Where are all the Architects?

IMG_0307-0.JPG
How NOT to draft a detail. No line weights, notes a mess and no hatching.

There are architects and then there are Architects. If you don’t know the difference than you are in the former category. I aspire to be included among the latter category. And I will tell you why.

For the last 5+ months I have been working for a large corporate firm in the downtown area. It’s an old firm, the second oldest in the state at nearly 100 years since the doors opened. One would think a firm with that level of prestige and a resume that includes some of the most significant buildings in the city would not only be on the forefront of technology but would also have standards in place for the production of quality, well coordinated and beautiful architectural drawings.

At least that is what I had hoped when I came here several months ago. It didn’t take long to realize that not only were there no standards in place but the production staff and the project architects seldom inhabit the same air space. Hence very little oversight and even less coordination. Add to that “mentorship” seems to be a dirty word, so the staff ends up doing “whatever Revit’s default” happens to be.

To say it’s frustrating is an understatement. Soul crushing is a more apt descriptor. I’m not a senior architect. Barely into my mid 30s, but I’ve worked for a number of “seasoned” Architects that taught me the value of my architectural documents as not just a tool for construction but also as a marketing tool and even as a piece of art unto itself. Drawings MATTER. The information matters; what it looks like matters; and how it is organized matters.

If you think it doesn’t, you’re an architect.

If you take great pride in your work and the finished product that is sent out of your office then you’re an Architect.

Where have all the Architects gone?

IMG_0310.PNG
A well detailed wall section – line weights, well-spaced notes and clear hatching.

we are the one percent

No, I’m not talking about the filthy rich 1%, though lets be honest, I’d love to be one of them. I’m talking about something much more important and infinitely more rewarding:

1% Logo

As of now r | one studio architecture is part of The One Percent Project – an organization that allows not-for-profit groups to post architectural projects that they need services for and helps to find architects and designers willing to donate 1% of their billable hours as services to these groups. “Launched by Public Architecture in 2005 with the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, The 1% is a first-of-its-kind effort to encourage pro bono service within the architecture and design professions. If every architecture professional in the U.S. committed 1% of their time to pro bono service, it would add up to 5,000,000 hours annually – the equivalent of a 2,500-person firm, working full-time for the public good.” – theonepercent.org

There are about 2000 billable hours in a given year for most professionals, or about 160 hours per month (for some of us it’s a lot more than that….but lets just keep it simple). Donating 1% of your time per month is 1.6 hours in 30 days. If you’re like me, I waste at least that much time every day checking Facebook. Don’t even ask me to calculate the time suck if I added Twitter, LinkedIn, Houzz, Pinterest, Instagram….you get the picture. This is not a lot of time and these are some very worthwhile causes that need the help and expertise of architects and designers.

It’s my hope that everyone who reads this blog, most importantly my colleagues and architect friends, will add their own names to The One Percent Project. Architects do more than design buildings. We build and shape communities – it’s a responsibility and a pleasure to give back.

an architect’s process – part two

Ok, here we go. Part two of An Architect’s Process. In part one I talked about the steps to signing a contract and what I think are the 3 essential steps in working through that part of the process. And now that we’ve worked through the project details, our proposal has been accepted and the contract has been signed, it’s time to get into the meat of the project.

Any residential project, whether it’s a new home, remodel or addition, has 3 essential parts: the Site, the Building, and the Site and the Client. You have to understand all 3 in order to create a home that the client won’t want to sell in 5 years. So, what do we start with? We’ve got a contract, probably a retainer, it’s time to put lines on a page, right? Wrong. The first part of any project once you’ve been hired is RESEARCH. And not just a little either. You need to know your client a little better than just the first few meetings. You need to find out how they live, what do they do for a living, basically you build a friendship. You also have to know the site. You need to go there, see it, smell it, touch it. For me that is where it begins:

Building Site

Understanding the building site is not really easy. You have to go there. You have to be there, walk in the dirt and mud, see how the sun plays through the trees (if there are any), or if there’s a strong prevailing wind that can be used or maybe needs to be shielded, is there a body of water nearby, etc. Pictures speak a thousand words, but no words can ever duplicate the experience of physically being in a space. Your mind will take it all in and, if you’re good at what you do (I am), then that experience will influence your design in a profound way.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 8.24.53 PM

The site that I am currently working with is large – a 10 acre parcel with an additional 12 behind it for views. The building site the client’s chose is an amazing one. The site starts low at the street and begins to rise in these rolling hills before dipping down to a natural stream and then rising again in more rolling hills. One of those hilltops is the site for our design. The drive will come in along the East edge of the property and then cut in and rise up to the garage, which will be mostly concealed by existing trees that will remain. The view north and east will be mostly wooded but with a view of the stream down below.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 8.25.27 PM

The property faces North and thanks to the heavily wooded site almost all of the sunlight will be filtered through the tree canopy during the spring and summer. During the fall and winter light will be more direct, but not enough for passive heating. Given these two factors, our opportunity and need for windows goes up dramatically, which is just what the clients want. I would not have known any of these things if I had just researched the property via the internet and Google Earth. I wouldn’t know how quiet it is just inside the tree line or how a mere 50′ south makes a big difference in terms of noise from the road. These things have to be experienced.

