practical architecture
Call Joel at 425-422-4276


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Q1.  Do I need an architect for my project?
A1a. Maybe not. For many smaller projects, an architect might not be legally required.  Each state regulates the “practice of architecture” within its borders.  Washington Law, in RCW 18.08.410, says the following design work can be done by persons not licensed as architects: 

   Residential buildings up to and including four dwelling units; farm buildings; structures accessory to these residential or farm buildings, such as garages, barns, sheds, or shelters for animals or machinery;

   Any building up to 4,000 square feet; or

   A project smaller than 4,000 square feet in a building larger than 4,000 square feet, IF life safety or structural systems of the building are not affected, as long as the combined area of all such projects underway at any time is less than 4,000 square feet.

A1b.  Probably. If you want a unique design, or an architect’s planning skills, or an architect’s abilities to organize a variety of consultants, you may want to involve an architect.

Q2.  Do you modify “stock plans” for houses?
A2  No.  Most stock plans are copyrighted by their creators, and I respect those copyrights.  Furthermore, as a Washington-registered architect I’m required ( RCW 18.08.370 (3) ) to either prepare documents on my own, or to obtain permission for re-use from the author.  Most stock plans are prepared generically, and do not show important details for Washington’s earthquake hazards or energy code requirements.

Q3. What Code applies to my project?
A3a. For all projects, Land Use – “Zoning” – Codes tell what a property can be used for, and give details for setbacks from property lines, parking, landscaping, and a host of other details.  Each city, town or county has its own.

A3b.  For residential projects – less than five dwelling units in one (or each) building, the International Residential Code (IRC), with Washington amendments.

A3c.  For other projects, the International Building Code (IBC), with Washington amendments.

A3d.  For projects in Seattle, the Seattle Building Code – basically, the IBC/WA with Seattle-specific amendments.

These codes are updated every three years; 2012 is the latest edition.  Because of the State amendment process, the effective date of the amended edition is typically July 1st of the following year (July 1, 2013 for the 2012 cycle). 

On the State Building Code Council site, where you can read Washington’s additions and changes.  Many public library branches have copies of the Codes.

Q4.  Where can I find ADA/barrier-free/accessible design rules?
A4.   Some ADA requirements are written directly into the Building Code.  Others are made part of the Building Code through references to a national standard, ANSI A117.1, which (mostly) duplicates ADA requirements.  Text of ANSI A117.1 can be found with a search engine; sites like this one   will appear.  For the ADA will give access to the text as well as a number of guides.

Q5.  I saw a help-wanted listing for a “System (or Network, or IT, or (any of many similar)) Architect”.  Are you one of those?  Are they licensed by the States?
A5.  No, and no.  At some point in recent history, someone in the software world seems to have decided that being a “Software Architect” sounded better than “Software Engineer”.  Perhaps it was the mental association with “design” or the definition of “one who brings all kinds of different things together and makes the work of specialists (i.e. engineers) function together”.  As long as people using those titles don’t offer to design buildings while calling themselves architects, they can do so, legally.

Q6.  I think I would like to be an architect.  How can I become an architect?
A6a.  (What a great goal!)  Start by looking around in your daily life and noticing how people seem to use buildings, how buildings’ rooms are arranged, asking questions of people involved in construction.  Some day, some little snippet from your memory will help you out, solving someone’s real problems.

A6b.  Start drawing and sketching.  With a pencil or pen on paper.  You won’t always have a computer, tablet or smartphone to explain your ideas with.

A6c.  Plan on going to school.  Once upon a time, a young man (and they were almost all young men) could begin as a pencil-sharpener and absorb enough to know what an architect needed to know.  That time is long gone.  Figure on developing mathematical, reading and writing skills – anything that helps analyze and solve problems.  College course work will include coverage of building science, architectural history, and a lot of practice designing all sorts of things.  In order to meet background requirements for later license testing, you’ll want to earn a “professional” degree – Bachelor of Architecture or Master of Architecture.  This will take 5 or 6 years, and a few long nights.

A6d.  Find employment in the field.  Like almost every professional field, you won’t learn it all in school.  There’s a lot to be picked up by doing it.  Seek out opportunities.  Be the bright, eager person, asking the boss for more to do, and for more different opportunities.  Practical architecture practice time is a requirement for registration

A6e.  Learn about the examination process.  Because architects are responsible for matters of public safety, we’re expected to prove that we know important things.  To become registered, you’ll need to show what you know.

A6f.  Learn about business practices.  Many of your future clients will look to you for help with business-related decisions.  And, if you aspire to own or manage a firm, you’ll need to learn how to run a business.


Q7.  How do you work? (What do you charge, in other words)
A7a.  To begin with, I’m available to talk about your project needs at most any convenient time, in person or by telephone.  E-mail works well, too.  No charge for an initial consultation.  Use the handy contact link, and we can get in contact.

A7b.  For simple projects, and for others while we’re figuring out just how much work will be needed, I bill on an hourly basis.  My rates are about half what larger firms charge for their senior staff, barely more than they charge for technical staff with a few years’ experience.   For projects involving engineering consultants, their charges to me, and the time I spend coordinating and directing their work, become part of the fee.  After the scope and nature of the work is agreed on, I’ll prepare a written contract memorializing the agreement.

Q8.  My question isn’t on this list.
A8.  Please, ask it, using the “contact” page.