Who to Hire First? An Architect vs. Construction Manager

When deciding to move forward with a complex commercial construction project, who should you hire first? Should you start with an architect? Or is hiring a construction manager the first step?

The answer is simple: yes. In an ideal world, both the architect and construction manager work closely together from the onset of a construction project. The benefits of collaboration among both parties are far reaching and will help to minimize project delays and scope creep.

Here, we’ll define the role of an architect vs. construction manager and detail the benefits of bringing both of them to the table together.

What is an Architect’s Role?

A commercial architect is responsible for developing a building design that aligns with the project owner’s vision and goals. Their responsibility is to work with the project owner to extrapolate their expectations and transform them into technical schematic drawings, floor plans, and direction for those constructing the facility. 

They’ll take into consideration square footage, the building’s interior and exterior appearance, features, finishes, materials, and more to develop construction documents and put all the pieces of the puzzle together. 

Learn More → Architectural Services

What is a Construction Manager’s Role?

The construction manager provides many pre-construction services that, when aligned with the architect’s services, helps a project to go smoothly. In the event a project is adding on to or renovating an existing structure, they’ll perform an existing condition and constructability analysis which is vital when merging old and new. They also coordinate scheduling, phasing, and logistics, as well as bid packages, material procurement, and subcontractors.

Since construction manager’s have “boots on the ground” at construction sites, they bring a first-hand perspective to the design process. They help the architect and project owner understand various design implications and ask questions to bring clarity and potential cost savings. 

Learn More → Construction Management Services

There’s No Substitute for Experience

Whether or not you decide to hire both an architect and construction manager at the same time, it’s critical that each is specialized in your industry and has experience planning and executing projects similar to yours.

Unlike most residential construction projects, commercial structures have a vast array of specialized requirements based on their industries. A hospital’s regulatory considerations, equipment, and structural needs vary widely from those for an office building, jail, school, or manufacturing facility, for example. 

A construction manager who specializes in a given industry also understands associated costs for items that might be outlined in an architectural drawing. Since a construction manager regularly puts together bid packages for similar industries,  they’ll have insights into real-time cost data regarding design specifications.


For complex commercial construction projects, there’s no substitute for collaboration. When an experienced construction manager and architect sit down together at the very beginning of a project, there’s another set of eyes and ears to ensure every detail is covered and being incorporated into documents

There’s something to be said about relationship building early on in the process. Engaging experts from both sides — design and execution — sets a project up for success from the start, creating efficiencies and starting a project off on the right foot. Building rapport, trust, and accountability makes the entire process much more enjoyable by minimizing potential conflicts and may even mitigate litigation down the road.

Realistic Timelines

Collaboration during the design phase helps ensure that production schedules are as accurate as possible, minimizing costly delays. For example, an architect might specify the use of detention-grade doors and windows that comply with the appropriate level of security in a jail. These requirements may be considered standard in the architect’s view, and they likely are. 

However, because the construction manager has recent experience procuring those components, they’ll know that the lead time might now be two months longer than it was a year ago due to supply chain disruptions. Because the construction manager has worked closely with construction crews every day on similar projects, they’ll be aware of those kinds of potential issues.

Realistic Expectations and Fewer Change Orders

Imagine a designer recommends Terrazzo tile during a design meeting. Both the architect and construction manager can provide insights into how costly it will be compared to another type of flooring and also speak to its value, durability, and low maintenance.

Tile selection seems simple and straightforward enough, but there are many more questions that need answers beyond that. Is the tile only on the floor and base? Does it go half way up the wall or all the way to the ceiling? It’s the project owner’s expectations that matter in the end. It’s a construction manager’s job to draw out the details and ensure they are clearly understood and documented in the planning phase.

Resolving such a seemingly minor conflict will either require that the project owner concede their wishes or halt work to get it done right. Reordering the materials and reworking the job will require a costly change order, added labor, and delays. 

Cost Savings

Fewer change orders and streamlined processes help to keep a project on time and on budget. One of the biggest problems that project owners encounter when building a facility is project scope creep; inch by inch, the costs keep climbing.

One change order likely won’t break the bank, but if it happens repeatedly because of miscommunication on the front end, the project costs will escalate and tensions will rise. Transparent communication on all sides is imperative from the start. In commercial construction, seemingly small changes can have a big impact and quickly erode a project’s contingency budget.

If you want the best possible outcome for your project, it’s important to put the best possible team together out of the gate. If you’re a project owner, it’s in your best interest to insist that the architect and construction manager work side-by-side at every single meeting. 

If you’re just beginning the process, it’s best to consult with a construction manager first to aid in selecting an experienced architect and design partner. If you’ve already connected with an architect, it’s not too late to bring on a qualified commercial construction management partner. 

Contact the experts at The Samuels Group to talk through your project, big or small. We’re dedicated to collaborative relationship building and can help you navigate next steps. Be sure to download our helpful guide below with additional items to consider when building your team.

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