So, what have we talked about? We talked about the important steps to signing a client and a new project. We talked about how important it is to represent yourself well, to talk to your client, understand what their wants and needs are for their new home or remodel, and to be upfront about project costs. And today we discussed the site, which is an essential first step in the design process. Even if you’re working on a remodel or addition, you have to put yourself in the space and understand what the environment is like with all 5 of your senses in order to begin to formulate a solution to the clients design problem.

Next time we’ll talk about the building and the client, since they really go hand in hand.

Cheers.

an architect’s process – part one

IMG_9300

In the last couple of months I’ve seen a number of posts on various blogs about the architectural process, or the value of an architects services, or why you need an architect, etc. All of these posts stem from the same basic principle – convincing potential clients that we are valuable and that our services are in your best interest to ensure a sound investment in your building project.

So, I felt like I should take some time and walk through my own process. And, as luck would have it, I just signed a new client that has hired me to design a new home in the Hot Springs area of Arkansas near the Ouachita Mountains. And that is where any architect’s process starts – with a  client who needs your help. I won’t bore you with all the reasons you should hire an architect and how it adds value to your project and saves money during construction, etc etc. We’re already there. We’ve got a contract.

But what does it take to get to a contract? What are the steps you and your architect should go through to learning if this is going to be a good relationship or not? For me, there are three things, or three steps, that I go through with a potential client to determine if we’re a good fit.

1. Initial Meeting
Just like a first date, you’ll know within the first 15 minutes of your initial meeting whether or not there will be a second date…er uh, meeting. In that first meeting I ask my clients a good deal of questions. Some of them may or may not have anything to do with their project, though project specific questions are important. Ultimately, I want to get a feel for who these people are, how they live, what their day to day life is like (young or grown children, newly weds, party animals), what they do for work (do they work from home or commute?), are they outdoor types or more cerebral. Basic first date chit chat.

If all goes well and they haven’t pushed/thrown me out the door, I try to schedule a second meeting to discuss their project more in depth.

2. Project Meeting:
Things like total budget, contractors, renovation/construction experiences in the past, etc will all come up. And, if new construction, I like to visit the site and get a feel for the land, scope out possible building sites, drive access, utilities, and anything that may influence the work and/or require additional fees that may need to be considered.

3. Project Proposal/Contract:
Once that is done it’s time to sit down and review the Client’s wants, needs and desires in relation to the budget in order to generate a preliminary building program and calculate a proposed fee. The building program and fee should be centered around a well-defined scope of work. For small projects, or projects with limited fees I will even list in my proposal and contract what drawings/services I will and will not provide. It’s imperative that you manage expectations from the very beginning and put in writing exactly what you will do as part of your fee and what will be considered an additional service. Otherwise you end up doing anything and everything under the sun. Trust me. I know.

If you’ve done your job right, if you’ve represented yourself well to the Client, then #3 is the beginning of what should be a fun and exciting relationship that can last longer than the design and construction schedule. If you start by taking care of your clients before they’re clients the rest of the project is a relative breeze.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

daily prompt: one of these days, alice!

It makes me crazy when people wear their shoes in my house. What habit/act drives you crazy? How do you prevent it from happening?

you have to know how it works in order to design it

you have to know how it works in order to design it

There are so many things that drive me nuts about practicing architecture. There are egos to deal with, interns, engineers, contractors, building officials and inspectors. On a given project there are literally hundreds of opportunities to send your blood pressure straight to the moon, just like Ralph always promised Alice in The Honeymooners. But the one thing that sends me over the top is a phrase that should be forever stricken from the English language:

“But that’s just the way we’ve always done it.”
or
“But we did it that way on the last project.”

You can feel it can’t you? The blood boiling, the face turning 50 shades of red, fists clenching and hair being pulled out at the root. It just drives me absolutely nuts to hear these very common phrases come out of someone’s mouth in our profession. It suggests an unwillingness to learn, to grow, to experiment, or simply to look at a problem from a new perspective and see if what “we’ve always done” is actually doing the job right.

More than that these seemingly innocuous sentences will keep a good architect from becoming a great architect. An illustration of this is in a recent interaction I saw on Facebook between two architects I know and respect. The image being commented on was a sketch of some detailing that was being worked out for a glazed wall. One of the questions that popped up was “why are you wasting time on standard details?” To which the proper response was given – “I don’t ever use standard details.”

