Sunday, March 25, 2012


”This must be finished by Thanksgiving. I’m hosting my entire family for the holidays - Thanksgiving and Christmas!” I can still hear the clipped instructions, of the Owners as we neared the start of construction. My, how familiar was that!

After four months of negotiation with three Contractors and seven design iterations, the question now at the end of the summer months was how to make this a positive experience for everyone. How would I ensure that we would be done by Thanksgiving? How could I make these Owners live in the same space for three months during a major renovation and be happy at the end?

In these tough times, despite the scaled-back resources we have to work with, performance is everything. As a matter of fact, performance and on time project delivery are more important now than ever as we face stiffer and stiffer competition in a very tight market. Plus, I find that at the end of the day, the Owners don’t really care who didn’t do what. If the project is delayed or over budget they are generally ticked off at everyone; the architect being first in the line of fire.

Over the years, I've come to believe that project delivery sometimes require as much creativity as any aesthetic design solution. This was such a moment. Faced with only three months to completion, a limited and constrained budget and no change orders, I realized I had only one choice – Design Build. As an Architect and a licensed Contractor, it turned out to be a no brainer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

“What a beautiful world it will be………"

Recently, I came across two very important and inspiring articles that spoke to the ongoing will of the human spirit to triumph even under the most trying circumstances. That usually means change on such a large scale that it’s almost monumental. However, I believe that those changes also take little steps. Some of these changes will be barely noticeable, among everything else that is going on in this exciting time. Beginning in the 2009 RLTA will provide Leeds (Sustainable Building) consultation services as well construction management as part of its ongoing design/ build consulting services. This is a minor step for us since our move from Autocad to BIM (Building information modeling). In the meantime the following items will be changing our designs for the better without some Owners even noticing the difference. But what a wonderful difference they will make.
Finally, a stud friendly television.

Super thin televisions

The Hitachi ultraline1.5in deep Series LCD 36 that costs $2,299.00 and requires a cable satellite box or Hitachi’s optional Audio Center. It comes in 37in or 42 in. Also available is the JVC 1.5 in LT-46SL89. The price $2399.95 and comes in 46”.

Wireless TV

The Belkin’s Flywire 999 for the AV69003 or 699 for the R1; allows wireless connectivity within range 20-30 feet . Another option is the GEFENTV wireless HDMI extender; with a range 33 feet up to 480 feet. The Monster Wireless Digital Express HD will transmit 30 feet. Wireless is also available with a distance of up 330 feet via coax.
Wireless audio through I-pod docking station
The Wadia 170i Transport costs $379.00. It’s a docking device; the right speakers will transport favorite tunes to the speaker terminals for surround sound.

Wireless Electricity

No longer will I need to worry about those unsightly wires. Simply place the outlets behind furniture and Walla; lights.
A team from MIT's Department of Physics, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) has experimentally accomplished an important step toward accomplishing this goal.
Realizing their theoretical prediction, they were able to light a 60W light bulb from a power source seven feet away with no physical connection between power source and device. The MIT team refers to its concept as "WiTricity" (as in wireless electricity).

Still, for laptop-sized coils, the power level is more than sufficient to run a laptop and can be transferred over room-sized distances nearly in any direction regardless of the geometry of the surrounding space, even when objects completely obstruct the line-of-sight between the laptop coils. As long as the device is fitted with a wireless component, in the case of a laptop, there will be no need for a battery. In the long run, this could reduce our society's dependence on batteries.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

If it works……….

