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Do I need an engineer or an architect to design my store?

“Do I need an engineer or an architect?” is a common question among those building a c-store, gas station or car wash. Here’s what you need to know
Do I need an engineer or an architect to design my store?

Are you planning to build a convenience store, gas station or car wash? There is one question that needs to be answered before detailed planning can begin.

Do I need an engineer, an architect – or both – to complete the blueprints and submit the design package to the municipality for permitting approval?”

As an integrated engineering, architecture + design firm that offers both services, we are here to clear up any confusion.

First, the simple answer

To ensure public safety, all commercial buildings in Canada must be professionally designed to uniform standards around safety, building code and structural integrity. Architects and engineers are designated with this important task, due to their unique training and skillsets.

There are legal guidelines dictating which projects need an architect’s involvement and sign-off, and which can be reviewed and stamped by an engineer. In both cases, the architect or engineer is responsible for ensuring the site plan and all structures meet building code and follow all applicable municipal by-laws. As project lead, the engineer or architect will also be responsible for signing off on the final construction.

Size and type of building

As a rule of thumb, three factors will dictate if an engineer or architect is required:

  1. Building Classification
  2. Building Height
  3. Building Area

Exact requirements vary province to province. These general guidelines apply in most instances.

Engineer Stamp Required

  • Most single-story gas stations, convenience stores, auto servicing shops and car washes
  • Most quick-service restaurants
  • Small single-story retail stores and offices


Architect Stamp Required

  • Most multi-story buildings and larger retail spaces
  • Large restaurants
  • Large single-story retail stores and offices and multi-story retail (e.g., Big Box Stores and Strip Malls)

Engineer or Architect? What services do you require?

No matter who the “stamping authority” is, you will still need to get all necessary work done by a qualified team.

According to Part 9 of the Building Code, the drafting work (site plan, concept/floor plan, elevations, electrical and mechanical drawings) for a commercial project does not have to be completed by a professional: and is often performed by qualified technicians, under the direction of the project engineer or architect.

Structural design generally requires direct involvement by an engineer, as does all civil engineering and site servicing. A commercial building may be required to have all architectural, mechanical, and electrical (A, M & E) professionals involved. 

The less work that has to be subcontracted, the better

By selecting an engineering or architectural firm that offers all (or most) consulting services under one roof, your project will generally go much smoother. There is usually better coordination, improved communication, and quicker decision-making. This team will typically include a mix of professionals, technicians, and project managers.


Need an original design? You’ll want an architect

Architecture is a creative field. Architects are always looking for ways to meld form and function to create dazzling spaces that make an impression – and serve your needs. Inside and out.

If you’re opening a one-of-a-kind business, and don’t have a corporate design standard to guide
you, an architect can help you create a unique look that attracts customers and elevates your brand.


Sometimes you’ll need both

There are several situations where an integrated engineering firm will require the added expertise of an architect. (It’s a big reason CTM offers both services).

  1. A configuration radically different than the design standard: Corporate design standards exist to ensure all franchises share a common look that adheres to the brand. Yet sometimes, the building or site doesn’t quite fit the mold. Architects are skilled at designing any space to purpose – and making it look great in the process.
  2. Buildings requiring occupancy reclassification: If you want to repurpose a building originally designed for another purpose you may need to apply for a “Change of Use.” An architect can ensure the building is redesigned to meet building code requirements based on the new use.
  3. Adapting a design to meet architectural controls. Ever notice that gas stations look different in national parks than everywhere else? Or in certain communities? 

    It’s because there are architectural controls in place, which set uniform guidelines that all businesses must adhere to. These guidelines may call for front-lit wooden signage instead of backlit boards: or perhaps wood and stone exteriors instead of brick and stucco. It can be a challenging process to satisfy both the municipality and the franchise head office. This is where a great architect is worth his or her weight in gold.
  4. Public consultation or environmental impact assessments. Architects are often required to represent the project at public hearings, and incorporate feedback into site or building design.

Engineers and Architects are both accountable to you

Yes, engineers and architects are responsible for ensuring your project adheres to all building codes and municipal bylaws. But they’re also accountable to you as their client. It’s important to choose a partner that understands your needs, shares your enthusiasm, and can design within your budget parameters.

Sometimes, the exact design you had in mind may not conform to code or work from a practical perspective. Your engineering or architectural lead is there to advise you, and to be a problem solver.

Choosing the right firm is essential to your project’s success. Ask what similar projects they have completed, how long they have been in business and what service they offer in-house. Don’t let price be the sole guiding factor. Choosing a less experienced firm can result in oversights in the permitting process that can delay construction and potentially lead to unexpected challenges down the road.

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