What Architects Do & How They Can Save You Money

I was reading a report a few weeks ago and came across a surprise. I found the result of a survey about architects. I was aware that most people think of architectural services as expensive, so that would not surprise me. I also thought I knew that most people are vague on what exactly we do, but I was not prepared for the extent of the vagueness. Here is an extract from that survey:

According to the shocking results of a new survey undertaken by architectsjournal.co.uk who surveyed 2,031 adults, people don’t know what architects do.

72% are unaware that architects apply for planning permission

79% don’t know architects ensure buildings comply with health and safety legislation

86% have no idea architects select, negotiate with, and manage contractors

20% are unaware architects prepare construction drawings

9% DO understand architects control site budgets

15% don’t know that architects design buildings

33.3% of over 55s were aware that architects prepare planning permissions, whereas: 14% of 18-24s were aware that architects prepare planning permissions

20% of young adults were aware that architects handle building control certificates and guarantees

Worse yet, most people are unaware of the ways in which an architect’s service saves money, both in the short and long term. So let’s first clarify what architects do, then we’ll look at the possibility of savings.



An Architect

Visits the proposed sites and points out the benefits and problems of each site and advises on your selection for the purpose you have in mind

Advises on the need for planning approvals and makes the submissions on your behalf

If necessary, appears before the Planning Authority on your behalf



An Architect

Separates the necessary from the unnecessary, the needs from the wants

Helps you clarify the project’s objectives and clarify the project vision

May suggest alternative ways to achieve the project objectives

Helps you relate your Budget to the Scope of Work



An Architect

Helps you develop a Brief that defines the project, including the space requirements, the budget and the timetable

Develops floor plans and strategies for using the site for your approval

Prepares images of the proposed design for your agreement

After agreement of the design, produces working drawings and specifications for construction

Coordinates the development of structural, electrical and mechanical engineering drawings and specifications

Submits documents for a Building Permit and guides the application to approval



An Architect

Helps you choose a list of competent builders and invites them to compete for your work

Issues and receives bid documents, analyses the submissions and advises on a choice

Prepares a Contract for signature

Helps you get the builder started




An Architect

Acts as your representative in the administration of the Contract

Visits the site to inspect and approve the work

Agree changes and associated costs

Prepares Payment Certificates and keeps a record of the Contract finances

 Resolves conflicts on site




An Architect

Inspects the work and accepts it on your behalf

Prepares a Punch List6 of minor incomplete works

Prepares a Final Account for agreement with the builder and authorizes payment of the Contract balance, except for the agreed Hold-back amount

Monitors the completion of the Punch List and the payment of the Final Payment

Let’s agree that architect’s fees are significant, although it seldom exceeds 10% of the cost of the project, in most cases less than a realtor’s commission or the builder’s mark-up. Yet an architect’s service may last years.  But this is not an attempt to justify the cost of service, but to discuss the costs an owner bears in the development of a project, and how those costs may be reduced by an architect’s service.


First of all, what are the alternatives to an architect’s service in the completion of a project?

The Ministry of Housing and National Insurance sells pre-drawn plans for a number of small houses. A range of developer’s housing designed and built with initial cost as the primary concern.

Basic documents primarily meant for getting a Building Permit and for agreeing a price with a builder.

The altering of pre-designed houses to meet the Bahamas Building Code. Most are designed for other climatic conditions.

As outlined above. 

Each of these services has its own advantage, but the main reason for their popularity is the relatively low up-front cost. Unfortunately, the low up-front cost is most often responsible for the costly confusion on site, disagreements with the builders, large cost over-runs and high operational costs.


The staged process of the architect’s service is designed to encourage the decisions that affect the final cost of the project at a time when other decisions are still easy to make.

The process begins with determining the sizes and configuration of spaces and their relationship to the site. This allows the first test of the Budget.

The second stage allows the choices of the construction system, the quality of finishes and the need for the various building services. The “look” of the project is confirmed at this time as well. This allows the second test of the Budget and for any necessary adjustments.

The third stage converts the decisions made in the previous two stages to be converted to Construction Documents, a set of instructions to the builder which are also used for getting a Building Permit and pricing. 

