minimalism, architecture and value

If you don’t follow Josh and Ryan at The Minimalists, you should. Because I do. And they’re awesome.

After finding this blog and learning about these two groovy cats about a year ago, I’ve followed them ever since and have endeavored to live a minimalist lifestyle as much as is possible with a wife and two kids (hint: I like to spoil my family). And a recent post about money has me thinking not for the first time about minimalism and it’s broad implications for architecture, specifically in the area of cost versus value as it applies to materials, construction and services.

As architects we’ve all been in this situation: a client comes to you with a project, you submit your proposal for services confident that you’re as lean, mean and competitive as possible, and the client – without batting so much as an eyelash – haggles and argues for you to reduce your fee. No fun.

Similarly, if you’ve been in the construction industry for more than a day you’ve been involved in this situation: the client sends out the job to contractors for bid, the bids come in and again without batting so much as an eyelash immediately takes the lowest bid offer (and secretly wonders why it’s so high).

In both of these scenarios the client has focused solely on money with no regard to project quality, or experience/expertise of the architect and contractor, or any other factor besides cost. And we all know what typically happens in these situations: when the architect has to reduce their fee to a level that does not allow them to devote adequate time to the project (time = money), then mistakes get made, details don’t get coordinated and issues have to be resolved in the field resulting in additional service charges to the client. Then, the contractor, who’s low-ball fee did not properly account for all of the scope requirements in the drawings and specifications, goes to build the project and submits change order after change order for items that were not in his bid (which the client agreed to) and suddenly the project is over budget, over schedule, and now alternates are recommended and the VE process begins, which invariably leads to a substandard project at completion and a client looking at you, the architect, for answers as to why this all happened.


The challenge is to help clients understand first the value in architectural services. The principles of minimalism being applied can perhaps put this into perspective. A good deal of clients want the pretty pictures in the magazines, all crammed together into one house. If we simply did as we were told this would make for one very strange house indeed. But that’s not our job. Our job is to interpret – to take the clients wants, dreams, and desires and create an individual structure that has function, beauty and value. Helping a client make the connection between each dollar spent and the ultimate value of that dollar is an important step towards a very successful project.

So how do we do that? What secret formula do we use in educating our clients to see not only the value in our own services but also the value in a experienced and knowledgeable contractor? There really isn’t one answer. Each client is different. Each client brings their own preconceptions, perceptions and prejudices to the table. The only real trick is to listen, to offer guidance and advice, and deliver it in a way that your client will understand and make the connection of cost versus value. The way you do that is by understanding this principle yourself.

5 thoughts on “minimalism, architecture and value

  1. Reblogged this on think | architect and commented:
    Jeremiah’s post is a great summary of our culture’s obsession with first cost and value (lack of). It goes along with John Ruskin’s quote that is well known. “There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey. It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.” I go back to one of my favorite words…think.

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