The Process Less Practiced

As a professional architect, I have dedicated 25 years of my career to residential design/build. I am an absolute advocate of this delivery system and I thought I’d share a few insights and observations.

Since architects doing only residential design are so few in number, it’s easy to conclude that these firms practicing design/build truly are an anomaly. To say the least, it has been a hit-and-miss endeavor and creative challenge to develop the successful delivery system which my company follows today.

For a beginning architect, it quickly becomes obvious that making ends meet doing only residential design is tough. Most often you supplement your income by taking on commercial work, for which you most likely have been well trained. I chose the road less traveled, choosing to learn how to build the houses I was designing.

I believe there are many architects, seasoned as well as beginners, who would get tremendous satisfaction from staying with a residential project through construction completion. Now that residential design/build is finally beginning to take a foothold in the industry and gain esteem with the public, perhaps the time is now.

For anyone interested in taking this step, I think one of the first questions to ponder is, “Who should lead the design/build endeavor — the architect or the builder?”

While either appointment can be the right one, depending largely on the individual, I must admit to a strong predilection for the architect being in charge. The architect brings control and understanding of the design factor, which I find to be paramount to the long-term success of a design/build company.

Additionally, the architect boasts the professional credentials to engender support from prospective clients as well as lenders, suppliers and subcontractors. That said, architects have not had a good track record of keeping construction businesses afloat, but this is changing.

One of the qualities that proves advantageous to the head of a design/build firm is dual left-brain/right-brain abilities. Most architects have enhanced right-brain creativity, whereas builders typically demonstrate strong left-brain ability for nuts and bolts management. While you can always hire one or the other, it is really great if the person leading the show can excel on both levels.

The design/build project delivery system through the years was focused on the commercial and institutional spectrum of the business by The American Institute of Architects as well as the general industry at large. The ground is fertile for the aspiring architect/builder to pursue this as a career. Many colleges and universities are beginning to offer courses to foster this career path along with an entrepreneurial foundation.

For the design/build firm today, there are few associations or professional groups to offer support or networking. When I started out in the ’80s, I was welcomed as a builder by the local builder’s association and grew professionally through many years of involvement. The architectural community has somewhat disregarded the mainstream residential architect until recently, so it’s good to see Custom Residential Architects Network, a residential AIA initiative, gaining momentum at this time.

As design/build becomes more prolific, we’ll begin to see stronger alliances among design/build architects. I am certain that in the near future this delivery system will gain more attention. A great indicator of this is the publication of this magazine.

Luis Jauregui, AIA, is a registered architect and a member of the local and national chapters of the American Institute of Architects for more than 20 years. He has been an active leader within the Homebuilders Association of Austin, Texas, serving as president in 1999, and as director at the local, state and national homebuilders’ association levels. Jauregui was appointed to the National Committee on Labor Shortages and was instrumental in the formation of Austin’s Custom Builder Council and served as its chair in 1997 and 2001. He has served as chairman for HBA’s Parade of Homes committee for several years, and is regularly solicited to judge residential award competitions throughout Texas and the United States.