"Finding Options for a Local Architect"

If you're looking international, you don't need my help, you probably have a team of people to help you. But even if you do get a "star-chitect" for lead designer, you'll likely still need a local architect closer to the site.

Traditionally, architects were not allowed to advertise, and though the restriction was deemed illegal in 1972 by the Department of Justice, it is still frowned upon.  Crazy, right?  So most firms do not.
Luckily, the internet was invented (thank you, Mr. Gore) and almost all firms take advantage of a significant web presence.  You won't see a billboard directing you to their websites, but if you can find them on your own, it's a good start.


Option 1: the Lunch

  • Invite an architect -- any architect you have a connection to -- to a 30 minute lunch.  Everyone's got to eat on occasion (though a whole lot of architects work through lunch most days). Consider getting some take-out and bringing it to him.
  • Ask for a recommendation for an architect in a specific field (residential, schools, churches, hospitals, etc.).  
  • Describe in less than three minutes what kind of a project you're wanting to do (4000sf log "cabin" in the mountains, 1100sf primary residence in a historic flat on Main Street, adapted storage container studio in the back yard, etc.) and in what character or style (minimalist, "transitional," rustic, etc.).  [Lisa Frederick at Houzz has 82 "so your style is" ideabooks (and counting) of distinct decorating styles to help you figure out what you like.  Of course, decorating styles are not exactly the same thing as architecture (which is harder to categorize stylistically), but it's a wonderful starting point.]
  • In most cities & towns architects know enough of others in the field to be able to come up with 1-3 recommendations off the cuff or within a few days of thinking over it.
  • Spend the rest of lunch asking them about their practice and pretend it's VERY interesting; try to pick up a new word or concept or three (you might be able to use them later).
  • Follow up the lunch with a thank you and/or a reminder if necessary. 

photo courtesy of nSeika

If you don't have any connections to local architects, consider asking anyone in the building/construction industry to lunch.  Have a favorite specialty lighting store?  Ask them who they like to work with.  Maybe a new restaurant has just gone up: ask them who they used... then visit him at his office.
"Hi.  I was really admiring your new restaurant in my neighborhood, etc. etc.  I was wondering if I could have five minutes of your time (or take you to lunch) this month and ask you about hiring an architect to do my home.  I figured someone with your skills would be sure to give a good recommendation."

restaurant Duck Duck Goose in Melbourne
by local architects BURO
photo courtesy avlxyz

Sure, some people are "too busy."  Some are worried you're going to try to get some free services for the price of a meal. But many architects have healthy egos which respond favorably to too-infrequent flattery.

"Ego" installation at 2012 Burning Man
by Laura Kimpton, Michael Garlington & Jonny Hirschmugl
photo courtesy of Homies in Heaven

Option 2: Beat the Pavement 

An architect's buildings are his advertisement.

Agrippa, the architect of the Pantheon in Rome,
put his name right out front.
Photo courtesy of come cane in autostrada

Patrol the streets of your city and pick out buildings you like.  If you're looking to remodel a historic building, look at historic buildings.  If it's a beach house, look at beach houses.  And walk up to the front door and knock.  The majority of people answering doors will not know the name of the architect who designed or redesigned a building, but some will.  Note the addresses & try the county records office.  If the same name keeps popping up, you're in luck: you've found your guy.
Buildings still under construction will usually have signage out front noting the design & construction team.
[Incidentally, I give the same advice to young architects who don't know where to start looking for a job.]
This option takes more time than the first, but it assures a certain sympathy in tastes.

A little easier version is to pick up local publications for real estate or design and see what jumps out at you. But beware: sometimes a gorgeous photo is just a gorgeous photo.  That doesn't always translate into a wonderful place when you're there in person.
Same goes for a crappy photo.  I've seen some pretty crappy photos of some of my all-time favorite places.

Other Options:

Finally, there are finder websites, which are not more helpful than the yellow pages, in my opinion.
And then there are home shows, which typically have one or two residential architects with booths.  While the selection is not huge, these can be a great way to meet & evaluate a limited selection of an architect's work and communication style on the spot.

Spring Ideal Home Show 2012, Dublin
photo courtesy of Ethreon


Next: HOW TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT: PART 2  "Choosing a local architect"

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