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By Maria Luisa Castellanos, principal of United Architects

Paper, glasses, and a computer - Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash.jpg

Photo by Jess Bailey from Unsplash

Almost all potential clients ask about the process for working with us, Miami residential architects.  We want to give you, the client, the best possible service so that you may enjoy your new house, remodeling, or addition, with your family for many years to come.  It should be an enjoyable process for all of us, helping you to achieve the house of your dreams, a combination of function and beauty.  So read on as I explain as briefly, but as detailed as possible the process we use.

Normally, I have an initial meeting with the potential client.  In that initial meeting we try to establish the program.  The “program” defines what the clients want – what spaces they want in the house.  For example, they say something like, “We want a four bedroom, 3-1/2-bathroom house, with a living room, dining room, kitchen, family room, library, rooftop terrace, a balcony from the master bedroom overlooking the future pool, etc.”  “We would like a 2-story house in a modern style and we don’t want the house to be over 3,500 square feet.”  Or in the case of an addition, they could say, “We want a 1,000 square foot addition for a master bedroom overlooking the future pool, etc.” "We would

like a 2-story house in a modern style and we don’t want the house to be over 3,500 square feet.”  Or in the case of an addition, they could say, “We want a 1,000 square foot addition for a master bedroom suite and an expansion to our living room.”  Then, I ask the inevitable question, “What’s your budget?”  I ask this question to make sure that the budget is in line with what they want.  Any new house or addition should be budgeted at $250 per square foot, as a minimum.  And all exterior construction such as covered terraces and balconies count.  And if a house is going to have a concrete 2nd floor and roof, I would budget a little more.  I recommend that after a preliminary design is done, that we consult with 2 general contractors to review the plans and establish a more accurate budget.  No contractor is going to give a firm price on preliminary plans, but he can give us a good idea.

Once we establish a clear program, I provide the client with a written agreement for them to review and sign.  The agreement is very detailed and covers the fees for architecture, mechanical, electrical and structural engineering.  I break projects into 4 phases – preliminary, design development, 50% construction documents, and 100% construction documents.  We want the client to review the agreement carefully because we want them to be comfortable with what they are signing.  And, of course, we welcome any questions they may have.  Once the potential clients decide to sign the agreement, the client commits to giving us certain items:  a survey with spot elevations or an elevation certificate, sometimes a tree survey, and later they may have to provide soil borings and percolation tests, depending on the project and location.  In addition, they must provide us with a retainer to start working on the project. 

Photo by Amy Hirschi from Unsplash

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In the initial phase, the Preliminary Phase, we study the zoning, we establish the setbacks and maximum lot coverage.  As architects in Miami with offices in Coral Gables, we are familiar with the environmental conditions of this area.  We look at how to best site the property.  Which are going to be the best views and where should we put the windows and doors in relation to the sun.  The best exposures in this area will be the east and south.  The north normally does not have direct sunlight.  The western exposure is the afternoon sun, the hottest sun of the day.  And at this time of the day the sun casts long shadows.

Once we have a preliminary idea of how we want to site the house or addition, we start with a bubble diagram to see how the spaces relate to each other.  We discuss this with the clients.  We then start working on an actual floor plan.  We go back and forth from the floor plan to the elevations.  We meet with the clients and ask for their input.  At every step of this process, we want the process to be engaging for the clients and we want the product – the house – to represent our tag line, a comfortable, livable, inspired residence.

After meeting with the clients, we modify the drawings as requested by them.  Usually, this phase has deliverables of floor plan(s) and elevations.  At the end of the Preliminary Phase, we get approval from the appropriate zoning department.  For some municipalities, we may have to do a Design Development Phase prior to seeking approval because of their specific requirements.  Some municipalities also require landscape drawings or a report from an arborist.  We will coordinate with the clients’ landscape architect and arborist, if required by the municipality.  If the client desires it, we give a set of plans to one or two contractors who will review the plans against the budget.

Drawings on a roll of tracing paper photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash.jpg

Photo by Daniel McCullough from Unsplash

Then, we move on to the Design Development Phase.  Each phase builds on the previous phase.  In this phase we start working on the cross-sections and walls sections.  We may have done some preliminary sections in the Preliminary Phase so we could develop the elevations, but in this phase, we finalize the sections and discuss any issues with the clients.  We will also do a 3D model for new houses.  At the end of the Design Development Phase or the beginning of the 50% Construction Documents, we bring in all the engineers.  Up to this point, we may have consulted briefly with them, but now, we give them everything so they can do their work.  Prior to handing over the plans to the engineers, we once again meet with the clients to go over any issues or concerns they may have regarding the plans.

Once we get to the 50% Construction Documents, all the major design components have been established.  At this point we are producing the drawings that will tell the general contractor what exactly we want in terms of doors, finishes, windows, etc.  We coordinate any issues with the engineers.  This is very important because we cannot have A/C ducts running through the structural beams.  We also must do a layout of all the electrical outlets and lighting.  We work on this and review these with the client to get their approval.    We produce the Finish, Door, and Window Schedules. 

Finally, when we get to the 100% Construction Documents, we finalize all the drawings, including all the engineering drawings.  We make sure that all the disciplines are coordinated.  At this point, we hand over the plans to the clients to take to the appropriate city or county to get the building permit.  At times, we charge an additional fee and handle the permit review process.

When the clients want this service, the architect will put books of specifications together and specify each article that will be installed in the project.  Most of the time, clients want to pick out their own finishes, such as tile, cabinetry, baseboards, doors, etc.  But when the client wants the architect to provide this service, the architect will include this service for an additional fee.

When each article is not specified, I usually put allowances for at least all the major articles.  An allowance works like this.  Say I put a $300 allowance for a toilet, but the toilet the client selects only costs $250.  Then, the contractor will issue a $50 credit during the construction.  On the other hand, if the toilet ends up costing $350, then the client will owe the contractor $50 for the toilet.  By putting in allowances, we can compare apples to apples in the bidding process without having to select every item prior to the bidding.

This is the end of Part 1. 



PART TWO here for the Permitting and Construction Phases.

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Photo by Scott Graham from Unsplash


Call 305-552-5465 or Email to discuss your exciting project ideas with the principal of the firm, Maria Luisa

Castellanos, R.A., LEED AP

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