Some time ago I came across an illustration depicting three individuals on three separate levels of a steep mountain face. A caption identified the individual at the summit as the Owner. The next level down depicted the Contractor and at the bottom of the mountain, covering his head from the barrage of material raining down on him, was the Architect. Upon closer examination, I realized that he was desperately trying to protect himself from "Shifting Responsibility." The author went on to explain the growing trend among Owners of shifting site and pre-construction responsibilities that would usually fall under the Contractor's umbrella, to the Architect. Needless to say, the author, an architect himself, was vehemently opposed to this relatively new practice as the current AIA Contracts already provided for these types of responsibilites under a section appropriately titled "Additional Services." Attempting to view this trend as an opportunity rather than a hindrance, I anxiously awaited the manifestation of this “new” thought of the Architect taking the leadership role in the profession armed with the latest computer equipment and smart programs. To my chagrin, I realized that the responsibility that was being shifted had little or nothing to do with the problems that the computer or higher education would resolve but rather with the time-tested quality control components that architects have universally employed during the pre-construction and construction phases of a Project. Components such as Shop Drawings and full-time site supervisors were being omitted with the Owner expecting the Architect to fill this void. Take Shop Drawings, for example. This is a vital tool of communication between Architect, Contractor and Owner. Short of becoming a mind reader, it is the only true and tested way for the Architect to determine that the Contractor fully grasps the design intent down to the minutest details. It is also gives the Owner an opportunity to have a last look before the costly job of creating custom millwork begins. But more and more we find that Owners are willing to bypass this important step and have the millwork built directly from the Architects' Drawings. Shifting responsibility.

An experienced Site Supervisor is an invaluable asset to the Owner during the construction phase. The day to day supervision of Contractors & their Subs is impossible for an Architect to provide. Having another set of impartial eyes and ears on the job can save time, money and aggravation. But yet again, the growing trend is for Owners to refuse a Site Supervisor and put the burden of day to day supervision squarely on the Architect. The result oftentimes is that mistakes are caught too late to be fixed and in the end a misguided attempt to reduce costs results in not only more time and money, but dissatisfied Owners.

This brings me to the crux of my argument; Design Build. A Design Build scenario in which the Architect is also the Builder and where the the Sub-Contractors are already familiar with the Architect's style and ideas can be the vehicle that moves this discussion forward. This can be a win-win situation for both Owner and Architect. The Owner will get his/her wish to have the Architect or Architect's Rep on site at all times and the Architect will have more control over the usual trouble spots; Costs, Change Orders, Deadlines, etc. A well executed Design-Build scenario can successfully move the industry from the traditional triage of Owner/Architect/Contractor to Owner/Architect. At the same time, time-tested, industry wide standards such as Shop Drawings and Site Supervision can be maintained without the Owner incurring additional costs. As I said, a win-win-situation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

You get what you want


Convincing the potential client that the service you provide requires a monetary exchange rates number 1 among the required assets of an architect’s arsenal of required skills. My thought is that we (architects and designers) artistically intellectualize, usually while trying to explain our design, resulting in a confusing conversation for the client. So what I’ve proposed is a Rosetta Stone , so to speak, of some of the services we provide. First I’ll explain what one gets for what one has paid for followed by how that translates into real world action.

Type # 1, Traditional Fee Structure

Soup to Nuts (Full service)

The Process
(Architect Speak)

Schematic Design: Rough drawings are created and dialogue is had between Consultants and Owners to flush out the design goals and intent.

Preliminary Design: The development of rough drawings and dialogue between Consultants and Owners to flush out the design goals and intent.

Design development: Rough drawings are further developed. A significant amount of detail has been established and design goals have been reached between Consultants and Owners. At this point a clear understanding of what the project goals has been established.

Construction Documents: Detailed drawings are created to communicate to the contractor the design intent.

Construction Administration: The architect and contractor work together to bring the Owners vision to fruition.

Construction Management: The architect works with the contractor in more of a managerial position. It is considered a much more labor intensive position usually requiring additional fees because of the additional project oversight.

The Process:
(Owner Speak)

You tell us what you want
You tell us what you want again and we tell you if it’s possible
You tell us what you want we make it possible
We tell the contractor what you want
We tell the contractor what you want again
We tell the contractor what you want contractor again and again and again
We beg, plead and bribe the contractor while telling them what you want again
We tell the contractor what you want and they tell us if it’s possible
We tell the contractor what you want again and they make it possible
You get what you want

Type # 2, Abbreviated Fee Structure

The Process
(Architect Speak)

Schematic design: Rough drawings are created and dialogue is had between Consultants and Owners to flush out the design goals and intent. Changes are limited changes

Construction documents: Detailed drawings are created to communicate to the contractor the design intent. There is no interior design/ coordination

No cabinetry design, appliances specification, plumbing specification, lighting specification etc. All are additional services and usually done by the contractor.

