In collaboration with you, we create architectural solutions that respond to your place in the world and enrich the activities of your life.

Since 1983, SALA has opened new possibilities through architectural design for clients and projects of every scale and sensibility, from a small bathroom remodel to large visitor centers. We see design as exploration. Our team of project architects and staff professionals work collaboratively with you to uncover ideas that contribute to the beauty and function of everything we create.

We customize our services to your project. Usually that includes creating design and construction drawings, but often extends much further—from developing a master site plan to creating furniture for that essential finishing touch. The results are always highly inventive, thoughtfully crafted, and intimately connected to the site and the lives of their users.


Our Process

In some situations, a brief consultation may be all that is needed. For larger and more complex projects, a phased approach to the process is more appropriate. Each project is unique, but the following steps outline the basic process.



Programming is a time for information gathering, a chance for us to listen, ask questions, and understand your preferences. Often, the process begins with your own creative daydreaming: gathering images from magazines, finding elements that appeal to you, and—most importantly—sharing your dreams for the project. You may choose to outline your family’s daily routines or write lists of necessities and nice-to-haves. Also, remember that the goal goes beyond just listing elements, but to explore and understand the underlying reasons behind those choices. The more you can tell us about your vision, the closer we can come to realizing it.

Thorough programming doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time, but it certainly requires more effort than simply listing rooms and features you want. When done right, it will give you clear criteria to evaluate our work and make it much more likely that your project will fulfill and exceed your expectations. The conversation that starts here is one that continues throughout our engagement, moving from larger, general concerns to smaller, more specific ones.

Before design starts, you will often need a site survey so that factors affecting the building can be analyzed—from orientation to sunlight to the location of views. If you are remodeling or building an addition, we also need to document what currently exists in the form of photos, measurements, and drawings. Even with original blueprints, some verification of what’s there will likely be needed.


Schematic Design: Sketching the Vision

Once you’ve decided what to build, design begins with a series of rough sketches. Known as schematic designs, these sketches capture the overall design by illustrating the approximate size and location of walls, windows, doors, and cabinets and the placement of the building on the site.

In this phase and throughout SALA’s process, our choices are guided by the unique context of your project: climate, geography, cultural heritage, budget, and the project’s impact on the environment and human health. By considering the whole, we can satisfy your goals in creative ways and ensure your home is thoughtfully and enduringly connected to its place. To this end, we merge a range of ideas—new and old, complex and elementary—to realize the greatest benefits for users and the planet. To benefit your project, SALA has architects trained in some of the most prevalent sustainable-design certification programs including LEED, MN GreenStar, and Green Built Home. A growing number of our projects have been certified by these programs.

Your architect will explore and discuss the designs with you using drawings and models. It’s vital that these schematic designs capture the essence of your project and that you and your architect agree about the direction. It’s much easier to make changes at this stage than when many hours have been spent working on construction documents—or even later when foundations have been poured.

While essential for estimating preliminary costs, schematic designs do not contain the detail required for construction. There are still many details to be established about your project and cost feedback at this point is very general. It’s difficult to predict market conditions, availability of materials, and other factors until your construction documents are complete and actual bids can be solicited.


Design Development: Refining the Design

Next, your architect will prepare more detailed floor plans, elevations, and cross-sections to illustrate all aspects of the design. These include interior and exterior materials and finishes, lighting, windows, and cabinets. Technical matters such as insulation, structural systems, and moisture protection must also be determined. Most every decision impacts another. For example, the depth of a structural element can affect the ceiling height of a room, light fixtures, and the amount of insulation in the ceiling. These in turn can affect compliance with building and energy codes.

When looking at these drawings and digital models, try to visualize yourself using the spaces. Do the traffic patterns flow well? Does each space serve its intended purpose? Do you like the appearance and the selected materials? Your architect will help you understand, navigate, and finalize these considerations before proceeding.


Construction Documents: Preparing the Drawings

Your architect will now set down on paper all the decisions made to this point. Working drawings, also called construction documents or blueprints, consist of both drawings and specifications. Drawings illustrate the quantities and relationships of all the project’s components. Specifications document the levels of quality to be met in materials and workmanship.

The contractor will use these documents to determine the actual construction cost and they will become part of your contract with the general contractor or builder. As a result, anything not contained in the documents is left to the contractor’s discretion, which could lead to additional charges for you. The more complete the documentation at this stage, the fewer problems during construction and the more accurate the bid price can be.

Hiring the Contractor: The Bidding Process

When it’s time to hire a contractor, your architect is an essential ally. Typically, you will ask two or three general contractors to bid the project based on the construction documents. As your architects, we are well positioned to coordinate this process — answering bidders’ questions, evaluating requests for substitutions, and analyzing the bids, which can be complex.

Another way to engage a contractor is to pre-select one early in the process and solicit their input as needed during design. Once construction documents are complete, your contractor will often obtain competitive bids from sub-contractors. This is common, particularly when contractors are busy. You get their early input, get them lined up on your schedule, and still have competitive prices for the majority of the project. While your architect may suggest potential contractors to interview and assist in a selection, the final choice is yours.


Construction: Realizing Your Project

Your architect’s involvement typically doesn’t end with construction documents. He or she will act as your representative by monitoring the contractor’s work for conformance with the working drawings and contract. Knowing the intent of the drawings is crucial to proper interpretation. An architect can assist the contractor by answering questions, observing the work on site, providing supplemental drawings, materials and samples, and reviewing requests for changes.

Architects can look out for your interests in other ways too, such as reviewing and approving the contractor’s applications for payment. The contractor has sole responsibility for construction methods, techniques, schedules, and procedures. In this complex process, your architect’s involvement helps smooth the transition from construction documents to a satisfying final project.

Levels of Service

When you hire an architect, you’re hiring a highly trained imagination, a person skilled in thinking three-dimensionally to envision the best solution. You’re paying for his or her professional expertise in defining your needs, creating construction documents to address them, coordinating with contractors, and ensuring the residence is built as specified.

In deciding the right level of architectural services, consider several factors: your project’s size and complexity, budget, and your own desired level of involvement. Each project is unique and each project architect works in a distinct way. Your architect’s fee will depend on the level of service you require.


The Fee

There are a number of ways to structure fees for a project. A common method is to pay a percentage of the construction cost, usually 10% to 18% depending on scope and the architect’s degree of involvement. Another method is hourly compensation for time spent by the architect and others. This method is most common for small projects, simple consultations, or in more complicated projects where the full scope may not be known in advance.

You may consider a combination of approaches to the fee, such as hourly charges through design development followed by a percentage of the construction cost to see the project to completion. Because of the relative complexity of small projects, fees may be proportionally higher than for projects with larger budgets. Travel for meetings or construction observation also impacts fees. You and your architect can discuss these approaches and determine the best course.

SALA uses standard AIA contract forms, which help define the responsibilities of both the architect and the owner and set out an agreement regarding scope of service and fees. They are also a good reference for you as the project unfolds.

Connecting with SALA

Your project will stand as a lasting legacy for your family, company or organization. For these once-in-a-lifetime ventures, SALA is a capable and committed partner.

Every collaboration begins with a conversation. Please contact us to learn more about our work, our philosophy and our award-winning team. We look forward to helping you start the journey.

Contact Us