Our process

How we work with you

The decision to work with an architect or designer often raises questions — about choosing your partner(s), the steps involved, and how you’ll be kept in the loop as your project progresses.

There are no single “right” answers to those questions. Different firms approach their work in different ways. Each has its own process for collaborating with clients.

This is Shelter’s.

1. Architect and/or designer selection (picking your project partner)

When evaluating architects and/or designers, it’s important to find someone — or a firm — you feel is a good fit. To do that, focus first on your primary goals.

If you prioritize unique, high-quality design, pay close attention to online portfolios. Look for images that would seem at home in an architecture magazine or a national ad campaign. When comparing work side-by-side, it’s usually pretty easy to see differences between designs that are average … and those that are exceptional.

If, instead, you’re looking for the cheapest price possible to obtain documents needed for a building permit, online work samples still provide insight. Often (though not ALWAYS), the quality of designs you see reflect the cost (and value) of an architect’s services. So, if a firm’s designs look average, their fees are likely to follow suit.

After you identify a professional whose work appeals to you, arrange a meeting. It’s crucial to evaluate how well you get along with potential architects or designers. You’ll be entrusting whomever you choose with the shaping of spaces likely to affect your mood, comfort and well-being — and it may cost a significant amount of money. You want to feel comfortable having frank, open conversations with the person or firm you hire. Once you find a favorite — and their references check out — odds are, your partnership will be successful.

2. Predesign (PD)

Once design fees are agreed upon and a contract is signed, it’s time to dive deep into the project. Your Shelter architect’s early work includes compiling lists of your goals and anticipated project milestones, developing a budget and timeline, and conducting zoning and code research. During a site visit, we take photos, document current conditions and measure existing buildings. Usually, we also arrange to obtain a site survey (if one doesn’t already exist). We organize all our gathered data into base project information — a starting point that includes a simple set of drawings depicting your site as it exists now — what you might think of as a “before” picture.

3. Schematic design (SD)

Much of what sets great design apart from “good enough” occurs at this stage. Our design team brings several ideas to the table — in the form of (typically) two or three preliminary schematic designs. Drawing from information gathered during predesign, these may illustrate how existing site features could inform new architecture, and/or they might reveal opportunities discovered during the design process.

Schematic designs consider how you approach a building and move through it. They explore the structure’s functions and the potential experiences it could create. These are far from the drawings needed to build a building. We use trace paper and pens, working fast and loose so we can explore as many potential approaches as possible. This is an exploration and learning phase — for both you and the design team. We want to feel free to be bold. We use this time to generate ideas that are undeniably better than anything considered before the process began.

This phase usually includes several meetings with you to bounce ideas around, obtain feedback and make sure all critical considerations are being addressed. Together, we dial in an overall approach to the project and agree upon a design strategy. We refer to this accomplishment as a resolved schematic design

4. General contractor (GC) selection

You can select a general contractor (GC) at almost any point in the process. We generally recommend starting this step just as the schematic design phase is wrapping up.

There are many ways to find the right builder for your project. Often, we can recommend GCs we’ve worked with before. Because we’re familiar with them — and with your needs and expectations — we can easily and effectively bring them up to speed on the scope of the project and the selected design approach.

Regardless of how you choose a GC, you want one who has experience working with architects and has demonstrated a history of teamwork. Changes in plans are to be expected while a project is under construction. It’s important that the GC is prepared to consult with the design team any time there’s a potential variance from the designs prescribed in the construction documents they’re given.

5. Design development (DD)

Once we have a resolved schematic design, we begin turning its ideas into actual buildable architecture.

First, we use building information modeling (BIM) software to construct a virtual, three-dimensional version of the proposed building. During this rigorous endeavor, we continually refine and improve the original concept. We nail down details about windows, building materials, roof pitch, stair railings and many, many other components of the project.

Meanwhile, we collect and coordinate building code information and findings from other consultants, such as a structural engineer. We also provide you with guidance — and ask for your feedback — as the time arrives to make decisions about fixtures, appliances, flooring, tile and other specific details. We incorporate all our compiled information into an evolving set of construction documents.

6. Construction documents (CDs)

No, we don’t call them blueprints anymore. But for many people, when they think about architecture, this is what they picture: a set of plans for the construction of a building.

For starters, there’s the permit set — the bare minimum amount of information needed to begin construction. If all you want is a structure that stands up, doesn’t leak (much), and fulfills your structure’s required functions (mostly), you don’t need a lot more. However, if you go this route, expect to answer a lot of questions from your GC throughout construction — or presume the GC will simply make a lot of  decisions on their own, and you’ll get what you get.

If exceptional design is your goal, then the creation of a comprehensive set of construction documents (CDs) is as important as the work done during the SD phase. We use CDs to describe, refine and coordinate many details about your project. The more potential problems we solve ahead of time, on paper, the better your final product will be.

7. Construction administration (CA)

Once building permits are in hand and construction is underway, the bulk of the work shifts to the GC. Now your Shelter architect is your professional advocate, there to ensure your project is built according to the CDs.

That doesn’t mean every aspect of your project is set in stone once you have CDs in hand. A custom-designed home is a one-of-a-kind undertaking. The construction process can (and should) be fertile ground for further evolution and improvements — many of which may stem from experience and insights brought by tradespeople as they work in the field. But at this stage, refinements should not be wild departures from the CDs. With your architect’s continued oversight and guidance, your project’s overall design vision — and its consistent focus on your goals — remain intact.

Your architect conducts periodic site visits to track the project’s progress. We answer questions that arise during construction. We review shop drawings and material samples to ensure they match your expectations. If any design changes occur, your architect updates the CDs.

In addition, depending on your contract with the builder, your architect might approve your GC’s billing, based on the amount of work completed (as observed during our site visits).

Finally, your Shelter architect — accompanied by you and the GC — conducts a final walkthrough and creates a “punch-list” of finishing touches, which are to be carried out before the project is considered complete and the contractor receives final payment.

Shelter’s step-by-step process provides us ample opportunity early on to think creatively and present you with a range of design ideas to consider.

Once a direction is dialed in, we ensure that attention is paid to every crucial detail.

Our goal is to develop a vision that suits your needs, style and preferences — and to keep a close eye on all the work that follows. We’re confident that’s the best route to a finished project that meets — or exceeds — your expectations.