An Architectural Approach

All retailers must face the day when they need to renovate or update their stores. While the process may seem straightforward, it actually isn’t.

First, you must develop a concept or “brand” for the store that will attract customers, make it easier for them to purchase your product, and communicate a personal message. Second, retailers have to find capable people who can help shape a retailer’s unique vision and make that vision a reality. Finally, retailers need competent people in place to make the change as cost-efficient as possible while providing the least amount of disruption to a retail operation—and the retailer must be diligent about ensuring that the work is being done properly.

To do this, retailers need the help of competent professionals who are skilled in design and project management—namely, architects and interior designers.

Whom to hire? Retailers should hire a firm they feel comfortable with and be sure the firm has the experience and skills to do the job, says Lawrence Cook, FAIA, of Lawrence Cook Associates, a Falls Church, Va., architectural firm. Cook suggests that operators of small retail stores consider smaller firms, those that employ from one to 15 people.

Although it’s important to hire someone familiar with retail design, Cook notes that in some cases, “some of the best architects are generalists.” But he also says, “Experience in the design of casework would probably be a significant factor.”

It’s also important to choose an architect who has a clear understanding of what the retailer wants done, says Jerry Conduff, an associate at Boora Architects, Portland, Ore.

“Find somebody who is listening to what your needs are and who will expand upon those needs with good input and mission statements,” Conduff says. “The client and architect should build a relationship where they work as a team and work together to build a vision.”

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recommends that owners interview three to five architectural firms before choosing an architect.

In most cases the architectural firm will handle all phases of the design and construction process, Cook says. The architect will not only develop a design for the store but also hire the design engineers and manage the project from start to finish, including helping the owner select a general contractor.

Getting with the program. Once an architect is hired, the next step is to develop a program and set the budget, Cook says. “Programming” consists of developing an understanding of the client’s needs. The architect’s main goals are to understand what types of spaces the retailer needs in his building, how they relate to one another, and what general characteristics each space must have. This information is normally in written form, though it can consist of small symbolic drawings such as bubble diagrams, used to show the spatial relationships among building areas. During the programming phase, the architect also will talk with the retailer about image and style issues.

Next, the parameters of the job must be defined, including how it is to be completed, whether the store will have to be closed for a period of time or can remain open during construction, and whether some renovation work will be done off site and installed. The budget also is determined during this process.

Budgeting the project. In most cases, Cook says, the architect gets a retainer of 2% to 5% of his compensation before he begins, after which he is paid monthly based on how much of the project is completed. Payment can be based on a fixed amount, percentage-based, time-based, or (usually) a combination of all three, Cook says.

The architect traditionally acts as the project manager and the owner’s representative on a project. This means that compensation goes to the architect, who then distributes payments to his team of design engineers.

The architect is responsible for designing the building in accordance with building codes. Legally, the owner has to apply for and obtain a permit, but under most agreements, the architect does the legwork for the owner, who simply signs the application and goes through the process.

“Some architects today only do the design,” Cook says. “We recommend against doing this. Nine times out of 10 it would end up costing the owner more in time and money than it would to administer the construction contract.”

Some of the costs will be unknown since at this point bidding for contractors hasn’t begun. “Whatever the budget is, there is usually a bid contingency established, because the architect only estimates what the bid normally is,” Cook says. “In fact [the architect] doesn’t control the bid. It’s controlled by the sum of all the players. The architect is only trying to advise the owner on what that cost might be.”

AIA contracts. All details of the job will be spelled out on AIA contracts that both parties sign. There are several “families” of AIA contracts, each geared to either a type of job or a phase of the job. Cook says the type of contract for a store renovation normally will fall under the AIA B151 contract, commonly known as a “full service” or “general service” contract. It’s used for projects that are limited in scope and address services in five phases: schematic design, design development, construction documents, bidding and negotiation, and construction.

