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"Designing Your Dream Home With an Architect" AIA San Francisco /podcasts.html, free

January 05, 2006|Craig Nakano

Asking two architects to explain the value of hiring an architect may not sound like the best exercise in objectivity, but this new podcast -- the first in the "ArchCast" series from the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects trade association -- manages to come off as more public service than selfpromotion.

During a 22-minute discussion moderated by chapter president J. Paul Bohn, San Francisco architects John Klopf and Sarah Wilmer explain why and how homeowners should get professional help. Their arguments are compelling: An architect "brings design with a capital 'D,' " Wilmer says, helping clients to consider light, layout and the material and color palette, all toward the creation of a unique space that meets homeowners' unique needs. Developers sell a product, whereas an architect sells a process -- a way of prioritizing needs and getting the most house for your money, Klopf says.

Less self-serving is the advice about how to pick an architect. Talk with friends, co-workers, even strangers whose homes you admire, the experts say. Ask, "Who built your home, and were you happy with the process?" Ask if the architect was able to stay on schedule, stick to the budget and approach the project as a collaborative effort.

Other advice: Don't be embarrassed to bring pictures from magazines or examples of other architects' work; though neither you nor your architect may want to replicate exactly what's printed on the page, these examples may help to explain what kind of a space resonates with you. Be clear about definitions of terms like "modern," and make budget an early part of the discussion.

All of these tips make sense, but the podcast fails to address crucial details: What's the most common range of fees? What credentials should prospective clients ask for? What are common mistakes that architects make, and how can you, the client, prevent them? These may be difficult questions for a trade group to ask itself, but isn't demystifying the profession the goal?

Another flaw is the stiff, clinical quality of the recording, which is about as animated as a convention symposium. But that's a quibble. "Designing Your Dream Home" is a decent foundation from which this series can build.

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