Designing House as an Intern


I was recently asked by a friend if I was interested in drawing floor plans for them for a new house they want to build. They also asked how much I wanted to be paid for doing so.

I am an intern architect, master's degree in architecture and about a year of experience working in an office. I have recently been working on several residential projects at my job so I do have some experience but obviously nothing major or extensive.

I haven't gotten into any detail about what exactly they want, just what I said they wanted above, and I wanted to get an idea of how to respond to them.

Two Questions:

1. I know that one does not need to be a licensed architect to do residential design, but am I getting into something over my head here if I agree to do this? I know that I do not have the experience or knowledge to run them through the entire process of zoning ,approvals and construction administration, etc..and I would obviously let them know that. But what if I am simply helping them layout a general design that they can then give to someone else?

2. If I am simply doing the latter, how much should I charge? They are friends and I would like to do it for a small amount but I do work full time and to give them something of quality would take me some time. I know architects usually charge by the sq/ft, something like $2 per maybe. 

Just seeing what someone in the know thinks of this situation.

Sep 22, 13 10:58 pm

Do your friend a favor and set him up with your firm. Maybe you can negotiate a larger role in the project. Whatever you do, don't think you are doing him a favor by providing design services with no experience. It's the other way around - he's doing you a favor offering you the project. The only responsible thing you can do is make sure he gets a professional job.

Unless of course he's just trying to get it on the cheap, in which case he will get exactly what he pays for.

Sep 22, 13 11:24 pm

I would say if you end up taking the job, do not undervalue your work and time.  On a project like this usually it would be hourly with a limit on the maximum amount of hours you can bill per design phase.  Give them an invoice with the amount of money that you bill out at (probably around $100~something an hour) and then at the end of the invoice you can provide a percentage discount.  This way your friend knows the true cost of hiring an architectural designer and realizes how valuable your time is.  

Sep 23, 13 10:37 am

You're halfway to your Masters, you are working on residential projects which means you have relevent experience, you're within the law, presumably the house is reasonably straight-forward, you will have an engineer of some sort involved, and your clilent/friend surely knows you're not a grizzled old veteran.  Go for it!!!!!! Don't get in the habit of ignoring opportunity when it comes knocking.  You'll regret it.

Sep 25, 13 9:48 am

P.S.  Better let your employer know what you are doing.

Sep 25, 13 9:49 am
wurdan freo

I agree with geezer. Go for it! Go down to the building department's website and get as much info about the process as you can. Then go down there and introduce yourself and ask a bunch of questions. Typically what the plan examiner requires for permit and what would be required for a well documented bid set are very different. Maybe your friends have a very good contractor that will be able to build off a simple permit set? Do they already have a plan that they want you to tweak or are you going to be interviewing them for multiple days to program the scope of work? This research I would recommend doing to help you establish your scope of work and your price. Lots of threads on here about price.

Definitely find an engineer to work with. He can size all the structural and help with the framing layout and connections once the design is complete. Talk to him through out, however. I recommend that he be a direct contract with the owner so you are not responsible for paying him. 

Most likely the owner will need to hire a professional surveyor as well. Again, you can help find this person, but I would have the owner contract with them directly. 

You should have a contract with the owner as well. Not giving legal advice here, but if I were doing a contract, I would probably put something in there that limited my liability to being a draftsman. I would probably also state how much I was going to get paid... what services I was going to provide in exchange for that payment. How and when I was going to get paid. This might be linked to a time frame for the project. But that's just me. Others do it differently. Lots of examples on the web and  you can have a lawyer check it out if you are unsure. 

Don't use the word architect or architecture or architectural design, etc or every architect in their mother will give you dirty looks, shout at you, declare they are going to sue you and your state board might issue you a cease and desist or fine you or maybe you'll get picketed as a scab or...?

There is definitely risk taking here... but ultimately it is up to you to decide how much risk you are comfortable with. Yeah you could give it to your employer and maybe you even get to pick up his red lines on the job or...?

Sep 25, 13 10:44 am

The client always comes first.

On the job training is great, but not at your client's expense. If your abilities are not up to the task (seemingly by your own admission) you are not providing a service but rather a disservice.

