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Originally published Sunday, March 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Living

Architect turns author to help us learn how to work together

In his book "How To Work with an Architect," Gerald Lee Morosco — an architect himself — offers practical advice for a successful project, whether it's designing and building a home or remodeling.

Hear the author

Gerald Lee Morosco, AIA, will speak at 10 a.m. March 28, in the Chapel at Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N. The lecture is co-sponsored by Historic Seattle and AIA Seattle. Tickets: $5 to $15. Register at or 206-622-6952.

There is nothing neutral about building a new home, much less restoring, renovating or expanding an older one. Invariably, owners wind up in passionate debates — in-depth discussions of lifestyles, expectations and economies.

If it's a remodel, the homeowners face the added inconveniences and discomfort of the transition period when the work is being done. And there never seems an end to the remarkable amount of last-minute decision-making about materials, finishes and the ever-increasing budget demands that sometimes force lesser choices.

The house-building and remodel adventures strain many a relationship. Add the other constants — the architect, the contractor and the subcontractors — and everything gets far more complicated.

What Gerald Lee Morosco sets out to show in his book, "How to Work with an Architect" (Gibbs Smith, $24.95) is that people can find success when they've done their homework, are able to identify their needs, and seek a design professional whom they can have confidence in and communicate with openly.

Morosco lays out some important explanations for the lay person because, he says, "most clients approach an architect with no prior experience or understanding of the complex process involved in building or remodeling a home, let alone the somewhat mysterious roles and responsibilities of the respective parties. Unfortunately, many architects approach the situation as business as usual, neglecting to take the time to carefully describe the process to their clients at the outset."

Morosco does this. He explains common terms architects use, the differences between architect, design professional, interior designer and decorator, for instance. In doing so, he builds a case for the value of a licensed architect over others. He explains how to find an architect and discusses the practicalities of selecting a contractor, developing a comprehensive contract and administering it. He also explains the structure of fees for services — the nitty-gritty that, while essential to know, is sometimes awkward to discuss.

Some of his most valuable contributions to those thinking about hiring an architect come in the form of a list of 20 questions for interviewing an architect to find the one firm that seems most suitable to your goals and whose creative energies are in accord with yours. Aside from the more obvious questions like asking for references and samples of the architect's work, Morosco suggests you talk about things like what the architect sees as the particular challenges of your project and how the architect will set priorities and make decisions during the process.

Morosco speaks from firsthand experience. Drawn to architecture during his boyhood and attracted to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, he apprenticed at The Taliesin Fellowship, Wright's innovative educational program where he "learned the art and craft of architecture by working on real projects that necessitated direct communication and contact with clients." He also credits "How to Build a House with an Architect" by John Milnes Baker, AIA, with inspiring him to be aware of how important it is to establish an informed relationship between residential client and architect.

A variety of examples from his own collaborations with clients in new construction and remodeling reveal an effort to enliven old spaces and expand them while acknowledging the style, forms and materials of the original.

"Our modern world offers much to deplete our energies but little to restore them. At their essence, the best homes, conceived out of those special relationships in which owner and architect are in concert together, afford a sense of sanctuary within a circumstance of beauty and become a grace upon the landscape."

Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and author of "The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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