When Does a Project Require an Architect or an Engineer?
A guide for convenience store, fast food and retail store owners.
For over 20 years, we’ve worked closely with clients to design and build c-stores, gas stations, car washes and retail structures (both free-standing and in strip malls). Being a fully integrated design, engineering and architectural firm, we offer all of these services under one roof.
One question we are commonly asked is: “Does my project require the input and signoff of an engineer alone, or do I require an architect as well?”
This is a great question. The simple answer is that there are some instances where an architect’s involvement is required by law – and other instances where an architect’s input will bring added value and expertise to a project that may demand visionary thinking around aesthetics and creative design.
Instances where architects are required by law.
Municipal and provincial authorities require that all buildings are professionally designed and approved to ensure uniform standards around safety, building code and structural integrity.
Both engineers and architects received extensive training in this area. Through their professional designations, they are granted the ability (and responsibility) to “sign off” (or “stamp”) on building design plans.
Generally speaking, an engineer can stamp the architectural design component for smaller structures, usually single-story. Most convenience stores, service station facilities and quick service restaurants have a relatively small footprint, and fall under this category. Larger retail spaces and multi-floor structures usually require the involvement of an architect.
The ‘Architects Act’, dictates that an architect must be retained any time architectural services are being provided on a building requiring an architect. Every province has different requirements. In Alberta, the following commercial buildings will require oversight (including stamping and sealing) by an architect:
Group A (assembly occupancy) restaurants
• 1-storey with a floor area greater than 300m2
• 2-storey with a floor area greater than 150m2 (per floor)
• 3-storey with a floor area greater than 100m2 (per floor)
Group E (mercantile/ business personal) retail stores/ offices
• 1-storey with a floor area greater than 500m2
• 2-storey with a floor area greater than 250m2 (per floor)
• 3-storey with a floor area greater than 165m2 (per floor)
As part of the approval process, local authorities responsible for reviewing and approving design applications for buildings will be looking to see that drawings have the proper sign-off. Ultimately, however, enforcement is the responsibility of the provincial architectural association and its members.
In cases where the architect or architectural firm is the primary consultants, they are responsible for providing overall project leadership and management. They engage the services of engineers, interior designers and planners, and help the client select other resources, such as geotechnical and survey consultants. They present design proposals to stakeholders, secure regulatory approvals, and protect client investment. Depending on client needs, they may be involved with site selection as well.
Like engineers, architects consider client needs and budget, as well as building codes, bylaws, material availability, and landscape. They plan how spaces will be used both inside and outside of the building(s).
Instances where an architect’s added knowledge is invaluable.
Whether a building’s size or structure requires an architect or not, architects can bring added value to projects of all configurations.
Architects are creative, visionary thinkers by nature (and by training). The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada does a great job of describing the value an architect brings to a project:
Perhaps, it would be best to describe architects as conductors who orchestrate and take the lead in reconciling all the goals for a building or other structure. Architects do this by providing solutions through the use of:
- artistic imagination and creative vision to design spaces where their ideas and techniques – represented through form, light, textures, materials, and colours – combine to fulfill our aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural needs;
- practical and technical knowledge to create spaces that are safe, efficient, sustainable, and meet economic needs; and
- interpersonal skills, psychological understanding and ethical practice to craft spaces that fulfill the complex, and sometimes conflicting, needs of clients, users, and the community.
Each project, no matter the size or scope of the building, begins with client consultation. An integrated engineering and architectural firm can quickly determine if a project would benefit from the guidance and vision an architect can bring to the project.
Here are five situations where an integrated firm will involve an architect on a smaller scale project:
1. Projects involving size alterations. For the most part retail chains, c-stores, quick service restaurant and retail fuel brands have an existing Design Standard that dictates the design of the interiors and exteriors. In most cases, a design and engineering firm will follow these designs, accounting for local code and bylaw, and site specifications.
Sometimes, the area or configuration of the site may require these plans to be adapted to meet a non-standard size that is smaller or larger than the Design Standard calls for. In these instances, an architect plays a key role in adapting the design in a way that fits the needs of the business from an operational and aesthetic perspective.
2. Change of use (occupancy classification) in an existing building. Sometimes, an existing space that was built for one purpose needs to be modified to accommodate an entirely different usage. A common example is when a tenant or owner wishes to change a building from a retail store (mercantile) to a restaurant (assembly occupancy). In such cases, an architect may be required to confirm that the existing building is still compliant with the building code concerning the new use.
3. Communities or developments with architectural controls. In many cases, an established brand will choose to move into a neighbourhood or development with Architectural Controls in place. Architectural Controls are strict guidelines that are intended to bring a certain look to the site (creating a distinct and uniform character). All businesses are required to adhere to these guidelines, which can dictate the types of exterior finishes and signage allowed. This is where an architect’s ability to think creatively and work collaboratively is invaluable.
4. Situations requiring public consultation or environmental impact assessments. Architects often play a key role in “selling their creative vision” to the public. In many cases, they are required to present a project for public or municipal review, solicit public feedback, and sometimes alter designs with that feedback in mind. In a similar vein, they will lead consultation sessions where the environmental impact of a development must be assessed.
5. Cases where a client wants the building to be truly unique and memorable. There is nothing an architect relishes more than a blank sheet of paper to work with. If you want your building to stand out from the rest, the right architect will make it shine, while ensuring it delivers on both form and function.
It is exciting to see ideas transformed into design, construction and occupancy. Architects are professional advisors that lead clients through the many steps in this process. consulting architects are experts at bringing ideas to reality!