Archive

The Business of Architecture

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I don’t get to draw all day. I’m not a cartoon maker. Honestly, I’m getting tired of hearing clients and architects say “Isn’t that great, you/ I get to draw all day and get paid!” I know it’s typically stated flippantly, but we, or at least myself, need to really think about that. That’s not what we do and it’s part of the perception problem that the public has with what we architects do. “Don’t you architects just do some drawings?” No, no we don’t. Now before you get up on your soap box and start calling me out, I admit… I’ve been guilty of stating the same thing. However, I’m making a conscious effort to not say that anymore, it marginalizes what we do. Part of our role as architects is educating the public what it is we really do… we fall short on doing so, I know I do.

We architects get excited about meeting new clients and voicing our thoughts on the design problem and the solutions we have. We prepare awesome drawings that represent the vision for the project, with any luck the client loves them… and… pause…that right there is part of the problem. The problem is quite simple; it’s the ‘awesome drawings’ the client sees. Even worse, if we’ve been good at the design solution, the resultant drawings look effortless and as if that was the only solution. While awesome drawings are… well, awesome, they can also be a detriment. We need to do a better job at explaining the architect’s value to our clients lies well beyond the drawings created… and that we don’t just draw all day.

 

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An architect’s value is lost on the client if they only see the drawings and aren’t fully vetted as to the process/experience that ‘created’ the drawings. It’s the drawings backed by such that instills value. Yes architects draw. However, drawing is part of a larger process of architecture. A process backed with experience and expertise. The process involves problem solving, addressing your needs/wishes/budget/schedule, and complying with local building and zoning codes- all while designing an aesthetically pleasing efficient structure. Architects help you design/discover a structure that works for you and fits your individuality and preferences. The value of an architect’s services is occasionally related directly to cost savings. However, typically our value is in questioning, planning, clarification, detailing, and ‘solidifying’ numerous moving ‘parts’ into a cohesive design- which ultimately results in cost savings to you. This in turn enhances the value we bring to a project. Drawings play a supporting role in the overall process.

Drawings themselves do not bring value to architecture. It’s the due diligence, experience, role of the architect in the design/construction process, and the thought(s) that created the drawings that bring value. Many people seem to be under the impression that drawings are cheap, and they’re right. Drawings themselves are cheap. However, it’s the thought and expertise that ‘back’ drawings created by an architect that’s going to cost. You can have cheap drawings; you’re just not going to get them from me or any other architect who has your best interests in mind. As a client, you need to look past the architect’s drawings and be cognizant of the process that created the drawings. The drawings themselves are cheap, heck I’ll even pay* for the paper myself. What you’re paying for is the architect’s expertise that created those drawings.

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No, I don’t get to draw all day everyday, my typical day looks more like this- Drawing Baths and Architecture. Yes I do get to draw, but my drawings are more than graphic representations. They are a wealth of knowledge and are backed by a solid thought process. Architects offer a service in which drawings are a tool to reach a conclusion… a conclusion that ultimately brings value to your project. Drawings are a product; architects provide a service, a valuable service!

 

Design On,

* Offer only applies when my services are rendered for the project, cannot be combined with any other offers unless Neutra comes back to life and wants to collaborate.

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2014-06-11_blog_image_solo 101_ people

Lee Calisti had a great post on his blog think | architect about the negatives of being a sole practitioner. You can read his post here- 10 challenges to working solo. He asked for others thoughts on the matter and I needed a post topic accepted. If you read my post the other day I also listed my +10 for being a sole practitioner- Solo Architecture Practice +10

With all the positives, much like everything in life, there are also negatives to being a sole practitioner- not the least of which is having someone else write my blog! However, the majority of negatives can be resolved relatively easily. For example, you need to become well versed in delivering bad news to a client, you can read PMt No. 2- Who’s Bad! for some tips. Another must is to align yourself with good GC’s, you can read my thoughts about that- GOODgc BADgc. Well before I link to every post I’ve ever written **spoiler alert, numerous links below** here are my  -10 for being a sole practitioner:

1. When I have a lunch and learn I have to buy lunch and be the teacher.

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2. No big firm resources- books, software, supplies, etc.

3. No one to bounce ideas off of or offer constructive criticism (Facebook and Instagram comments don’t count).

4. I’m the architect, receptionist,  business development guy, PR department, admin department, good cop, contract writer, AR/P department, educator, bad cop, night cleaning crew, IT guy, intern, model maker, lackey, CAD/BIM manager, CA guy, marketing department, general whipping boy, spec writer, etc.

5. I have to buy trace, scales, and sharpies.

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6. No intern to pass grunt work off to mentor.

7. No Friday morning **insert favorite breakfast here** paid for by others.

8. Nobody to foot the bill for the annual holiday party.

9. Firm retreats are extremely lonely.

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And the final, and reason I don’t like being a sole practitioner…

10. No room for advancement within the firm unless I take a pay cut and demote myself first.

There are solutions to each of these… well maybe not #5 or #8 unless you’re open to committing petty crimes. Like anything, as long as the +/- tend to weigh slightly more to the +, it’s most likely worth doing. I’ll admit, it’s tough working on your own and its not for everyone. There are days I question it. However, if you do go this route it will be extremely rewarding!