Cook also notes that there are contracts between the owner and contractor. Therefore, it’s most common for owners to sign two or more AIA contracts during a renovation—one or more with the architect and one with the contractor. An AIA A201 general conditions contract is the most common document used to specify the rights, responsibilities, and relationships of the owner, contractor, and architect.

“The contract spells out what the services are,” Cook says. “The owner should modify the contract to meet specific needs, the services they want to get.”

Adds Conduff, “The AIA contract presents a clear understanding of what the architect is providing. It’s pretty much in black and white what to expect from the architect. It puts the process down in writing. Clear communication is vital on both sides, from client to architect and architect to client. It truly is a partnership. AIA contracts provide guidelines to make sure things are not left undone. It’s a checklist for the architect.”

The design phase. Designing the project consists of three steps: schematic design, design development, and construction documents. The owner must approve each phase before moving to the next step. The design is based on the budget and program that have been set.

The schematic design is developed with the architect and owner working together on several different concepts for the project. The architect will return with several options and the pros and cons of each option. The architect will illustrate his ideas through drawings, models, or by using 3-D computer modeling.

Conduff prefers using models. “It’s the best way to communicate a physical environment without building it. It’s a lot cheaper to build it out on paper and see what it is before actually building it.”

Other things being considered in this phase are building code requirements, ADA requirements, and the selection of materials and systems (sprinklers, plumbing, electrical, etc.), all of which will affect the overall cost.

Once the schematic is approved, it’s time to go to the design-development phase of the project.

When an owner hires an architect, he also hires the architect’s consulting engineers. Sometimes these engineers are part of the architectural firm, but more often they are people with whom the architect has developed a relationship over the years. In this phase, the building structure and integrity of the building and systems are discussed in greater detail.

Next comes the construction document phase. Here the architect puts all the pieces together.

“It’s peculiar, because cost-wise it is the most expensive part of the services,” Cook says. “But it’s also the part that is done by the architect alone and with his consultants.”

When he’s finished, the architect will have blueprints and specifications (“specs”) in a book that can range from a quarter-inch to an inch in thickness, depending on the scope of the job. Copies are made for the owner, the building inspectors, contractors, and whomever else may need the documents. Cook says anywhere from three to 20 copies are made just to get a building permit.

Then comes selection of the contractor and subcontractors. There are several ways to do this, and the owner may or may not want to be involved. Bids from several contractors may be considered, or the architect may negotiate with a contractor based on past experiences with the firm as long the company meets specifications and budget requirements.

Construction administration. The architect, who normally serves as the owner’s representative and project manager, will oversee the construction and administer the project.

The architect first makes sure all the documents are included in the contracts before the owner signs with the contractor. A pre-construction meeting is held with all interested parties, to ensure common understanding and agreement, Cook says. Then construction begins. During construction, the architect and consulting engineers check progress on a regular basis.

Conduff says there should be regular deadlines written into the contract to help ensure that construction will be timely. “Throughout the process you set targets and milestones,” he says. “That process needs to happen throughout construction. [If something] has to be done within a certain day … it can be written in the contract that a penalty will apply if it isn’t done.”

Final changes and approvals. Cook advises owners that about 7% of construction costs should be set aside for “change orders”—unanticipated costs. “There are usually more change orders in remodeling because the building is already there and they don’t know what’s behind the walls,” Cook said. “It’s called concealed conditions.”

Local jurisdictions send out inspectors—fire, plumbing, code, etc.—to grant final approval. Usually the architect will assist the owner for a few months after the project is completed. If it’s a complicated project, Cook suggests that it might be prudent to pay for architect services for up to 12 months of “post-occupancy services.” Such service usually amounts to about 2% of total compensation. But in most cases, after the project is completed the architect’s work is done.

“We will be there through the moving in of merchandise and the store opening, and we’ll do follow-ups to see for ourselves what works and what doesn’t,” Conduff says. “The contractor will come back in and fix items after the project is complete [if the problem is] due to faulty equipment or installation. But typically, once the store is open, the architect’s role is over.”