ten plus one is better than eleven plus none – #ArchiTalks

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I’m adding to a discussion that is bouncing around the internet today, Architects answering 11 questions about their practice. Seeing as I technically have two full time “jobs” as an architect (I work for a big corporate firm as well as my own meager but awesome-tastic firm) I will answer these questions only once as they relate to my own firm. Because this is after all MY blog, and I can do that sort of thing. O_O

What kind of projects were you doing when you first started as an architect?

Early in my career I worked for the oldest surviving firm in Jacksonville, Florida. The work was primarily large commercial and institutional projects – mega churches, schools, universities, office buildings, etc. As I moved to a few other firms, getting smaller and smaller along the way, the work didn’t necessarily change, just the scale. I was still working on commercial and institutional work and frankly I hated it. I took on side projects very early in my career, designing residential additions for almost no fee just to be creative and work with the actual end users of a project. Fast forward to now and I am happy to stick to single family residential work and light commercial office and retail spaces as long as I can work with the actual end user and not a landlord or corporate board of directors.

How many projects can you expect to be working on at once?

This is a tough question to answer. I guess the blanket statement would be “as much as I can handle”. And, given my past track record is a lot. As a sole practitioner things get pretty busy around the 4-5 project mark for a given month. I like to have at least that many projects in various stages of development at any given time. More than that and I start to get a little stressed, but it’s a good stress. Any more than 7 would be too much work to cover the load by myself. Refer to next question.

How often did/do you work in a team?

I am structuring my firm so that I will hopefully always be working in a team. I am just one architect and my skills, though varied, are limited and the success of any project requires input from various sources. The goal is to have a network of other architects, locally and across the US, that I can pull from not just for inspiration and fellowship, but also to share work loads and project responsibilities to make us all more profitable.

How important is an innovative mind to the company?

Innovation is essential. Having the right tools and seeking out new tools to make you more agile and more efficient in what you do is essential no matter what type of business you run. But the caveat there is that a tool is only as good as the person using it. You have to have the right frame of mind in order to keep up with the curve, much less stay ahead of it.

What key things do you look for in potential new hires?

I don’t plan on outright hiring anyone, rather I look for other architects to partner with. Those architects that I’m interested in working with have to share my passion and sometimes outright obsession with architecture. I am not a 9-5 architect. Just ask my wife. I also look for architects who are as concerned with good design as they are about good drawings. A well designed building has to be represented by well designed drawings and details. Being relatively young in the profession I am a bit old school in that I came from a hand drafting background and I want my drawings to reflect that level of craft. I look for others who share that as well.

How important is diversity to your company?

I’m often a little apprehensive of this question because it’s never been an issue for me. Diversity in gender, ethnicity, religion and social views has always been a default for me. Like I said in response to the last question, I’m looking for architects with the same passion as me. I don’t care what your gender or skin color is, where you came from or what your religion is. Is it important? Of course. Do I seek out “diversity”? No. It just happens.

How big of a role does HR play in your company?

If we’re talking about Human Resources as a corporate structure, than it doesn’t apply at all. If we’re talking about Human Resources as in other humans that I find resourceful, then it’s extremely important. And this goes back to diversity – surrounding yourself and making alliances with other architects and designers that share your passion but in different ways.

Would you say Architecture is a field for everyone?

Seriously? This is a question? We all know that architecture is not for everyone. Just like mechanic, dentist, doctor, brick layer, foreman, CEO and President are not for everyone. Certain people have certain talents that drive them to certain paths in life. Architecture is no different. We are a rare bird.

What is the best asset in your company?

My family. My wife and my children drive me to be better each day. And my clients. Without them I would not have a company.

Describe your best employee in one word?

Conundrum. That’s actually how I was described by my classmates in college. I think it still applies today. I’m not easily defined and I try not to define myself.

What style architecture do you love most?

This is such an awesome question. And it’s one I’ve talked about with other architects from time to time. There are so many firms out there that have a “style”. So much so that you can drive around town and pick out buildings that were done by different firms without ever having seen them before. I am not that kind of architect. If you look at the work I have designed it runs the gambit from traditional to contemporary to modern and a lot more in between. At the end of the day the buildings I design are not mine. The belong to my client. So whatever style my client desires, it’s my job to provide that design.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip down the rabbit hole that is my new practice. Check out the architects below. They are even more awesome-er than I am (hard to believe I know).

Lee Calisti – Think Architect (twitter @leecalisti)
“architecture :: eleven questions is less than twenty” 

Bob Borson – Life of an Architect (twitter @bobborson)
“Being an Architect”

 Marica McKeel – Studio MM (twitter @ArchitectMM)
“Q+A with a Small Firm Architect”

 Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (twitter @enochsears)
“Life As An Architect”

 Jes Stafford  – Modus Operandi Design (twitter @modarchitect)
Ask the Architect

 Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (twitter @EntreArchitect)
“11 Big Questions” EntreArchitect.com/Episode37

 Jeff Echols – Architect of the Internet (twitter @Jeff_Echols)
“11 Frequently Asked Questions About Being An Architect”

 Nicholas Renard – Cote Renard Architecture (Twitter @coterenard)
“Answers from this Architect”

 Evan Troxel – The Archispeak Podcast (twitter @etroxel)
Eleven Questions About a Career in Architecture

Andrew Hawkins, AIA –  (twitter @HawkinsArch)
Being an Architect: Questions Answered”

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an architect’s process – part one

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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.

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!

Hello, my name is Jeremiah and I’m an Architect (almost)

One of the most common interactions I have with people that I meet for the first time goes something like this:

Me: “Hey, how’s it going? I’m Jeremiah.”