Understand that working for friends can be either a blessing or a curse. They are trusting you to guide them through an expensive project. Don't take it lightly, take nothing for granted, be as scrupulous and professional as you possibly can. Make sure that all the bases (do you know what they are?) are covered, including liability. Be absolutely honest and up front about your abilities and how you are going to cover all the responsibilities. There is no such thing as halfway in architecture (actually there is, and you see it all around, but I really don't think you want that kind of rep).

If you do the project, document the shit out of everything including every decision by the client. Problems are either about money or quality. If there's a problem it probably won't save tour friendship but it might save your ass.

All of which is why I suggested negotiating a deal to bring the project into your firm. You can also use It to build some more cred there.

If this was an addition I'd say knock yourself out. A whole house? Better think about it long and hard, and not just from your own PoV. This is a service industry.

Sep 25, 13 11:44 am

On the job training is great, but not at your client's expense. If your abilities are not up to the task (seemingly by your own admission) you are not providing a service but rather a disservice.

First order of business is to clear what you are doing with your employer.  Some are real touchy (potential liability, etc.) and some are supportive.  If yours is the supportive kind, you can then use them as a bit of a mentor.  Hopefully, you have that kind of rapport.  If the employer says no, then you have another decision to make.

Realistically, all on-the-job-training gets paid for by a client or customer.  True in any profession.  I'm assuming you're not going to screw things up so bad that you ruin their or your lives.  If you are halfway to a Masters, I would certainly assume you are competent to do what plenty of "designers" are doing already with absolutely no formal education or training.  If not, then it doesn't say much for the architecture program you are in.

Sep 26, 13 1:14 pm

if your potential clients are aware of your lack of experience, i'd say go for it.  don't do it for free because i've been told by countless people family/friends will never realize how valuable your work is unless they're paying for it.  When the time comes and the contractor decides to change things you designed to make it "cheaper" (easier) the client will not be as easily swayed.  

Also, get a signed contract with the client, even if they're friends of yours... I've heard plenty of horror stories about people getting ripped off by close friends and family, where you get to pick between not getting paid or ruining your relationship.

I'd suggest letting your boss know of your intentions, and maybe see if you can get him to mentor you a bit as you go through the process.  Maybe enter some kind of agreement with him like others have suggested, where its your project, but you do it through the firm?

to me this sounds like a great place to get experience.  you might pull some long nights and not be able bill every hour, but it'll definitely be worth it for you.

Sep 26, 13 9:00 pm
won and done williams

Whatever you do, don't think you are doing him a favor by providing design services with no experience. It's the other way around - he's doing you a favor offering you the project.

This should be posted on the walls of all architecture schools throughout the land. Unfortunately, knowing one's limitations is only learned through experience.

Sep 27, 13 12:56 pm

My favorite college posting was over the toilet paper dispenser. It said:

RISD Diplomas. Take several, one is useless.

Sep 27, 13 1:31 pm

Thanks everyone for the responses. I have already graduated by the way with my Master's, not halfway through just to be more clear. I have confidence that I can absolutely help my friends design a home, layout drawings, give them 3d renderings and the works. It is all of the business side(bldg dept, contractors, engineers, contracts,etc) that I question just because I haven't gotten into a lot of that in my work experience.

I have let them know of my situation with their requests and given them a rough summary of all of your replies. I will think more about this as they do not plan on getting something until Spring. 

Perhaps by then I will have a better idea of what I want to do. I do agree that this could be a huge confidence/portfolio/career builder but there certainly is a large risk as well.

Oct 3, 13 8:53 pm

Good start - serve the client.

I suggest making a very specific list of the responsibilities that need to be covered and strategizing how you are going to do them and how you are going to cover the ones you can't or don't feel comfortable doing.

The goal is being able to provide a complete professional service. For example, I routinely use an expediter for all required filings because I don't have the patience required for navigating municipal bureaucracy and absolutely hate doing it.

The key to consultants is finding good ones, which is as much a matter of trial and error as it is of personality and luck. In any case, should you take this on you must take the lead and be responsible for coordinating and seeing that all consultants perform as required.

With a well thought out plan you should be able to assure the client that the required responsibilities are under control by demonstrating preparation and confidence.

Please keep us apprised of the situation and how it progresses. Good luck --

Oct 3, 13 10:41 pm

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