Who does What?
In a typical construction project there are four parties: Owner, Architect, Contractor and the City. Each will have a defined role; the Owner has a wish list, a budget and a time-frame. The Architect's job is to take those three criteria and draw them in such a way that the City can approve the drawings for the Contractor to build.
Do I need a Permit?
Short answer, Yes.
Long answer; the concept behind building permits is to protect life-safety and welfare, not necessarily your own, but your neighbor's as well. This is what drives the Permit process and everything about building codes. They're designed to keep us all safe. The city's FAQ page for permits is here.
My contractor says I need "plans", is that what you do?
Yes, that's what we do. Contractors are licensed by the state to follow instructions (drawings) created by licensed Architects. Many home owners call Contractors when they want to do something to their house, the Contractor may be able to give you a general idea of costs, time and feasibility, but they usually will ask for a set of plans to follow. That's where the Architect comes in. We give them the exact set of instructions on how to build for you.
What does the Architect do?
Lets take a master suite addition as an example:
Discuss your wishes, hopes & dreams and then compare those to your budget, schedule and building codes.
Measure the existing house "as-built" and input that into the computer (CAD).
Create "Schematic Designs" to accomplish the stated goals, rough sketches overlayed on the As-Builts so we can all see what the big moves are, and where rooms should go, how they flow etc...
Refine the preferred scheme into "Design Development", this is where windows and doors are added, kitchens fleshed out and bathrooms made great.
"Construction Documents" is the final phase of drawing, where all the details for the builder and City are added, also structural engineering and any other required consultants do their work.
Everything gets submitted to the city for "Plan Check". After some amount of time, the plans come back with "Corrections", we make those and then meet with the plan checker to review. Once approved...
The approved plans go from us to your Contractor, who pulls the permit by also showing their business license, proof of insurance and state Contractor's License.
They build, we periodically "Observe" the work to verify that it conforms with the plans and answer their questions when things come up.
You move in.
How long does it take?
We try not to rush the design process. Its MUCH cheaper to move lines on the computer than to move walls later on. That said, its normally 2-4 months for design and documentation, then another two months for the city process. A new home could be about 6-8 months from beginning to first shovels.
A bit about what Architects do...
First time building, remodeling or expanding a home? You'll probably have a zilion questions - lets try and answer a few:
How much does it cost?
Our fees are generally based on two factors; area of work and complexity of project. We will also work hourly, but find that's for pretty special cases generally involving previous unpermitted work.
Who else is involved?
That'll depend on what you're asking for, and where, but here are the key players:
Structural Engineer: does the math to keep the building standing during the "big one". We sometimes perform this in-house and sometimes use a consultant depending on scope of work and timeframe.
Geotechnical Engineer: will come take samples of soil where the construction is proposed and have the soil analyzed in a lab. This report must be approved by the city, then it goes to the structural engineer as the basis for their calculations about how the buildign should be founded to the earth. May or may not be required.
Civil Engineer: normally the same person or firm as the structural engineer, civil engineers design earth related improvements such as retaining walls, driveways and storm-water improvements.
Surveyor: will come produce a survey showing the exact location of features on the property. Sometimes required to show plan checkers if there are old permitted things which wouldnt be legal anymore, or for sloping sites to help us get the number of steps right, or to determine the buildable area within LA's Hillside Zoning areas.
Mechanical Engineer: will design the home's heating and air conditioning systems. This is normally done for single family homes by the installer. Per Green Building Code, we do have to perform an Energy Code Analysis as part of most plan-checks. This is done by an engineer consultant.
Electrical Engineer: also, mostly non-existant for single family homes. Mostly the licensed electrician will walk through with the owner and discuss what should go where. We will normally advice and/or produce drawings about where we want lights.