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Architects have a reputation for spending their client’s money to live out their design fantasies.  Admittedly, there’s a reason for this reputation.  It happens.

This is a big problem and it’s one we in the design industry need to address.  This reputation has led to our marginalization.  No wonder architects have little clout when it comes to convincing municipalities or developers to build smarter, better, efficient developments that work well.

People with money who want to build something have lost faith that architects will spend their money wisely.  This is only because it’s true for the most part.  Many times architects seem clueless about what things cost.  This is why clients often look to contractors to give them a realistic view of what can be built with their money.  Sadly this means that clients end up looking solely to contractors for “value engineering” suggestions to keep things on budget which makes the architect out to be the bad guy in the equation.  Usually during this process the client ends up accepting the contractor’s suggestions to slash whatever’s in the way of the bottom line while getting upset with the architect for costing him so much money in the first place.

To get back in the good graces of clients and back in a position where we can effect positive change in society, we need to think of our client’s money as our own.  This means making compromises, but educated ones.  I got a sense of this when my husband and I renovated a dilapidated duplex with our own money.  Each check we wrote was heart-wrenching.  Every penny was hard-earned and had better be spent in the best possible way. When it’s a client’s money, this vigilance is often slackened if not totally thrown out the door.  But the kind of experience I had with our duplex was a great education increasing my sensitivity to cost considerably.

Speaking of education, our academic education is somewhat to blame for the architect’s lack of awareness towards cost.  We’re encouraged to think up of our wildest, most outrageous designs in school without any consideration towards what it would take to build these ideas.  In some ways, this isn’t all bad.  It teaches us to flex and build our creative muscles which is what places architects apart from builders.  However, there’s hardly any emphasis on cost considerations in design school and unfortunately this hole in our education can reverberate through our career if we don’t supplement it with experiences such as the one I had with our duplex.

Because of this, not only are architects marginalized, but have been completely eliminated whenever possible.  If a project doesn’t require a permit or a client thinks he can get away without getting one, chances are he’s not going to hire an architect.  He’s going to hire a contractor and stop there because an architect will just increase his costs.

This is a call to architects to regain the trust of our clients by spending their money as if it were our own.  Our cities and our neighborhoods NEED the input and expertise of design professionals.  Let’s make ourselves relevant again by making cost one of our primary concerns in our design solutions, not something the contractor and client have to reconcile in the end.  This means collaboration with the contractor and effective communication with the client throughout the project.

Lastly this is a call to all of you who want to renovate or build a building.  Don’t give up on us design professionals, we’re here to help and we’ll make a valuable contribution to your project without breaking the bank.  In fact, we might just save you money and make your project extraordinary.  So let us earn your trust again, we’ll make it worth your while.

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  1. mark lymer says:

    Good idea! I like the close with ‘we just might save you money!’ It’s true. I prefer to work with a contractor pretty much thru-out the process. Getting cost checks in progress is something we just dont have time for. Even when i have had on-time cost estimates, it still can over-run a budget. One thing is that a contractor will only offer schematic estimates up until the project is permitted. That’s ok, but the client needs to understand this too. The clients program dictates most of what we do anyway; the spaces or rooms they gotta have! And it’s true, contractors do not have training in design. Just as i really don’t know how to work a nail gun, or similar. Altho, there is also that one thing that always happens, even a beginner can come up with an approach or idea that you didnt consider. I dont know everything. I welcome those inspirations!

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