Young architects inspire

In December I attended an annual symposium on residential architecture in Phoenix. This annual conference drew a healthy attendance despite the staid economy.

The symposium revolved around the expansion of one’s architectural practice through collaboration, diversification and ingenuity. The program hit on all pistons, and it was obvious to all who attended that thoughtful planning went into the event, which was very well received.

It was particularly gratifying to see that almost half of the programs related to design/build, and included among the presentations were topics on architects as developers, and how home builders can best collaborate with architects. One forum featured four design/build companies comprised of very young practitioners from locales including New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Kansas City.

I was pleased to see the makeup of these firms whose partners, not coincidentally, were quite young. They each exuded enthusiasm and commitment, speaking openly and with some humor about their fears and failures. It was striking overall to see their unshaken passion for their careers and to hear how rewarding their accomplishments have been to each of them. Everyone’s generosity in sharing their experiences was uplifting and encouraging in the midst of such challenging times.

It’s clear that design/build is taking off within residential architecture. To an audience that might have been struggling the past few years, it’s music to their ears to hear how colleagues are managing their careers and aspirations in a new world that has remained untapped by architects for at least the past century and is now being rediscovered.

The presentations incorporated extensive photos and graphic materials of completed projects. Following these, there was a series of breakout sessions on architect-led design/build, and I wish I could have duplicated myself to be in more than one place at a time since I was very interested to sit down to share and hear from the young design/build aficionados. However, I couldn’t resist the architect-as-developer session as I, along with many in the audience, was fascinated by the dynamic presentation of Jared Della Valle, a young 30-something with an incredible amount of energy and self-confidence who graduated from doing small, low-income residential design/build projects in Brooklyn a short 15 years ago to developing multiuse high rises down the street from the Empire State Building in Manhattan.

A session on the third day was presented by two top-notch architects and a young builder from two completely independent companies who collaborate on projects in the Phoenix area as well as around the country. The builder is superb at understanding architects and their processes, and is sought-after by the architect team to provide preliminary budgets to which the architects and clients adhere. I recognized many of their business traits such as no competitive bidding and value-engineering at the design stage, mimicking the design/build model.

What really surprised me is that, coincidentally, this talented builder independently provides design/build services apart from his collaboration with the architects. In my experience, this usually is fatal to the architect-builder relationship due to conflict of interest, but these two entities have carved out a well-honed relationship by which they are able to provide to their mutual clients the best of design/build experience and results. As an architect-builder with a successful practice statewide, I was particularly interested to hear how this builder exports his construction management to other states.

All in all, I very much enjoyed the symposium along with the pleasant December weather in Phoenix. I’m sure you’ll be seeing many similar events pop up around the country. Keep your ears open and take advantage of these worthwhile experiences.