
What all can go wrong if you don't appoint an architect
Every person or rather most people have some desires about their dream house. Since most do not have anything to do with construction, they really have no idea about how to get their dream a reality and if that dream can indeed become a reality given the physical restrictions of the land selected. They do not know the budget to be set for the house, they do not know the materials to be selected, the contractors and various vendors to be appointed, the durability of the materials that they selected and many many more such things. I am making a list of the common pitfalls.
- Actual cost exceeding well beyond the budget. This is so common that most people take this as an order of the day. If a good architect is involved, I do not think this would be the outcome. Of course it is natural that some decisions made during the planning stage, may change due to decision change from the client or unforeseen challenges at site. However, I can guarantee that the change will never be as much as if the client is doing it all by himself.
- Engineering mistakes causing lifetime pain. I come across scenarios like rain water seeping inside the house, or a bathroom of upper floor leaking, or wooden flooring getting damaged too quickly, beams sagging, ceiling plastering coming off within few years and of course the common villain walls getting wet and paint getting damaged. This is mostly due to some items being overlooked at the time of construction or even planning. An experienced architect will ensure that the civil engineer or the construction team at site will be careful about these works. He/She will also ensure that engineering flaws are avoided at the planning stage itself.
- Material selection going horribly wrong. Every client is restricted to the exposure that he has. What I mean with that is that a client will only be consulting his friends or nearby shops to select the materials required for his home. All the shops would have vested interests in recommending products. Who is their to tell them and educate about the product specifications and other parameters such as durability, guarantee etc? Let me give you this example - Recently I visited a house by the sea side. When I approached the wash basin to wash my hands, I realised that the tap already started corroding. The water pressure too was a concern. This is a new house, hardly been 6 months. It is not that an expense was spared in the selection of the fitting, but the choice of spec was absolutely wrong. What could have been easily avoided with a word from the architect, resulted in loss of money and effort for the client. It is not that the material selected was bad, but that it was wrong considering the salty air in the environment.
- Contractors taking short cuts. I don't think I need to explain it much. One main thing we need to understand is that most of the contractors (I believe the number is 99%) are not trained engineers. They are mostly glorified labor contractors. The agenda is business and profit maximisation. I think a client who is not in anyway associated with the construction industry possesses enough knowledge to check the performance of a contractor. With the experience, I would say that the contractor has enough wit to "masquerade" as an amazing job when in reality, he has done a technically ill founded job. It will be extremely helpful for the client to have an architect who has the best interest of the client at heart to keep the contractor in check.
Other benefits of having a good architect on board
- Contractors perform their job better. The contractors are always interested in getting more jobs. They would be happier to listen to the architect who can give them more jobs than the client who is a one-time association. With this fear, the chances of the contractor performing better is always on the higher side.
- Getting material at better prices. The architects use the same material in multiple sites in multiple locations. So they know the best price and can easily guide the client to make the best material purchase. This happens too frequently to me. When friends call me and ask for the best price of a material, I connect them to the best supplier too. I go one step extra and put a word to the supplier too. The prices and the services experienced by my friends is extremely different once this happens. If there is an architect involved, this is the default thing and the client will benefit in terms of the price. This gain, I am sure, is much more than the fees given to the architect as consultancy charges.
An architect bring with him many years of experience, having dealt with many houses, having used many materials, having seen and experienced many pitfalls. For a consultancy fee, you are able to buy all this and take a solid step to ensure that you do not experience these pitfalls in your dream house. I will go to the extend of saying that a good architect will also ensure that you get much more savings in the construction cost, more than the fees you pay. It is always a wise move to hire an architect irrespective of the size of your dream house.