Moving Forward, Together

I thought Luis Jauregui’s column in the June 2010 issue (pg. 8) was very interesting. Titled, Collaborate to succeed, it addresses how to improve upon and optimize the architect/builder relationship. Written primarily from an architect’s perspective, (Mr. Jauregui is an accomplished design/build architect) he gave many suggestions on how architects and builders can best collaborate to produce the optimum result when creating a custom home.

Since 1984, I have built more than 300 custom homes designed by about 15 unrelated architects. While there are distinct code-related commonalities from plan to plan, each architect’s plan is as unique as his/her fingerprint … and demands that the builder’s team employs a systematic, intense due diligence to the interpretation and implementation phases of construction.

Mr. Jauregui succinctly summarizes the design/build process with the verbs, “preparation, interpretation, communication and implementation,” meaning the architect prepares the plan, the builder interprets it, and both parties are expected to communicate on all critical and noncritical elements while the builder implements the plan. This ensures “the ideal … implementation will culminate in a project that is on budget, on time and built to high quality standards.”

My analysis of the complex relationship between architect and builder begins with defining who retained who. When I hire an architect with the intent to build a quick delivery/spec home or when I introduce my prospect or client to an architect, the nature of the relationship is significantly different from the scenario wherein a prospect brings me custom plans to build, or when an architect invites me to meet his clients to build their dream home. When I hire the architect for a spec home plan, any plan-related issues and questions are easily resolved by communicating clearly and working together to determine the best outcome.

However, when the roles are reversed and the architect refers me to the client or the client brings me his plan, we need to handle any plan deficiency or uncertainty much more delicately. Our clients expect that the plans they paid for are complete and perfect, which, while sometimes true, in reality is rarely the whole story!

Of course, you do not want to undermine your client’s confidence in the plan any more than you want the architect to undermine your client’s confidence in your construction team’s abilities. Naturally, whenever feasible, we attempt to resolve questions directly between architect and builder. But when problems arise, like a permit being held up in the construction department or a finish detail that was built per the builder’s interpretation which the owner perceives as different from expectations, then the architect and builder’s negotiation and communication skills are tested. Ideally, resolution is achieved while maintaining the client’s confidence in both professionals. I always attempt to keep the client’s focus on determining the best and most efficient solution.

Mr. Jauregui states, “Many builders think of themselves as designers and take pride in making design decisions on the spot. It falls on the architect’s role to ... provide complete documentation so the builder can focus on building the project, not designing or fixing it.” When building for a client, however, it often is not the builder who wants to redesign on the spot, but the homeowner. So, while I agree with Jaurgeui’s statement, I am in practice regularly called upon to complete the vision of the client in the three-dimensional world. My ability to create a win-win-win between the client’s vision, the architect’s plan and the final product is what distinguishes me and other successful custom builders from the rest of our competition.

Recognizing that our common goal is to produce the best-quality result given the realities of the construction budget, the builder and architect must work together like a football team’s offensive line, clearing the way for the quarterback and the running back to move the ball steadily toward the goal line, so the team scores or, in our world, our happy homeowners move into their dream home.

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