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  • Michael Carney, AIA

Where do I start?

The first place to start is to explore the feasibility of your project. Create your wish list so you have talking points when you engage an architect. Understanding your budget is the next important part of this process. Where will the money be coming from? How much cash is on hand for initial deposits? Design professionals will require most, if not all of their fees up front. This amount varies greatly, but you could budget 10%-15% of your project fee going to architects and engineers depending on the complexity of your project. New construction projects may require soil borings or soils classification to be completed during the design phase. You should also plan to have a contingency fund for unforeseen conditions in your project. Again, depending on the complexity of your project, this varies greatly. I often recommend 15% of the project cost. If it is left unused, then the client can reallocate that towards finishes and fixtures.



The first conversation with an architect is used for fact finding. The architect will seek answers to specific things beyond your wish list. Some of the topics may include what the budget is, is the property on municipal water and sewer, what is the timeframe for your project, what is the use of the existing/new space, have you worked through a construction previously, is the subject property located in a flood plain, do you have existing construction drawings, do you have Plat of Survey. All of this information will help aid the architect in assisting you in getting the process rolling. After the intake session, the architect will begin their due diligence and start investigating the outside factors that contribute to a project.

One of the ways a municipality governs a building project is through Zoning. The architect will work through the zoning ordinance(s) with their understanding of your project to figure out how this relates to it. If the project is an interior remodel, it is unlikely that zoning requirements will apply. If the project consists of new construction or an addition, zoning requirements will need to be followed. Some items that may impact a project are:


- Building Area

o Floor Area Ratio (F.A.R.)

o Impervious Coverage

o Building Coverage

- Building Height

- Location of building on property

o Front Yard Setbacks

o Side Yard Setbacks

o Rear Yard Setbacks

o Easements


Another important part of zoning is the districts that a municipality has established. This may prevent you from constructing your building within a certain district. An example of this that is growing in popularity is the redevelopment of existing retail/business districts to residential. A municipality may have designated an area for business use and residential is not allowed. However, there is a process that may allow the rezoning of an existing district to allow for a new use. This requires the client and design team to work with the municipality to present the project to the Village Board and the public for comment and approval. This can be a lengthy process and specifics for this process would be uncovered during the architect’s due diligence.


The architect can now take the information gathered from their due diligence and your wish list and start to develop schematic designs for client review and discussion. More to come on this topic in future posts…

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