what have you done for me lately?

This is turning into a total blog-off about architecture. I started with “why do architects ‘architect'” and then followed with “breaking the law” to which Lee followed up with “you don’t need a drawing” to which I am now following with this post.

Anyone over the age of 25 (hopefully) has seen Eddie Murphy’s stand-up show Raw in which he famously coins “what have you done for me lately” in reference to women’s attitude towards men. I’m applying it here to the very tenuous and sometimes ethereal relationship between architects and clients. Clients obviously being represented by the women’s point of view. The question of “what have you done for me lately”, or more to the point “what do you DO for me” are key to the majority of problems the profession faces today. If a client does not understand the value that you bring to the table why on earth would they ever pay you or even contract your services in the first place? This got me in the mood to sit down and think of what I would consider the top 5 reasons that you (the client) NEED an architect on your residential project. And this goes for any project. I don’t care if you’re renovating a bathroom, master suite, kitchen, living room, adding a mother-in-law suite, adding a second story or even building a brand new home. An architect is essential to the process and the money you spend in the beginning for his/her expertise will be worth far more down the road. And here’s why:

Beaux Arts Ball, 1931

Beaux Arts Ball, 1931

Top 5 Reasons to Hire an Architect on your Residential Project:

1. Architects understand human behavior.

More than just being an expert in building design, Architects often play the role of a psychologist as well. It’s essential to building planning that we understand the how and why of the building occupants and the relation of the spaces they’ll be using. If you understand how and why someone will use a space you can better design that space to be as functional and comfortable as possible. Without this essential and intangible element of design what you end up with is a pre-manufactured arrangement of spaces that is based only on historical sales data provided by builders and developers over time. While this kind of data isn’t always completely inaccurate in predicting how people “like” their homes to work, it’s not based on how YOU like your home to work. And your home should be designed for YOU and not some fictional “customer” who isn’t you, doesn’t eat like you, entertain like you, watch tv like you, sleep like you. Get the picture? How many times have you walked into a home you were thinking about buying and said to yourself or your husband/wife “this house is great, but I’d like to change x, y and z”? I bet every single time.

2. Architects advocate for design AND function in their purest forms.

Have you ever driven through a large suburban planned development? Do you ever notice that not only do all of the houses look conspicuously similar, but it’s nearly impossible to discern what architectural style or period they represent? That’s because they aren’t designed to any singular architectural style or period. They are built in a myriad of styles and periods to elicit the maximum “customer base” possible. And the “function” of the home is based on that historical data I mentioned earlier. An Architect, on the other hand, will design your home to your specifications, taking into account your personal style and architectural tastes, and guide you in the design of the functional parameters of your home’s layout. This is incredibly important in the design process, before construction, when it’s most important to investigate different options and arrive at the most successful solution to your project.

3. Architects don’t just design your home, we design your property.

This is most essential when your site is either urban or suburban where lots are not very large and houses tend to be located close together. If your home isn’t being designed and built with your neighbors in mind….well, lets just say there’s a reason they say “good fences make good neighbors”. For example, lets say you’ve got a lake-front lot. Your builder gives you a laundry list of choices to make and one of them is whether or not to have a rear fence along the side yard down to the lake. You, the client, not knowing any better and not having anyone on the project to tell you differently, say “yes, I want a fence”. So the builder goes out and orders the one fence that is standard for the neighborhood and plunks it down all the way to the water’s edge. Now you’ve got a 6′ privacy fence blocking half your and your neighbor’s view. When instead your architect would have stopped you, pulled you aside, hopefully asked for a meeting if this wasn’t already discussed, and spent at least a few hours thinking of appropriate options that would have afforded privacy without sacrificing that gorgeous view you paid a premium for in the first place.

4. Architects provide the best insurance money can buy.

During design, pricing and construction your architects is your advocate. We don’t work for ourselves, we don’t work for the contractor, we don’t work for the inspectors, we work for you, the client. This means that we apply all our education and experience in design, construction, human behavior, psychology and feng shui to make sure that, during design, your wants, needs and desires are being met; during pricing and value engineering your wants, needs and desires are being met; and during construction when the contractor calls you and says “I found some windows in China that are just as good as the ones your architect specified for 1/3 the price” your wants, needs and desires are being met. (note – no, those windows from China are not just as good and yes, you should listen to your architect when he tells you to go with what was originally specified).

5. Your architect is your advocate and advisor during construction.

Unless you are a contractor, you need an advocate on site that understands the construction process. Construction is a complex process that involves different tradesmen, scheduling, ordering and deliveries. But more than that it is a juggling act to ensure that things meet budget. The contractor has every reason in the world to take as many short cuts as he can get away with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen well designed projects go to hell because the architect was not retained for Construction Administration services by the client. The client says “well the contractor knows what he’s doing, so I don’t need to pay the architect to be there after design.” Not true. The contractor will try and substitute every single building material and specified product to shave a few bucks off the total budget. And if you, the client, are not familiar with the standards and specifications outlined by your architect you will end up with a home that is not built to perform the way you paid your architect to design it. In other words, you are not getting what you pay for.

In the end, the money you pay your architect will help ensure that your home is designed for YOU and not someone else; that your contractor will be held to the standards set forth in the construction drawings and specifications and that your home will be built to budget, on time and with quality materials and finishes. Your home will last longer, perform better and be a sound investment in your family’s future. Your architect is essential to this.