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In Ideas

To design, or to build? That is the question…

On 01, Apr 2015 | One Comment | In Ideas

Why not both?

Growing up (which I am still doing), I have always been good with my hands and have had this burning desire to accomplish more. My dad taught me many priceless life lessons out in his shop while I helped him build custom cars and hot rods for his living. At the time, I thought we were just working on cars. Now I truly value the work ethic and mechanical knowledge that those knuckle busting days instilled in me. My mom was always an unsatisfiable entrepreneur. From opening her own cleaning business to owning and operating multiple dance studios, she always found a way to make a living at what she was passionate about. I have always been intrigued by making, whatever the product might be. Creating something from nothing is such an appealing proposition! In high school when I decided to pursue a career in Architecture, I thought it would be so fulfilling to make buildings. Now at 31 years of age, I think I am starting to finally see a bigger picture.

For about the past year, I have been running myself ragged. I have been trying to practice commercial Architecture at Taggart, practice residential Architecture on the side, get licensed, do volunteer work, maintain a social life, build stuff, and the list goes on. Most importantly, I am trying to be a good husband and father. Spreading myself so thin, I’m not sure that I am being extremely successful at any one of these things, but I am learning a hell of a lot! As time is passing me by faster and faster, I am starting to ask myself what it is that I want to accomplish in this short time that we are here. I keep telling myself to “develop a focus.” If I’m going to do something, why not be really good at one thing? Do I want to do commercial or residential, or something else? I think this mentality, of being specialized, is bogging me down and is part of the problem with our building industry today. Why can’t I just do it all?

Attending Peter Gluck’s ( lecture last night has my head spinning. I have instantly fallen in love with his business model and process for producing Architecture. And ironically, I have been noticing more successful design build models lately. Of course, there are a lot of unsuccessful models out there to learn from too. In my 5-6 short years practicing, I have realized that Architects don’t make buildings, contractors do. That is also a misconception by Owners; they hire an Architect thinking they are getting a building, but all that they really get is a set of drawings and specifications. Most of today’s Architects only design and document buildings, and they don’t have a real understanding of how it should be put together sequentially! Yes, we make beautiful drawings and models, but we aren’t really in the business of building. Which is what I set out to do on this journey… I want to make place, and space, in meaningful buildings.

I will iterate with some of my takeaways from Peter’s talk: The typical design bid build process is so stupid! We design a building, draw the “intent”, and hope that the contractor interprets the intent correctly with their bidding. Typically, they don’t, so they add some fluff in there to make sure they have it all covered and in the end, the Owner takes the hit. And it’s not the Contractor’s fault, it’s the process. So don’t hate the player, hate the game. The process has become the way it is because of social status, legalities, and liabilities. I recall some lessons learned in an Integrated Practice class I took in college; integrated practice, what a novel idea! The designers should be working with the tradesman throughout the design process to establish a feasible design that fits within the Owners budget. That is not the way it typically works out here, the process is much more disconnected. When a project bids out over budget, we enter a value engineering (I hate this term!) procedure which essentially takes the value out of a project, or makes it cheaper. Which you get what you pay for, a cheaper building. It amazes me how many Architects don’t really know what it costs to put a building together. Well, it is because of the disconnect in this process. Architects rely heavily on the contractor to tell them what it costs because we are not the ones building it, they are. And because the Architects don’t want to be liable for a quoted price when the project comes in over budget. If the Architect had control of the construction, they would have a better understanding and control of what the costs would be. Another great point that Peter made is that Architects typically charge a lessor fee than a Contractor but they don’t include insurance in their fees as a Contractor does. That doesn’t make any sense, especially when the Architect takes on all of the liability regarding the design. Speaking of fees, Architects are generally under compensated in my opinion. Considering that a real estate agent charges around 5% for the sale of property, it should be acceptable for an Architect to charge 15-20% for the enormous amount of time consuming work that they perform. Let’s not get started on that rant…

Why would an Owner want to hire one professional to design their building and a different professional to construct their building? Because that’s the way it is, right? Wrong. What if an Owner hired one professional to both design and build their building? One point of contact. No misinterpretations of the design intent. Tighter budget control. Better quality control. And the best design for the budget. Don’t mistake this process for the typical design build scenario. I’ve been down that road. In that case, the contractor has control of the design because they hold the purse strings, not the Architect. This is Architect led design build. The same team who designs the building, draws the building, and constructs the building. One stop shop…

The idea of the Architect as the “master builder” does still exist! Where do I sign up?

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  1. Brandon, excellent post, my friend! This EXACT same thought process has been on my mind a lot lately. Especially in the last 6 months since starting my own practice and having to deal with the “realities” of construction costs and estimation. If you want to talk more about the architect led design build give me a shout. That’s exactly where I’m taking my practice.

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