The Tender process compares competitive bids and recommends a builder. Even at this time there is often an opportunity to make adjustments to the cost of the works by negotiating with the builder. The completeness of the documents provides a proper basis for negotiations.

Finally, during the administration of the Building Contract, the architect keeps a record of cost-related items that differ from the contract, and represents the Owner in negotiations with the builder.

These are cost-related devices built into the service and we believe result in savings in both the short and long term. However they are not the most significant sources of savings offered by the architect’s service. The most significant savings result from the design process itself. Here are a few examples.

An investigation of the site may reveal problems with foundations, difficulties with utility connections or unsavory conditions in the area. It might also reveal that the zoning for the site may be a problem for your project.

The most important area of design is the development of strategies to address the specifics of climate. In the Bahamas, for example, the two most important aspects of climate are the sun and the breezes. In the morning the sun brightens up the environment and is welcome most of the year. At mid-day it is warm and bright and needs to be shaded. In the afternoon the sun is hot and needs to be blocked or heavily shaded. 

How does this affect buildings?

Simply put, the energy used in buildings is largely used to create comfort conditions, and the conditions that must be “cured” are largely those created by extreme heat loads, mostly caused by the direct penetration of the sun, and the absence of the cooling breezes that come from the south-east. In short, the way the sun’s access is manipulated determines the cost of your power. The way the breezes flow across interior spaces determines the “coolness” of the space. And since the power bill will always come, the way you handle the sun and wind will affect the cost of operating your building forever. It is therefore crucially important that the sun and breezes are a part of the design process. 

The second aspect of the Bahamian climate involves the handling of large volumes of rainwater, whether on the roof or on the ground. Again, proper attention to the details of the site during the design process and to the detailing of the building is an important cost-saving effort.

The third aspect of climatic design is the choice of materials. Selection of materials based upon cost does not, for example, address the natural deterioration of some materials in the salt-laden environment of the Bahamas. The selection of materials determines both the regular maintenance and the cost of replacement over the years.

Clearly, there are other savings possibilities, but these suggest that the use of an architect is the best way to save money, to arrive at the most economical and maintenance-free projects and to care for the built environment.


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Traditional Elegance

Old Fort Bay is one of New Providence’s most sought-after gated retreats. A young Bahamian couple, a real estate executive and a marine equipment supplier, have built their dream house on a canal-front lot in Old Fort Bay, a house that has been described as a rare example of “traditional elegance”. Having been raised with a love for traditional Bahamian architecture, they instructed Patrick Rahming & Associates to design them a house that demonstrated the natural elegance, the climatic appropriateness and the energy efficiency of the old homes on Green Turtle Cay, Governor’s Harbour and Sears Addition, but with the clean lines and modern facilities that would make their investment as “today” as them.

The site was a flat one, raised several feet above the canal, and looking across the waterway to the northern section of Old Fort Bay. And while there were other houses in the area, the selection of the site had been their dream of raising a family on the water in a quiet, sophisticated area, and the real estate executive knew just the right area in which to live.

The two-storey house sits lightly on the site, the main building raised above the ground, both for ventilation and to avoid flooding damage (both traditions in the Bahamas). The interior is organized to reflect the family’s levels of privacy, with the more public areas on the Ground Floor, the private bedroom area on the Upper Floor and the service areas organized around the Garage.

The entrance is up wide steps to an Entrance Porch, the traditional Bahamian invitation, then into the open plan interior, where, except for the Study and a Guest Room, it is completely open, inviting the southeast breezes. Here, the Living, Dining and Kitchen areas share a high ceiling, which has invited the not-unexpected ceiling fans, and is lit by recessed lighting at night and large windows during the day. Hurricane resistant French doors lead out to the Verandah, which overlooks an inviting swimming pool and the waterfront. The upper level of the Verandah serves the Master Bedroom, and enjoys an even more dramatic view across the channel.

The exterior of the house is clad with low-maintenance Hardee-plank on concrete blocks, with cedar shingles on the roof, and the house is painted in traditional Bahamian pastels. The house is designed to be hurricane resistant, with impact windows and doors, operable shutters and the traditional high roof pitch. It is also fully air conditioned and wired for the technology of today.