This simple interaction tells me something very profound about each architect. The one is most likely more concerned about using products to make his/her project look good, relying on the ability of the manufacturer to produce a good product or system, while the other is more concerned with using particular materials to achieve a desired aesthetic result while also focusing on how those materials will perform together as a system.

You may think either way is acceptable, but at the end of the day it’s the architects job to investigate, understand and design the interactions between each and every piece and system in a building to ensure they work together properly and achieve the design intent. No two projects are ever “standard”.

how small is too small? – a message to architects

image courtesy of treehugger.com

image courtesy of treehugger.com

Recently I wrote a post speaking to clients about “small projects”. In the writing of that post I realized that it’s not just clients that need to be educated, but architects as well. I see, and have been part of, many conversations floating around various forums and other blogs about how the profession is being pushed out by contractors and engineers and “designers” (read: unlicensed architects) and how the built environment is suffering, blah blah blah. The reality is not that architects are being pushed out, but rather are pushing themselves out.

“But how can this be!?” you ask?

Simple. Many architects TURN DOWN work that is “too small”. And so clients who recognize the need for help in design and detailing are left to seek out anyone else willing and able to help them. Enter willing contractors and “designers” who will reinforce the client’s opinion that “you don’t need an architect” because they (the contractor/designer) can just “get it done”.

We, the architects, need to put off some of our pride and take chances on smaller projects for smaller clients if we are ever going to truly change the built environment and the quality of the work being built in it. And I know all the arguments:

“Architects can’t work for free.”
“It’s not worth the time and liability to take on such a small project for such a small fee that will just suck time out of my life.”
“The fee that a client would pay me would be better spent on improving the project itself.”
-Insert your own random whiny argument here-

And I say bollocks. These arguments are uttered in the same breath with complaints about contractors and engineers taking on the role of the architect in the very projects that actual architects are turning down. See the conundrum here? I believe behavioral psychologists call this a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. We are enabling and encouraging the very situations we are arguing against.

So, “architects can’t work for free”. This is true. But then we don’t have to charge a full fee for all projects either. Do we deserve to get paid for our time? Yes. Is our time worth the same amount on every project, say a kitchen remodel versus a master suite addition or a new residence? No. We can adjust and tailor our fee structures to accommodate these smaller projects to make them enticing to potential clients.

“It’s not worth the time and liability.” Again, bollocks. It’s worth our time because it is worth having an impact on a project that will improve someone’s life. That sounds very utopian and naive. But the truth is we all felt and thought that way not so long ago. The idealism of our youth while in college should not be lost or tossed aside for practice. The truth is liability is negligible (i.e. all those untrained, unlicensed “professionals” practicing architecture successfully). The time is always an issue whether the project is 100 square feet or 100,000 square feet. Work smarter, not harder.

“The fee that a client would pay me (the architect) would be better spent improving the project.” Bollocks. Bollocks and more Bollocks. The services of a architect on a project adds value whether it’s a bathroom renovations, garage addition or roof replacement, even if it’s just a consultation fee.

The bottom line is you don’t want to be bothered with some small fee from a small client for a small project. Instead you want the big fee from a big client for the big project. In the meantime potential clients are passing you by left and right. 10 small projects worth $10,000 each are much more valuable than 1 project worth $100,000. Think about it. And get back to work!

is a project ever too small? – a message to clients

Recently I got to work and dialed up my google+ feed and immediately clicked on the latest blog post over at Studio MM titled “Working with an Architect: Making Sense of Services and Fees”. In that post Marica describes a common interaction with a potential client where the client wonders “is my project too small to interest you?”.

Private Residence - Closet Addition

Private Residence – Closet Addition

I say this is a common interaction, but the reality may be more accurate to say that many clients will automatically THINK this to themselves and never actually seek out contact with an architect or designer to help them with their project. Well, I would like to put this baby to bed by saying that there is no residential project too small for a homeowner to bring to an architect for advice, consultation, design and even construction.

Private Residence - Porch Addition

Private Residence – Porch Addition

I don’t care if it’s a brand new home, a mother-in-law suite, a finished basement, a garage, bathroom renovation, kitchen remodel, dog house or chicken coop. I want to help you design whatever it is to suit the needs of you and your family (furry family included) and get it built on time, on budget and to a level of quality that will last.

Private Residence - Closet Addition

Private Residence – Closet Addition

In short, the purpose, the calling, of an architect is to design the built environment around us. Your project is not too small to involve one of us because each piece of a home matters and how that piece works and relates to all the other pieces is what makes the difference between a home that you love and a home that you just live in.