how small is too small? – a message to architects

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

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!

Daily Prompt: Decisions Decisions

How are you more likely to make an important decision — by reasoning through it, or by going with your gut?

Architecture, like life, is made up of a series of decisions. Some good, some successful. And some….not so much. The process by which these decisions are reached is significant and varies for each designer and each architect. I myself use a combination of the two: reason and gut.

When designing a building for a site, or when renovating an existing structure, the first thing you want to do is get familiar with it. This usually requires a site visit. You need to see, smell, touch and feel the space or property you’ll be designing. You want to know where the sun is, where neighboring buildings are, how tall are they, is there a highway nearby, etc. All of these things will impact your design.

Next you want to look at the building plan or site plan and, depending on what the program calls for, you begin to take all of that information you’ve gathered and begin to make decisions. Some of them will be gut – they’ll just make sense. Others will need to be thought out and reasoned – this usually feels like a game of Tetris. Especially with existing buildings.

the design process....

the design process….

Architectural Design is not a straightforward or linear process. It’s usually a mess. If most clients saw everything that goes into designing a home or an office building or even a kitchen….they’d probably go mad. Architects are mad already, so it’s ok. In the end, to design a good building you have you use all of the tools available to you. Your gut and your head.

Repost: why architects are always working (via think | architect)

Just a little fun late on a Monday night from my good buddy Lee.

why architects are always working Architects are often criticized that they are always working. We simply can’t stick to the ‘nine-to-five’ time frame. Even when we’ve left the office, our brain is still going. We sketch on napkins at dinner and falling asleep is often a chore because thoughts are still flowing through our minds. Yes, we are aware that minutia + detail = hours of time spent for things that no one will appreciate or even notice. Why is this you wonder? Well, here … Read More

via think | architect