Are you a sole practitioner, if so, what do you miss out on from being such?

 

Design On,

** One other negative is that I always know what my end of year bonus is… it’s another year of doing this, wait… that’s a positive!

2014-06-09_blog_image_solo 10+_ solo man

Lee Calisti had a great post on his blog think | architect about the positives of being a sole practitioner. You can read his post here- 10 good things about working solo. He asked for others thoughts on the matter and I needed a post topic accepted. There’ll also be a follow up to the ‘negatives’- come on, you saw that coming.

Like Lee, I’m a sole practitioner. It wasn’t by any great desire I had, it came out of survival instincts. The economy was bad and my daughter likes to eat and have clothes. So a few fees here and a couple of forms there and BOOM! Legal entity to practice architecture. I was off and running to secure my own work. ** cue wavy dreamy sequence*** Ah, that was 2009… seems like yesterday… but I digest. I know, I know sounds awesome… well for the most part, it is! So what are my top +10 for being a sole practitioner, here you go:

+1. I get to resolve all the ‘bad’ issues that arise- it’s the best learning experience.

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+2. No random principal comes to me at the 11th hour saying “I’m not sure I agree; let’s give this scheme a try.”

+3. I can refuse projects that aren’t a good fit.

+4. I rise and fall… I get credit for both!

+5. I get full authority on creativity… as well as veto power!

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+6. I can sleep go for a run or mow the lawn whenever I have to clear my head.

+7. When I take pens and trace from the office, no one knows but me… shh.

+8. All my days-off for vacation requests are approved.

+9. I’m in control (however loosely) of where my practice goes… such as my design value menu concept.

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And the final, and best reason I enjoy being ‘da man’…

+10. It allows me to be more actively present in my daughter’s life, attend her swim meets, dance recitals, volunteer at school, etc.

 

Are you a sole practitioner, if so, what are your reasons?

 

Design On,

** One thing I didn’t mention is that my boss is sometimes a bit over demanding about ‘billable time,’ he just doesn’t get this whole blog thing. And remember kids, much like a battery, in order for things to run well you need both a positive and a negative.

 

2014-05-20_blog_image_the break up part 1

After 14 years or so the AIA and I have broken up… seems I’ve put on a few extra pounds and the AIA has… well… they’ve gotten to be high maintenance. The magic is gone. No matter what I do it’s not enough. We’ll always have… hmm… not sure what we’ll always have. We did have some good times though, didn’t we? Perhaps we can rekindle our relationship in the future (I left a turtleneck in their closet ** air thumbs up! **). For now though, and for the sake of the design, we have parted. A follow-up post in the future will cover more specifics. For now I give you some revised lyrics from the Counting Crows Mr. Jones (VH1 Storytellers version):

1 qoute

 

 

So you wanna be an AIA Member,

Well listen now to what I say,

Just get a bank account,

And take some time, and learn how to pay,

Just learn how to pay.

 

Well I was down at the New AIA Headquarters,

Just staring at this yellow painted gable,

Mr. AIA strikes up a conversation,

With the black haired flamenco drafter,

You know, she dances while his father pays the dues,

She’s suddenly beautiful,

And we all want something beautiful,

And I wish I was beautiful la la la.

 

I’ll call-up Mies- come on,

Show me some of them contemporary designs,

And pass me a contract Mr. AIA,

Believe in me, come on,

Help me believe in AIA,

‘Cause I wanna be someone who believes.

 

Mr. AIA and me,

Tell each other fairy tales,

We stare at the beautiful architecture,

“She’s looking at you, no no, she’s looking at me,”

Standing in this permit office,

Coming through in stereo,

When everybody loves modernism,

You should never be lonely.

 

I wanna paint myself an outfit,

I wanna paint myself in black and charcoal and grey and dark grey,

All the beautiful colors are very, very meaningful,

Yeah, you know black it’s my favorite color,

I just, wear it everyday,

But if I knew Corbu,

I would buy myself a dark grey mock turtleneck and pay.

 

Mr. AIA and me,

Look into the future,

We stare at all the beautiful Architecture,

“She’s looking at you, I don’t think so, she’s looking at me,”

Presenting to this Planning Commision,

I bought myself this black suit and tie,

Man, when everybody loves me,

I hope I’ll never get lonely.

 

I wanna be a lion, I know, I know-

Everybody wants to pass as cats,

We all wanna be big, big, big, big, big starchitects,

Yeah but then we get second thoughts about that,

So believe in me, man, I don’t believe in anything,

And I wanna be someone to believe,

You should not believe in post modernism.

 

Mr. AIA and me,

Stumbling through the city grid,

We stare at all the beautiful Architecture,

She’s perfect for you, there’s got to be someone for me,

I wanna be Richard Neutra,

Mr. AIA wishes he was someone just a little more, you know flexible,

Man, when everybody loves you and dues are so high,

Sometimes, that’s just about as fucked up as you can be,

 

Can’t you hear me ’cause I’m screaming

But I did not pay my dues this year,

Oh, don’t wake me ’cause I was dreaming

And I make you worth it again today.

 

Mr. AIA and me, we don’t see each other much… anymore.

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Design On,

** The acoustic version will be awesome!