The Need for Quality Documents

Residential architecture has become more prolific over the past several decades due to strong consumerism and interest in cocooning in our nests. Whereas architects used to work on both commercial and residential projects, the demand for residential design has made it possible for a great number of architects to specialize in residential work.

The level of documentation between residential and commercial work should be similar, but today’s housing demands, along with lower architectural fees, have exceeded the ability of residential architects to meet those needs. We have neither the time nor the manpower to produce well-developed construction drawings and specifications. Instead, documents have become reduced to a skeleton version known as “the builder set.”

Builder sets represent the status quo in an industry which has become complacent with mediocre plans meeting minimum requirements. We have lost the sense of what comprises a full set of drawings and specifications. It has reshaped our architectural landscape and shifted architecture away from the art form it once was.

Builder sets are caricatures of a house as opposed to a portrait. The plans are void of detail and require little time to execute, and are relatively inexpensive. End users of builder sets may be a small custom builder, midsize production builder or the actual homeowner. Demand for low-cost and expedient plans has led to a laissez-faire acceptance of a lower standard in architecture.

Due to the weakened set of drawings and specifications, the burden of design development, selections and specifications has moved from the architect to the builder. Builders are happy enough to be relegated the control, but the results ultimately are unsatisfactory for all.

Similarly, allowances are left up to the builder or other third party whose expertise will differ from the architect’s. The probability of achieving a well-integrated project, as originally defined by the architect, is much weakened.

Ultimately, it’s the homeowner that loses. Quality suffers as builders, interior designers and others assume the role of architect, making decisions on the fly during construction. Costs run rampant, as do change orders, and valuable energy is needlessly expended.

All of us in the chain of command need to emphasize to our clients that spending a little more money upfront on a well-developed set of plans ultimately will produce a much better product, as opposed to an ill-conceived project that resembles more of a construction remodeling than a new project.

We need to make a concerted effort to throw away the term “builder set.” The term and everything associated with it is negative for our industry. Architects should insist and be prepared to provide drawings that include quality design. They should also specify every element required for a good set of plans such as room finish schedules, cabinet details, trim, carpentry, roofing, flashing, reflected ceiling plans, lighting fixture schedules, framing, doors, window schedules and other details that never seem to be part of the builder set.

I encourage the residential architectural community to educate builders, interior designers, lenders and other team professionals of the value of a good set of drawings. Also encourage them to pay the fees of those architects who have trained themselves and their staffs to provide quality sets of drawings. We will all benefit from a more beautiful environment in which to live and enjoy.

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.