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The Language of Architecture

Every building is not architecture, just as everything written is not poetry. Like art, architecture is a form of communication, and the extent to which its communication is enriched by aesthetic principles is what separates the constructed world into what in written language would be gibberish, journalism, prose or poetry.

Gibberish is created when the imagery, context, forms and rhythms of architecture are used without sensitivity, as when the artist simply is not fluent in the language, or when the constructed world is responding to purely personal needs. What is communicated is either incomprehensible, or understood only by “insiders”.

Journalism’s message is the story of the moment. The buildings may speak well for the time being, but lack the aesthetic depth to have relevance tomorrow. They pay little attention to the honoring of such social concerns as history, tradition and innovation, and are not part of the conversation about either the past or the future.

There are examples in the built environment where the individual elements or buildings are not special, but by common or repeated use, their silhouette against the sky, the sound of the activity within or some other unique feature, they communicate something special. This is the equivalent of prose, and may be deliberate or accidental, but almost always the result of common use. Imagine the communicative power the phrase “Forward, Upward, Onward, Together” has developed for this community, despite the ordinariness of the words.

Architecture, like poetry, must communicate at many different levels, and it is the architect’s job to enhance that communication. The purpose of the work must be clear – not just its immediate utilitarian purpose, but its social and historical purpose. It must communicate respect for its context, since it will always be “read” by human senses in the context of its surroundings. It must communicate its adherence to aesthetic principles – principles of scale, form, texture etc. And it must tell the story of its creators. Like poetry, architecture must both inspire and excite. That is, architecture is built poetry.

Patrick Rahming

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The Case For Alternative Energy- A Primer

Energy is on everybody’s mind these days. Governments around the world are being forced by the increasing cost of energy generation to seek alternative technologies for the delivery of public utility power. Consumers, on the other hand, are forced by the rising utility bills to look more carefully at how they use the energy they pay for. At both levels, there is a new consciousness of the increasing cost of the limited supply of fossil fuels, the most prevalent fuel sources in use, both the direct and the indirect costs.  That is, both the financial cost and the environmental cost. Financially, the producers of oil, gas and coal respond to the dwindling reserves and increased regulation with increased costs, costs passed directly to the consumer, with the expected increases for the management of the passing on process, so that a dollar’s increase in the cost of a barrel of oil becomes many dollars more at the pump. The increase also means an increase in the cost of generating power, which becomes a greater increase at the electricity meter. Environmentally, access to fossil fuels requires massive disruption of the fragile ecosystems on the planet, both by physical disruption and by the pollution of the air we breathe. The very existence of life on the planet is threatened, as it warms up and our atmospheric systems behave in strange and unfamiliar ways.

These concerns have led to unprecedented levels of cooperation between nations, as they pursue alternative ways to avoid the continued use of fossil fuels and to reduce their need for the generation of power to sustain their lifestyles. Of course, those nations must also promise their constituents that the new technologies are less threatening than the present ones. So while nuclear power, which delivers clean, efficient power through controlled nuclear reaction, has been attractive to some, concerns about public safety and the problems of disposal of nuclear waste have made most countries look elsewhere for their power generation alternatives. Most have settled on the use of the sun, the wind and water currents as the potential sources, now and increasingly in the future. Of course, there are a multitude of other possibilities for more convenient or cheaper power generation, yet undeveloped, especially those based upon technologies developed for space travel, but those three above have the stage for the present.

The Sun
Generating electrical power using the sun is referred to as photovoltaic power. Basically, sensitive cells,  exposed to the sun, are excited by the sunlight and generate a form of electrical power. The power it produces is the same as that found in the battery of a car – direct current. Unfortunately, direct current is not the kind of current generally used in buildings, primarily because it is difficult to distribute over long runs without losing power. Buildings use the more “friendly” alternating power, which can be distributed easily and without significant loss. So the sun-generated direct current is fed through an “inverter” which transforms it into alternating current, which is then more useful to the consumer. (There are appliances designed to use direct current, however most consumers need alternating power.) This process of direct current to inverter to consumer, however, would only work while the sun was exciting the cells on the roof, and would be useless at night, or during overcast days, so to store the power, batteries similar to the car battery are placed between the solar panel and the inverter. There the power is stored until needed, then fed to the inverter and the building systems. Of course, it is possible to have a system without the batteries, which reverts to the grid when there is no solar power available. Which system is used is a matter of circumstance.

