In a previous post, Firm Advice, I offered up advice for those of you contemplating starting your own architectural firm. That post covered more of the legality and visions for your firm, long range planning if you will. In this post I’d like to offer up what I believe are five critical things every architect should be competent at to have a fighting chance at running a successful practice… I even offer up a bonus tip, whoo hoo! If you’re a potential client, consider this a list of a few things you should expect your architect to provide as part of their services.
This is not meant as all-encompassing nor are they the only things you need to be able to do, but they are a solid >** insert pun here**< foundation that you will typically use on a daily basis. It’s also worth noting that this is primarily geared to single family residential projects and will differ slightly based on other project types. Without any disrespect to Vladimir John Ondrasik III (google it), I present my Five for Architect’in:
Write/edit your contracts. Sounds simple and it can be. However, many architects aren’t exposed to this if they have been working for others at a firm. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on this blog. Whether you use AIA contracts, author your own, seek the advice of a lawyer, etc. is a decision you need to reach yourself. The Purpose of a Contract is simple; defines scope, responsibilities, relationships, and compensation. My advice, have contract templates at your disposal for editing. I have templates for New Single Family Residential, Renovation/Addition Single Family Residential, New Multi-Family Residential, Commercial Tenant Fit-Up, Conceptual Design, Schematic Design, as well as several others, you get the idea. You want good contracts that you can edit quickly per project specifics.
Free hand sketching that is. This isn’t a CAD/BIM issue/debate; it’s about communication on the fly. You need the ability to quickly get your point across; more often than not your point will rely on visuals and sketches not notes and definitions. You need to be able to sketch at a dinner table, coffee shop, swim meet, PTA meeting, airport etc. and you need to be able to sketch on paper, cardboard, skin, wood, drywall, etc. and be able to sketch with a pencil, pen, marker, chocolate bar, blood, etc. The point is you need to be able to sketch anywhere on almost anything with almost everything. This isn’t sketching to produce art; it’s sketching to communicate visually. We architects use visuals until the visual is reality.
I’m not talking about runway modeling, I mean build an architectural model. Not virtual models, as these inherently have a disconnect with the client and the process. Virtual modeling does have its place, and I often model in SketchUp, as you can read about here- SketchUp 101. However, I am talking about Real, Physical, Touchable, MODELS! The importance of physically crafting a model is every bit as important to the design process as the idea itself. This is a ‘touchy’ topic and some architects won’t agree on the value of actually building architectural models. However, for me, it’s part of the design process and I suggest all architects give it a try if they don’t already. An architect needs to be able to craft form to the idea. More of my thoughts on physical modeling- Architect’s Next Top Model. Another great read on the value of physical architectural models ‘Why We Still Model…By Hand’ by Build LLC.
Converse intelligently about construction means/methods. To be a Credible Architect, you need to instill trust in your clients and contractors that you know what you’re talking about. It’s hard to get projects built, it’s extremely difficult to get projects built the way you want them built. If you’re taken for your word, and are knowledgeable, your project has a better chance of being successful. You need to know the what and why of everything contained in your Construction Documents… if you don’t, find out or remove it. Most importantly, visit your projects during construction. This will afford you the construction knowledge. However, this gets to be a ‘gray area’ if you’re not contractually obligated for Construction Observation services. Which leads to my final point, you should have at a minimum (ideally full construction observation services) the following six key points of construction observation in your contract- Foundation and Footings, Substantial Completion of Framing, Pre-Electrical, just prior to Drywall, Trim work approximately 50%, and at Substantial Completion. I rarely engage in a project without those minimum construction observation services, if you do, be sure to have a contract clause addressing the Limited Construction Contract Observation Services.
Own up to errors and bad news. This is a tough one but you need to be able to own up to your mistakes and be the bearer of bad news. Clients expect their architect to give them good news. Good news is, well it’s good. Usually no big hooray from the client when it’s delivered, that’s what they want, and expect, to hear from the architect. Bad news is… well… it’s bad and most are uncomfortable addressing. However, to be a successful architect, you need to be comfortable with bad news. Construction is a complicated process and bad stuff will happen, best if the client hears it directly from you, along with solutions as to how to remedy the situation. You need the ability to have open and honest conversations, especially when it’s a difficult issue/situation.
Learn how to learn. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to get set in your ways. Things/means/methods/etc. are constantly in flux. Embrace learning new… well just about everything. Each project you do should be a learning experience about something. As one of my college professors was fond of saying, “Your next project is your best project… always will be.” It’ll be your best because you’re constantly learning.
So as a new or seasoned architect running your own firm, what advice do you have to offer up? Post ‘em up in the comments below!
** Learn to know when you don’t know and ask for advice.