Friday, January 9th, 2015

architects and value

Fast-good-cheap_image-618x188

In the last few months of being my own boss, I have gone on countless client interviews and submitted just as many proposals. Some of those proposals have come back and turned into projects, but many of them have not. The most common reason for not winning a contract – cost of services. This is something that architects, especially residential architects, come up against a lot. It’s a constant battle in which we are always on the defensive. We first have to defend the need to call at all. Once a client does call we have to defend the need for a professional architect to even look at the project. Once we’ve looked at the project we have to defend our proposal. Once the proposal is signed we have to defend our time and expertise given to the project all the way through construction. It’s very frustrating. But this got me to thinking:

What does it take to design a house?

More specifically, what are the areas of expertise in design and detailing that make up a set of construction documents? And does it really make a difference if an architect designs your home or a builder/draftsman?¬†Most of us with fingers and an internet connection can go online and search for “stock plans” (a small part of me dies inside every time I utter that phrase) and come to thousands of websites where you can buy a “plan set” for construction. The terminology on these sites is intentionally ambiguous at best and misleading at worst. For a few hundred dollars¬†what these designers typically provide is the most basic of drawing sets – floor plan, roof plan, exterior elevations. That’s about it. For a few thousand dollars you will get building sections, a foundation plan and some stock details – what some might call a “builder’s set”. But is this enough information? Is this enough to properly convey the design intent of your home? Maybe. If your builder knows what he’s doing. But what isn’t being taken into account here are the intangible elements of design that go into a residence. When you hire an architect you are hiring a professional who is creating something to fit your lifestyle, present and future. In order to do that and to convey that intent properly to a contractor requires not just a level of detail in the drawings but also a level of expertise and knowledge to be applied during construction to ensure everything goes as planned.

You see, architects don’t just “do drawings”. There are a myriad of concepts that go into the design of a home, many of which have very little to do with construction. And beyond the conceptual processes that results in a design, what does it take to convey that design and the intent behind it to a contractor who will ultimately build your home? To answer those questions architects often wear other hats besides “designer” or “architect”. Hats like psychologist, psychoanalyst, counselor, referee, confidant, interior designer, contractor, engineer, color specialist, lighting specialist, flooring specialist, building code savant. I’m sure there are others. These are just the ones I happen to have worn this week.

All of these intangible services that an architect brings to your project have value. And they have value because it takes talent, education, knowledge, experience and critical and creative thinking in order to bring everything together into a design that will serve your family or your business effectively and efficiently.

Image courtesy of Sun Flood Studios under creative commons license.