How to select an architect

Choosing an architect is a critical decision that greatly influences how your hotel project turns out. Although approaches to selecting an architect vary, it's essential to have a well-defined and reliable process for making a good — and timely — choice.

WHEN TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT

Before you find the perfect hotel site and put the land under agreement, you'll want to have an architect lined up for the project. A lot of questions will need to be answered and important decisions made relatively quickly after you identify a potential site. The sooner you select an architect, the sooner you'll be able to devote your time to other important issues and use your architect as a resource.

You may initially hire the architect on an hourly basis to create a conceptual site sketch to assess items such as zoning, parking, stormwater and utilities at the site. The site sketch depicts the hotel footprint, parking, ingress and egress, and other special requirements. For example, local codes or fire marshal requirements may dictate designated fire lanes, full access around the entire building, or increased building setbacks due to higher structure heights. More green space and less impervious area may also be required. Additionally, certain construction specifications — such as using concrete masonry walls rather than wood stud walls — may increase the building footprint by several feet over the typical footprint provided by the hotel franchisor. All of these issues can be readily assessed with a site sketch and are critical in determining if the “perfect” hotel site is really perfect for supporting the size and type of hotel you want to develop.

Retaining the architect early also allows them to plan and schedule your project within their general workload. The architect can also assist in creating an overall schedule for the design and construction of the project. This helps ensure that manpower is allocated properly to meet your schedule for opening. Also, it allows sufficient time to properly design and detail the building, which in turn helps minimize potential problems and additional costs while the building is under construction.

HOW TO FIND AN ARCHITECT

If you've worked with an architect on a previous hotel project and were satisfied with the experience, you will, of course, want to consider working with the same architect. However, if you are starting from scratch, there are several sources for finding an architect well-suited for your project.

One source is the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a professional organization comprising 74,000 members who adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct. An architect's membership assures the hotelier that the architect is committed to the highest standards of professional practice. For a list of local chapters and architects, visit www.aia.org.

Another source of referrals is the hotel franchisor. Most franchisors can provide a list of firms that have designed similar hotels. Referrals may also come from hoteliers who have completed a successful project and had an enjoyable, rewarding experience. You might also consider firms that you have become familiar with through mailings or industry publications.

Now that most regions follow standard building code requirements through the adoption of the International Building Code, working with a local architect is not as important today it was in the past. However, an architect located in proximity to the project can help you find a qualified and reputable local builder, as well as minimize chargeable travel and expense fees.

After compiling a list of at least three potential architectural firms, you will begin a detailed evaluation process.

SELECTION CONSIDERATIONS

Two tools are used to evaluate architectural firms. One is a request for qualifications (RFQ) and the other is a request for proposal (RFP), or fee proposal.

The RFQ is used by the hotelier to become familiar with each firm's level of experience, technical competence, professional service and design ability. The RFQ should outline the specific information each firm should provide, such as the firm's background, relevant project experience (project data sheets with photos), resumes for key personnel, the firm's ability to work within a stated budget, ability to meet deadlines, scheduling and cost-control techniques, and project references.

The hotelier may request a fee proposal at any time during the selection process, including up front with the RFQ, after an interview with the architect, or after the architect is selected and during fee negotiations.

Some hoteliers prefer working with a list of about five architects that is pared-down through the RFQ process, resulting in a short list of two or three who will provide fee proposals.

If evaluating just three firms from the outset, you may want to shorten the selection process by requesting a fee proposal along with each firm's qualifications. In this case, you will need to provide a detailed scope of services with your request so you can evaluate each firm based on a definite range of services. If you need help writing the scope of services, ask one or all of the architects to help by submitting an outline. Then, blend all of the architects' outlines into one formal RFQ/RFP.

