Thanks to ongoing demand in Chinese markets as well as intermittent natural events like Hurricane Katrina, construction costs have increased dramatically in the past four years, and there's no plateau in sight. In response, developers and owners increasingly are relying on architects to keep costs under control. There are several critical points in the planning and construction of retail properties at which a design professional can identify cost savings. Familiarizing yourself with these milestones will ensure you're collaborating with architects in a cost-effective manner — and it will help you hire the appropriate architect in the first place.

Construction methodology and building materials differ from region to region, for instance. A knowledgeable architect will be armed with this site-specific knowledge, because it determines the most economical building system to deploy. For the design of Cascade Village, a 380,000-square-foot retail center in Bend, Ore., Perkowitz+Ruth Architects used indigenous basaltic stone as well as local tradesmen to stick to the budget — and the tight schedule.

Indeed, good design saves time. In retail, great architecture isn't successful unless it meets the requirements of tenants as well as governments. Design professionals familiar with retail space will recall their past tenant experiences to ensure they meet their needs now.

In addition, an architect who has worked with a city previously is typically more familiar with hot buttons and code requirements. If you hire a larger architectural firm for design services, consider retaining a local firm for that insider expertise.

In today's competitive retail landscape, communities and clients are seeking a design that local and regional patrons will embrace. Good design should be able to create a sense of place without busting the budget. During planning, for example, the designer establishes spaces for nodes of activity, which encourage vehicular and pedestrian movement into and around the site. To save on expense, architects will devote high-end stone and brick finishes, water features and landscaping to these focal points. Color creates visual interest without overusing expensive materials, as does opting for generic, rather than brand-name, materials.

But don't just quiz your architect. The key to controlling costs is to assemble a team that's equally dedicated to the task. Involve a contractor or construction cost estimator in the early schematic design stage; engage a structural engineer, too, to determine the most efficient structural system — the largest component of construction budgets.

Often, project teams can find creative and innovative solutions that reduce costs and maintain value. Some solutions may be simple, such as lowering the height of the parapets. Other solutions can be more complex, such as designing a more efficient structure.

More brainpower means more savings.

President and CEO of Perkowitz+Ruth Architects.