The wind is used to generate power by turning a coil inside a magnetic field, usually using a windmill. Like the photovoltaic generation, direct current is produced, which is stored in batteries and passed through an inverter for building use. Windmills are more dependent on windspeeds , which can vary more by location than the sun, and therefore wind generators are less popular than photovoltaic generators. However, in remote locations they can be very effective.

Water Currents
The most popular use of currents has been in use for centuries. Using a waterfall to turn turbines to create electricity is the principle behind what is known as hydro-electric power. Like the other systems, direct current is produced and stored, converted and fed to the consumer. However, in recent years there have been significant progress in the use of ocean and river currents as well as tidal movement as the force behind the movement of turbines, and the research is expected to continue.

The other side of the energy equation is the reduction of the need for power. This must be driven by the consumer, whose energy consciousness is demonstrated in their choices in the design of building fabric, in the use of energy-stingy appliances and in the use of alternative technologies for both the generation of power and for achieving the benefits usually gotten through the use of grid power. Here, lifestyle choices replace and reduce public utility use with personal alternatives, resulting in an overall reduction in the need for Government to generate power.

This reduction of the nation’s “energy footprint” is an international objective, made possible only if the consumer takes advantage of the wide range of alternative technologies available today, and likely to be available in the future. This in turn requires that the consumer educates himself or herself about the systems and appliances available, and becomes sensitive to their own “energy footprint”. 

Patrick Rahming

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The Awesome Task of Being a Window

When a design client discusses the selection of a window type, there are usually only two considerations. They want to know that it fits the style of the house and how it will react to hurricanes. This is a good beginning of the conversation, but it is only the beginning. To choose a window design, one must first be aware of the awesome job the window is called to do if the building is to function well. In fact, the window must be the busiest element in the functioning of the building.

Light and Air
While we may take it for granted, the window’s role as the “hole in the wall” that lets in light and air is its primary function. The size, shape and extent of the opening are strong determinants of the character of the interior of the building. Further, light, fresh air and ventilation are all needed for physical and psychological comfort conditions and to reduce the reliance on technology.

Views are important for several reasons. First, there is a need for the eye to focus on the distance to relax, otherwise fatigue is a problem. Secondly, the sense of security is enhanced by being able to see outside. Thirdly, pleasant views enhance the experience of the building’s occupants and users.

The window must be designed so that burglars, insects and other unwanted visitors are kept out.

It may seem contradictory, but the window, having invited the sun’s light  in, must protect the building’s interior from direct sunlight. It must therefore provide shade. While the sunlight has many benefits, direct exposure to the sun increases the heat levels on the interior, making occupants uncomfortable. In our zone, this is worst on the afternoon and early evening, as the sun gets low above an already-heated landscape, making the west and south exposures most vulnerable, and increasing the load for fans and air conditioners.

Bad Weather
The window, in normal times, must keep light rain out, especially during the “rainy season”. During storm weather, it must also be able to keep wind-driven rain and debris out as well as the wind itself, which might destroy the building from the interior or help lift the roof to expose the building interior. During hurricanes, the window must be able to withstand the storm’s ability to “suck” it out of its opening, as the fast-moving wind creates a vacuum at the surface.

Finally, the window must perform all of these functions while looking good. It must find ways to be stylish as styles change, while still being good at what it must do. New materials, colours and methods of operation help the designer create innovative window designs.

As you can see, being a window is an awesome task, one most often not appreciated. Unfortunately, the penalty for ignoring or not being aware of the many jobs a window does is extremely high: the high cost of power to provide air conditioning to cool and ventilate the building; the high cost of window dressings to provide shade (AFTER the heat is already inside); the high cost of security systems to dissuade intruders; and the high cost of hurricane protection. So from now on, when you speak of windows, speak with great respect. They are there to serve you, and they work really hard at it.

Patrick A. Rahming


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