Design/Build is our Future

There is no question in my mind that the future of custom home building is design/build. Consumers are drawn to it for its practicality, ease and the numerous advantages that result in savings of both time and money. As custom home professionals, if we’re not prepared to jump on this moving train, we might get left behind.

These days consumers are looking for packaged deals that translate to hassle-free service and instant gratification. They want to avoid the headaches and negative experiences which typically characterize the building of a custom home. Our consumer customers want someone to manage all the various pieces of the puzzle for them so they end up with a great home at the end of the day.

Of all the players in the game (architects, builders, engineers, interior designers), architects are best poised to serve the consumer and provide leadership to the integrated professional team. It’s the architect who has traditionally provided an extensive array of services from site analysis, feasibility study, project design, specifications of all products and colors including interior selections, construction administration and procurement of furnishings (typically on commercial jobs).

Unfortunately, current trends have resulted in many architects’ participation being limited to the production of incomplete builder sets, relegating the rest of the work to others. The ubiquitous plan notation, “Owner To Confirm” or “See Allowances” translates to “Let’s not worry about this now; somebody will deal with this later.” The same is characteristic of allowances typical to most standard builder specifications. The lump sum allowances, which provide no orientation to the owner, become open playing fields to others completing the architect’s job. The system is a disservice to the consumer and an incomplete professional service in general.

Most of us are experts at creating our end product, whatever niche we serve. Therefore, is it too much to expect that we as architects: 1) produce a complete set of plans and specifications; 2) quantify the budget (allowing for site specifics and customization); and, 3) determine finishes and selections along with the interior designer and homeowner? We need to rethink and improve our services, expanding to provide construction services as well as render builder sets and allowances obsolete.
This industry will to continue to explode in the next decade or two, as more baby boomers demand a lifestyle that far surpasses the capacity of the production building market. This increasingly affluent population which invests heavily in its nests has become a lucrative market ripe for design/build.

We need to recognize that the market is becoming more sophisticated and the demand for comprehensive expertise is here. If we as architects don’t come to the table with a full menu, an outside company will. We’ll become subordinate to a consultant hired to lead the project and service the consumer.

It’s my experience there are more builders and interior designers who are ahead of the curve in expanding their services than are architects, which is a design/build equation that also works. The companies that evolve and provide extensive service to the custom home buyer are going to succeed and capture the lion’s share of this burgeoning market. That is the future of this business.

If you want to join this movement and move your company in this direction, don’t miss reading my column in the upcoming issues. My next subject is integrating the interior designer into the design/build process.