The next step after receiving and reviewing the qualifications and/or proposals is to interview each firm. Use the interview to clarify qualifications, project understanding, approach and execution, and to assess if the firm's communication and personality styles are a good fit. You don't want a generic marketing pitch — you want to interact and find out how the firm would approach your project. Ask questions. Find out how busy the firm is and if they have the capacity to take on your project. Will there be team meetings? If so, how many? How do they make decisions and set priorities? How will engineering services be provided? What is the firm's construction change order percentage? How does the firm work with general contractors? How enthusiastic is the firm about your project?

Be sure you meet with the specific project architect who will run your project on a daily basis. You're not just hiring a firm, you're hiring a person with whom you will spend a lot of time over the course of the project, so make sure you are confident in his or her abilities and that the chemistry is right.

When evaluating firms, their qualifications and compatibility should weigh heavier in your decision-making than design fees. Selecting a design professional based on fee does not ensure the most economical end product. Generally, firms of the same size and geographic region will have similar billing rates. If you encounter a firm with unusually low fees, it is often the result of a less experienced person being assigned to the project, or less time spent developing the construction documents. Insufficient detailing and coordination of construction documents can easily add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in change orders or delays during construction. Any savings in architectural fees may cost you three to five times as much, or more, in the field. In fact, hotel design fees usually account for less than three percent of the total project cost. If a good design effort can reduce change orders by just one percent of the project cost, it would be worth paying an additional 28 percent in design fees for those services.

ENGAGING THE ARCHITECT

After an architect is selected and the responsibilities, scope of services, timeframe for completing the work and method of compensation are outlined, a written contractual agreement between the hotelier and architect follows. The American Institute of Architects offers several types of agreements based on scope of work. Two commonly used agreements for design services are the AIA - B151 Abbreviated Standard Form of Agreement between Owner and Architect and the AIA - B141 Standard Form of Agreement Form between Owner and Architect of Architect's Services.

Selecting an architect is one of the most critical decisions you will make in developing your hotel. It can mean the difference between experiencing an exciting, smoothly-run project and one which is tenuous and plagued with serious problems, delays, stress and cost overruns. By following a solid selection process, allocating appropriate time to make evaluations and choosing the architect that best fits your needs and style, you'll ensure a good start to a successful hotel.


Frank Fox, AIA, NCARB, is president of Greenfield Architects, Ltd. (www.greenfieldarchitects.net), headquartered in Lancaster, PA. He led the design efforts for a variety of hotel brands throughout the mid-Atlantic region and is a registered architect in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Delaware, Florida, Virginia and West Virginia. He can be reached at ffox@high.net or (717) 390-4609.

Conference Center Marries Historic and High-Tech

With meetings business picking up steam, hotels are scrambling to gain a share of the lucrative conference market. Having one's facility sanctioned by the IACC (International Association of Conference Centers) is a sure-fire business booster.

The Hotel Orrington, an historic property in Evanston, IL, and managed by Gemstone Hotels & Resorts, recently completed a $30-million-plus renovation that included construction of a new 12,000-square-foot conference center built to stringent IACC specifications.

Spectacular views of Lake Michigan from the ninth-floor space provide inspirational views for business meetings and corporate functions for 10 to 300 guests.

The conference center's distraction-free environment is specifically designed to promote effective communication, thinking and learning. Thirteen dedicated conference rooms can accommodate 25 to 75 attendees per room. A 75-seat auditorium provides elevated seating, laptop connections and full audio/visual capabilities.

Seamless technology throughout the center encompasses additional state-of-the art a/v capabilities, T-1 Internet connections and complimentary wireless Internet. All Internet services are hard-wired for security.

A self-service business center and additional meeting space are located on the hotel's second floor, along with the hotels' Grand Ballroom, renowned for its sweeping marble staircase.

Since opening in 1923, the hotel has been considered a premier locale for upscale parties, bar and bat mitzvahs and glamorous weddings.

“The Hotel Orrington has returned to its original splendor, but the addition of a conference center at the pinnacle of the property gives our guests new options for meetings and events,” says Matt Alagna, director of sales and marketing.

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