I recently moderated the second annual discussion panel of residential architects and home builders in Texas organized by our local CRAN committee of which I am chair (Custom Residential Architects Network). The topic was the working relationships of each member of the panel, which included three architects and three builders.
Because of the success we had with our first panel discussion last year, as well as the appeal of the panel discussion format, participation and interest almost doubled. Each panelist expressed in five minutes their individual experiences — some successful and others less positive — working with their counterparts. It promoted plenty of feedback and discussion from the audience about how to improve upon and optimize the architect/builder relationship.
One architect panelist distilled the relationship between an architect and a builder to these insightful points: “Preparation, interpretation, communication and implementation.” I was immediately struck by the wisdom of his “big-picture” take on the subject and thought it worthy to pass on his insights. He went on to explain his points as follows.
Preparation begins with the architect. We are the initiator, the creator of the project. We prepare or create the design concept and drawings. We also prepare the construction documentation including specifications and selections. If we don’t do it properly and completely, then someone else will do it for us.
I especially direct these thoughts to architects who continue to provide “builder sets” of drawings as opposed to taking the entire project through design completion, detailing and full documentation. It’s imperative to the continuance of our profession and quality of our craft that we who are trained, skilled and possess the talent to design well, assume full responsibility for the final product.
Interpretation falls to the home builder, the ultimate purveyor of the project. In order for the well-prepared work of the architect to be realized, it’s essential that the builder commit the time required to study, dissect, comprehend and assimilate the extensive drawings and specification book. Without this professional approach from the builder, the architect’s best preparation will be nullified and the design intention be displaced with on-site guesswork by unsupervised tradesmen.
Many builders think of themselves as designers and take pride in making design decisions on the spot. It falls on us architects to ensure the builder understands and respects the architect’s role, which begins with providing complete documentation so the builder can focus on building the project, not designing or fixing it.
Communication is essential among all players and particularly important between the architect and builder. The architect must convey on paper the essence of the design intention with detailed drawings so the architect’s “vision” is understood. The builder needs to consult with the architect during his review and interpretation of the prepared documents, as well as during construction when variances arise.
A builder should communicate and enforce the specifications with his tradesmen, ensuring the quality of both the design implementation and construction. Strong communication between architect and builder before and during construction will create the working relationship necessary to resolve problems down the line, since no set of drawings is perfect.
Implementation and successful completion is dependent upon each of the preceding steps. It is dependent on good preparation of design and documentation by the architect. It requires proper interpretation of design and documentation by the builder. Communication to all parties regarding design intention and absolute details is essential. Given this ideal foundation, implementation will culminate in a project that is on budget, on time and built to high-quality standards.
Residential architects and home builders can find common ground and complement each other’s unique expertise when they respect each other’s roles. When professionals are informed and open to discussion, problem solving becomes easier, there’s less finger-pointing and everyone remains calm, especially the homeowner.