Every day or so we come across an opportunity for a new project; most of the time there is a little back and forth communication, a pause, and then we hear weeks later that the project either didn't go ahead, or went with a draftsperson.
My heart breaks a little bit each and every time I hear this.
Every week or so we also come across someone with an existing project that has stalled or encountered serious problems, or, that has been completed yet with a low degree of satisfaction. People say resigned things like "we thought we could manage it ourselves" or "we could only afford a draftsperson" or, "we went with a builder first – they were helpful, but yeah, they weren't an architect".
And, unfortunately I admit I feel a little vindicated about all the hard work we do. A: to manage the project and push to 'make it happen', and B: how much focus we place on asking questions and listening to our clients to understand what factors really do matter to success. It grates me.
I've thought to write a little post about what an architect offers to project management, and why that is important.
Small but important fact:
– did you know that project management is one of the few roles in the building industry in Australia that is NOT protected under law? It's true. In the Building Act there are registered building practitioners ('draftsperson', 'building designer') and in the Architects Act there are registered 'architects'. Full stop. This means that at the end of the day, when it comes to project management, only the architect is actually qualified, and therefore able to be responsible (insured) to make sure the project is well managed in your interests.
In the downward slope to offer lower and lower professional fees to compete in the housing market and provide affordable architecture services to small budgets I find Here Studio's practice grating against minimum project management services. Ironic as these services would play to our strengths! And this, as we watch a housing market ever increase build costs and builder's profits. There's a point then where we realise that the project will not be successful unless we insist on providing some level of project management.
Potential clients wrongly compare an architect's work to a draftsperson or a building designer. I think there are many substantial differences, but a stand out lies in project management services. An architect is insured to provide them. A draftsperson or building designer isn't.
Over the past few weeks I have noticed how enlightening it is for potential clients to hear that In a typical project, we spend less than a third of the time on designing, and the majority of time on other services. Design is quick, albeit fluid and iterative. What really takes us time, and therefore fees, is our other key responsibilities: documentation (digital modelling, graphic communication, specification writing), and project management. Project management takes probably about 30-50% of project. It's also the most risky part.
Perhaps controversially so, I would posit that the key difference an architect offers is project management. This is at least the case for most people – especially busy mums, dads, and small and medium business owners. Managing a building project takes a lot of time and skill. There is a lot to know and do.
But design? Here Studio tends to believe that if you can spread jam on toast, and, you have lived in a house before, you can probably design a fair bit. The quality of that design is another question, but it cannot be denied that for the most part, the person who intends to use the design, is probably one of the best designers there is for the project. Your intimate understanding of the brief, and your priorities is invaluable. So, what the architect offers is perspective (and experience with other projects) to make the design the best it can be, avoid pitfalls, seize opportunities and, actually get it done.
Simply put, project management is controlling a balance between risk, time, cost and quality. This is controlled through communication, and staged decision-making. To this we place an emphasis on everyone's participation, client, architect, engineer, planner, surveyor and builder. Because one of our key principles is listening, we make sure the project 'fits' to you, we work as your agent to get it done. Critical factors of getting it done are managing cost and time, and, recognising the appropriate level of detail at a particular moment.
Invariably, we end up doing many projects with owner builders because of the way we work and the flexibility in our fees. We love working with owner builders. We can help as much or as little as needed. Nevertheless, so often we find ourselves thinking: 'Don't quit your day job'. People who think they are saving themselves financial costs are right in the short term, but in the medium to long term, are wrong. Some owner builders will drop down to part-time work to manage the project, effectively cutting their income more than they would pay for us to do the work. Some even take off work full time. And, on real reflection and comparison, the cost of building works as cash in and out is very very similar. First, it takes longer, and second, builders will charge more to work with owner builders as a complication.
During the construction stage, when you do have a builder on board it's important to have someone on your team, as your agent. We understand the project and, oversee that your brief is built as designed. In all projects, there are changes that happen mid construction. It is inevitable. This is particularly the case when working with existing buildings. You need ongoing advice. If you have an architect on board we can assess the fair cost of any changes, provide cost effective design solutions, and, monitor the quality of the build as a whole. Typically we will visit a building site each week or fortnight. It is amazing for us to see so clearly that projects that exclude the architect during the construction so often end up over budget, and, at a lower quality standard than documented.
I often get asked what's the difference between an architect and draftsperson. An architect typically studies for 6 years, where a draftsperson is 1. It takes another two year minimum to get registered as an architect. It took me 10 years!
What it means is that an architect is particularly adept at project managing, and, integrating that with the processes of design and drafting.
At Here Studio we are quite good at managing competing desires. We work with many people in a collaborative way, and others, more didactically. Due to our working methods we tend to identify conflicting or contradicting needs early, and, through our design process we flesh out compromises and priorities closely with our clients. In many ways design is a form of project management for an architect. Finally, what is perhaps a key asset we offer, is our ability to make the tough decisions. These elements address what are the key pitfalls of managing the project yourself, and, work to make the project as close to stress free as possible, that it may be enjoyable.
We like to say 'architect' is a verb, which means to 'get the project done': think idea to plan to action. We think that what we can offer here to any project is supremely valuable.
All of this, we think, is important to consider in the context of Here Studio's emphasis on participation. Because we are all about participation we seek not to control, but work with you, and manage the project actually to make it happen.