expectation vs reality

1: the act or state of expecting : anticipation <in expectation of what would happen

1: the quality or state of being real
In any professional practice there are two competing certainties: What the client expects, and what you, the architect, can deliver in reality. The two more often than not are mutually exclusive.

Denver Art Museum - Daniel Libeskind

I touch on this subject because, as many of you know, I bid quite frequently on a few of the more popular freelance websites for architectural and design projects. These sites, by their nature, promote insanely competitive project fees since you’re bidding against other professionals (you hope) all over the world in very different economic climates. Many times this is to the detriment of those like me who are honest professionals seeking to simultaneously help and educate clients while at the same time make a living.
But one theme that is coming up more and more frequently is a lack of knowledge on the client’s part about the process of permitting and construction and even just design in general. And I’m not talking about all the nuts and bolts stuff either like building code regulations, how many sets to print and submit or how far a building needs to be from a property line. I’m talking basic stuff like “yes, you need to consult with engineers to design your structure, electrical and plumbing.” Or “no, I can not detail an entire house for you in 2 days so you can get your contractor to build it this weekend.”
So, how do we combat expectation with reality? I really don’t know. Just today I spent close to 30 minutes on the phone with a potential client describing the ins and outs of the design and permitting process so that he/she could get an idea of the time and expertise required to properly design and document a building that will house HIS/HER FAMILY. In my mind this is not exactly an area where you want to cut corners to save a buck, but that’s a story for another time.
Back to expectation. We’ve all had those clients – especially commercial clients – where you’ve done a few projects for them, tenant improvements for example, and they come to you with a new one and want to undercut your fee dramatically under the impression that “well, this is just like the last one so you don’t really have to do any work on this one, right?” 😐 Yeah, I love that one. This is usually the point where I want to show them the door…head first. But, that’s not really “professional” behavior, now is it? Instead I like to take this situation as an opportunity.
An opportunity for education, outreach and involvement. Clients, and the public at large in my opinion, need to know that architects are for everyone. That’s right, Philip Johnson had it right when he said “architects are prostitutes”. Because we bring a valuable service to the masses….wait, that’s not right…wait…no, yeah that’s right. 😉
If you don’t believe me, just go read my buddy Randy’s post over on Bob’s blog titled 107 Reasons Why Architects Matter. I’ve no idea why 107. Perhaps someone already wrote 108 Reasons Why Architects Matter, or maybe he just likes odd numbers. Stop asking so many questions!
Ok, so this is where reality comes in. Once the client is done yelling at you and demanding that you bring your fee down to something more closely resembling a small box of tic tacs you can begin the process of calmly and lovingly walking your client through all of the amazing things you’re going to do for them over the course of this project that will make them WANT to write that check every month for your fees.
Now, all that’s left is to do this 2 or 3 million more times and maybe the average person will start to see the value in a world designed by architects instead of general contractors and “the guy with the hammer”. :-\



2 thoughts on “expectation vs reality

  1. One person at a time, one day at a time…I keep saying that. Of course 107 reasons surely helps. However, I am convinced that Americans are just cheap. I don’t take it personal. We want everything cheap or free whether its a haircut, a burger or the architect.

    • Ha! I can agree with that. I’m horribly cheap. I’m always looking for the “deal”. But again, if I’m building a house for my family I’m not gonna be cheap. I’m gonna pay to make sure that I’m getting the best my money can buy to build something safe that will function how I need it to and last at least for my lifetime.

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