Inside the Project Team: Consultants

Many clients who come to an architect for a custom home are doing so for the first time. The process of conceiving a design, creating construction documents, and building the house can seem daunting and unfamiliar to many people. One aspect of design that some clients might be unfamiliar with is the architect’s use of consultants such as civil and structural engineers or landscape architects.

The construction of a building, even a relatively small one such as a single-family house, is a complex process that is subject to a variety of laws, regulations, and building codes, and requires a high degree of expertise across a breadth of knowledge. An architect helps to control this complexity by working alongside consultants who have specialized knowledge in one or more subject fields necessary to bring the project to completion. A bit like the conductor of an orchestra, the architect relies on consultants’ professional knowledge within their field of expertise, and coordinates the work of all members of the design team to ensure that each specialist’s work fits together to create a successful project!

While the requirements for each project are different, the most frequent consultants for an architect to work with on custom residential projects are civil engineers, structural engineers, and landscape architects.

Civil engineering for residential architecture deals primarily with the disturbance of the earth. This can take several forms, such as excavations for foundations or basements, site grading to ensure proper drainage, creation of structures such as rain gardens or cisterns to control and manage rainfall and runoff after storms, and the design and installation of septic systems. In some areas, such as the Critical Area of the Chesapeake Bay (all land within 1,000 feet of the shoreline of tidal or nontidal waters), extensive regulations govern the amount of disturbance allowed, the amount of lot coverage or impervious surface allowed on a lot, and the amount of forest coverage than can be removed. Placement of septic systems and wells, where required, must also conform to health department and other regulations. Civil engineers work with architects to design all of these systems, as well as connections to underground utilities such as public water, sewer, and natural gas.

Structural engineering addresses the design of structural members such as beams, columns, and foundations. Engineers calculate the loads from the structure’s own weight as well as applied loads such as snow, wind, or people and furnishings within the structure. Requirements for the strength of members and the amount of deflection that is acceptable are set by building code and the architect, and the engineer designs the structural system to meet the project requirements. While the structural engineer’s work is usually covered up and hidden from view in the completed building, properly designed structural systems ensure the house’s safety, longevity, and performance.

Landscape architects work closely with the architect and the civil engineer, since their work also addresses the site. The landscape architect is responsible for the design of the outdoor elements of a project, which might include plant selection and layout, the design of hardscape areas such as patios, walks, and site stairs, and designing other outdoor amenities such as swimming pools, piers, or tennis courts. They have expertise in plants that grow well in the project’s climate, and can recommend planting methods, bed preparation, and maintenance programs to help ensure successful growth.

As a microcosm of our specialized world, the design and construction field benefits from teams of professionals bringing their expertise together to address the multitude of factors that contribute to the successful realization of a projects. Engineers and landscape architects apply their talents and experience across a variety of fields to architectural projects, helping to achieve the best outcome for each project!

Written by Alan Cook, LEED AP, Associate
Alan’s architectural designs are infused with an interdisciplinary perspective gained over two decades in the field. His broad experience and passion for environmental design, historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and commercial projects enhance every residential commission. To help clients create beautiful homes that exceed expectations, Alan relishes the complexities that translate aspirations and vision into a unified result. A graduate of the University of Colorado, Alan also holds a Master of Architecture from Syracuse University School of Architecture. He has worked with Purple Cherry since 2014. Outside of the office, Alan serves on the board of Girls on The Run Greater Chesapeake.

Architecture & Interiors