Stranger: “Hey. It’s going good, thank you. I’m John/Jane Smith.”

Me: “It’s great to meet you.” – followed by general chit chat, the weather, state of the union, will the Cubs win this year (not really).

John/Jane: “So, what kind of work do you do?”

Me: “I’m an Architect.” (going into the long winded discussion of licensed versus unlicensed is too tiresome for general conversation and most people don’t get it anyway, so I don’t bother anymore)

Architect's Anonymous profile photo

Architect’s Anonymous profile photo

At this point I always feel as if I’m in a support group meeting. “Hello, my name is Jeremiah and I’m an Architect.” From the crowd a monotone: “Hi, Jeremiah.” But what does that mean, the term and title Architect? To most people the image that comes to mind is a guy in a suite with a roll of drawings under one arm and a hard hat in the other. Or even an older gray haired guy dressed all in black, with black glasses brooding moodily in a corner of some social function, martini in one hand and sharpy in the other. Or perhaps Gary Cooper playing the part of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (best architecture movie of all time – just sayin). But these are just images, stereotypes and archetypes that come to mind thanks to movies and media.

But what does it mean to be an Architect?

Architecture is an unforgiving and unrelenting profession. It is not for the faint of heart, or the squeamish, or the undedicated. You must have a thick skin, and an even more robust constitution in order to stay the course of architecture. You have to be equal parts engineer, artist, statistician, anthropologist, psychologist, lawyer, bouncer and referee. It also helps to have a healthy mastery of vulgarity and innuendo for trips to the construction site. Added to all of this you have to cultivate the ability to put yourself in your client’s shoes – you have to be able to create real solutions for their building program as if they themselves came up with those solutions.

Architects do not just draw pretty pictures, or just add unnecessary cost to a construction project, or just design kitschy coffee makers and toasters for Target. Architects do all of those things (not really), but more than that we create space and to a larger extent we create the experience of space in homes, offices, shopping malls, government buildings, communities and entire cities. Since the time of Imhotep in ancient Egypt until the present day and for the rest of time, Architects have helped, do help, and will help to create the society we live, work and play in every single day. Architects are not a necessary evil, we’re just necessary

daily prompt: on the road

If you could pause real life and spend some time living with a family anywhere in the world, where would you go?

This is an interesting question. And if I weren’t an architect, I would have a long list of places and cultures that I could submit as an answer. I don’t think it would be possible to limit it to one single location. There are so many interesting and intriguing cultures and locations on this earth that I could spend my entire life going from one place and culture to another and never see them all or get my fill.

telepathic alien species from an old 50s movie - also what architects will likely look like in the future

telepathic alien species from an old 50s movie – also what architects will likely look like in the future

But, as an architect, I would say that this is actually part of my job. Because, when you design a home for someone, for a family, this is exactly what you have to do – put yourself in their shoes and decide what is most important in how a home should function, how it should flow and what it should feel like. To be an architect is also to be part sociologist, psychologist, anthropologist, engineer, artist and archeologist. It also helps to be psychic and telepathic as well. O_o

ARE 4.0 – Programming, Planning and Practice

areThis morning I sat down for the 5th of 7 ARE (Architects Registration Exam) sections. The title of this latest gem: Programming, Planning and Practice. What does that mean, you ask? Well, if you have taken the exam, or know someone who has, or follow the ARE Forums you know this exam basically covers most anything under the sun. And I can mostly confirm this. And so, as with other posts on the subject, below is an overview of what and how I studied as well as my thoughts on the exam content – both graphic and multiple choice.

What I studied:

I have found so far, with most of the exams that extensive study beyond what is contained in the Kaplan/Ballast study books, practice software and flash cards is unnecessary and incredibly stressful. The ARE as a whole tests your basic knowledge of principles and design and systems, as well as your general ability to follow the simplest of instructions regardless of what you think is right or wrong. So, getting into the nitty gritty and detail of every aspect of architecture and building engineering….not really necessary. This exam is no different.

The Test – my reaction:

The critiques and reviews of this exam on the ARE Forums are pretty spot on. The Multiple Choice section wasn’t completely all over the place, but there were a fair amount of WTF questions that did not appear in the study materials. There was a very heavy concentration on Programming, Contracts and “most appropriate” or “best practice” kind of questions. The section is 120 minutes long and only 85 questions. I finished with a good 26 minutes left on the clock and that was after reviewing every single question a second time and verifying my answers. The first go around I took about 30 seconds for each question, which was plenty of time to carefully read and understand each word in the question given and understand what exactly they were trying to get at. This is critical for all of the multiple choice sections so far – understand the English language and really READ the questions. I honestly have no clear feeling of how I did on this section. It’s a real 50/50 shot in the dark.

The Graphic Section, however….seriously…it’s kind of a joke. If I failed this section I will appeal the decision because there’s no way in hell. Like most of the graphic exam sections, you have to read the instructions/program and DO WHAT IT SAYS. Nothing more, nothing less, just do EXACTLY what it says. The way I accomplish this is simply by writing it all down and having that program list right in front of my face as I’m working through it on screen. As I complete each requirement I scratch through it and move on to the next. Once finished, I go back through and verify each item on the list, scratch it off again and then check one last time to make sure I didn’t miss something stupid. You’ve got 60 minutes for the Site Zoning Vignette. After I finished, checked, rechecked and then checked one last time I still had 20 minutes left.

All told, for a 4 hour exam, I finished in 2 1/2 hours, including my 15 minute break. And in about 4 weeks I’ll know if what I studied was enough. Good luck to all the candidates out there.

3 down, 4 to go

I checked online today and BOOM, I passed Schematic Design. 3 down and 4 more tests to go. Lets do this!!

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