When is an architect/designer required?

For projects involving horizontal or vertical additions, interior remodels or altering existing wall layout, changing any exterior faces of the building, reclaiming non-finished space. If your project does not alter the structural load of the building or require strengthening, you would only need Architectural Drawings and not Structural Drawings, but for even modest projects, it’s usually the case that both are required. 

What role does an architect/designer play?
An Architect behaves very much like the quarterback for projects they’re involved in and are generally the best first professional to start with. They can work with you on the scope and scale of your project, explain in further detail all of the requirements and restrictions you’ll be bound to that may differ from city to city, and usually coordinate with other professionals on your behalf. The Architectural Drawings, sometimes referred to as Designer drawings (see below) show things like a site plan with setback restrictions, elevations and sectional drawings of your home that convey what the proposed project entails, schedules related to windows and doors, plumbing and electric layouts, finishes, and dimensions. Primarily, they’ll show ‘Proposed’ and ‘Existing’ plan drawings that communicate the before/after conditions of the building. 

A Designer is an unlicensed professional practicing architecture, which is permissible and routine for wood-frame, residential projects (with restrictions). The distinction is only necessary in some cases, and for routine projects, we find them generally to be just as capable as more seasoned architects we work with regularly. 
This person or persons is usually the first-in, last-out and will champion the project from the start of design through final construction, so it’s important to have good chemistry with them. It’s also important to share a similar design aesthetic. If you need help choosing an architect, we are happy to refer some that we work with regularly.

As Built Drawings
For projects that are structural in nature only and do not require an architect/designer, structural drawings will instead require what are called As Built Drawings to use as backgrounds. As Builts are quite literally showing the existing conditions of the building as they are currently built but won’t include any new architectural work. They’re the ‘before’ that we’ll use as reference to also show the ‘after’. 

As Built drawings may or may not already exist for your building. Some are lost over time, and for some older buildings, they were never generated in the first place. The best place to find them if they do exist is at the Building Department records. They should be public record and free to view/search by anyone in person if they do exist, but some municipalities will also require you to prove ownership in order to request physical copies (which may take up to 30 days). 

If you have paper copies of drawings, the title block (margin) probably includes the document authors’ information, which you can use to request electronic copies directly, or you can have them scanned at a variety of different places like FedEx. Building records can be very old, so they may be unique, hand drawn copies, or the original drawing authors may no longer be in business. 

If you’re at a total loss, fear not! There are plenty of consultants whose sole business is to generate these As Built drawings. They’ll come to your home, take measurements and have electronic drawings for you in a few weeks at a rough cost of about $0.50 per square foot for plans and $1.00 per square foot for plans + elevations. We can provide a few options if you’re interested in these consultants.