The word “architect” in a generic context is synonymous with inventor or manager. It is the one who creates and implements a particular endeavor and carries it through to fruition.
Architects traditionally have embraced the whole-project concept, contributing both design and construction expertise, or more commonly, construction management. Over the past five decades, however, the residential architect’s role has been largely diminished to that of providing plans, and of inadequate builder sets. Some architects have relinquished their leadership role, and they need to reclaim the full extent of their position and contribute to the complete design and execution of a new home’s creation.
Architects have lost ground in two areas. First, they have compromised their work by providing incomplete drawings and fewer specifications. Second, they have abandoned the project prior to construction in a cooperative effort to save on fees for clients. Both of these changes have been to the detriment of a quality end product.
I’ve discussed in previous columns the importance of complete construction documents, but I want to add the importance of architects identifying ways to provide more thorough documentation in a more cost-effective way for their clients. This will require persuading clients to invest a little bit more in professional services upfront, but as we know from experience, well-documented plans and specifications reduce change orders and save headaches from cost overruns during construction. Architects need to sell the concept that it is in the client’s best interest, and that of the project, to provide well designed and documented plans and specifications.
The second area where architects have faltered is with project oversight during construction. It’s up to the professionals to instill in their clients the expectation that the architect remains an integral part of the creative team.
Architects need to demonstrate the value of their continuing involvement even if it means bearing the initial expense themselves. Just by taking the initiative to show up on-site and report back to the client and builder, your presence will take on renewed credibility. Take photos, study details, and see where design enhancements can occur. Communicate with the parties. Express this as a standard part of your service; don’t make it optional. Once everyone is accustomed to the service, you can offer a limited number of site visits before charging hourly.
Too often the architect’s role is seen as a check and balance for inaccuracies or watch-dogging the builder. Turn this around and prove the value of your contribution by partnering with the builder on project changes. Change orders are inherent in construction and it’s to your benefit to manage them. No matter how great a job is done by the architect on plans and specifications, there will always be room for interpretation, ambiguities or omissions that cause the construction team to ad-lib. We all have experienced the ill affects caused by a carpenter misreading details or framers playing architect at the client’s request. Retain control of the design by becoming a team player.
We are, thankfully, experiencing heightened interest in good design lately. Prospective clients are beginning their due diligence more and more. Expand your services and your fees will become more palatable and your services more enticing, thereby creating added value.
It’s important to encourage consumer confidence to invest in good design by producing more extensive drawings and maintaining the integrity of the team through completion. Consumers and builders are recognizing the value that architects bring to a project, and our expanded role during construction will ensure a higher-quality end result to the benefit of all.