Additional Services: Project Management is considered an additional service

The Process:
(Owner Speak)

You tell us what you want
You tell us what you want again and we tell you if it’s possible
You tell us what you want we make it possible
We tell the contractor what you want
The contractor may make it possible, may not
You get some of what you want

Type # 3, Alternate Fee Structure

The Process
(Architect Speak)

Design/ Build Services

Architects with the chutzpa are taking the challenge of becoming builders. The Architect works with the Owner to realize their vision. In lieu of now giving the project to a third party the Architect executes the work creating all manner of cost saving for the Owner. Bear in mind this can also be done with a method of construction call turn-key. The difference being that the contractor professional is involved at the end of each phase and executes the work as the third party as the direction is being given. Example: the architect finishes the drawing showing the building footprint. The contractor begins building the footprint immediately. This would happen at every stage of the job in a turn-key application

The Process:
(Owner speak)

You tell us ( the contractor and the architect) what you want
You tell us ( the contractor and the architect) what you want again and we tell you if it’s possible
You tell us ( the contractor and the architect) what you want we make it possible
We make it possible
You get what you want

I think you get the idea. Your wish is our command. In the end all are happy as long as you get what you want.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Infamous Fee

We sometimes forget our mission, lost in the frustration of the constraints of the art.”

Author Unknown

In most architecture schools as a freshman or sophomore, students are asked to explain why they want to become an architect. After all, this is not a walk in the park. Five years of undergraduate, two years of graduate school, three years of internship, five, if one has only the undergraduate degree, the successful completion of one of the most grueling professional exams and finally, finally, one can call oneself an architect. And oh, let’s not forget those continuing education credits for the “right” to continue being an architect. Some students say they want to change the world, others want to become famous and still others want to become wealthy. The first two goals, though lofty, are attainable and a few do rise to the level of fame through changing the built environment, think Frank Lloyd Wright or I. M. Pei. Wealth though is a much more elusive goal, one that most architects never achieve. Sure, most of us are able to make a decent living and take care of our families, but very few of us ever attain the wealth enjoyed by other professions. Our income very rarely resembles that of a doctor or lawyer.

Architecture is both an art and a science. Because of this ambiguity, an architect’s function is not as readily discernable as say a doctor’s services, or a craftsman’s handiwork but undoubtedly, it’s just as important. When the occupant of a room feels a draft, or when there’s not enough light in a space, or if as one becomes older one begins to suffer aches and pains from climbing stairs that are just not correctly proportioned, then one can begin to appreciate the true worth of a good architect. The job of selecting the right materials while at the same time designing spaces that are not only aesthetically pleasing but highly specified and functional can prove to be very challenging and more often than not, can only be wholly achieved through the use of a design professional – the architect. “Confirmitas, Utilitas, Vinustas.” Loosely translated means, it must stand, it must make sense, and it must be beautiful.

Now we come to the all infamous fee. For this minimum ten-year investment in a service-oriented profession, architects charge a fee that at once must be justifiable and fair. There are several industry-accepted ways in which an architect’s fee is calculated. The most popular being a percentage of construction cost which varies from market to market and architect to architect. This fee arrangement is one of the oldest and most widely used in the business and does not include reimbursable expenses. It is important to note here that the percentage has remained static since the 1970’s.

Another method used to determine the architect’s fee is Hourly Cost Plus, that is, the fee is based on the length of time it takes to complete the project, plus reimbursable expenses. There is also the Lump Sum approach where the architect estimates time and expense beforehand and provides the Owner with a flat fee including reimbursable expenses. This is the least favorable method of fee structure among architects. It is impossible to accurately predict how a job will proceed as too many variables can impact the length of a project. Extensive design changes, contractors, subcontractors, these are all aspects of a project not directly controlled by the architect but which have a direct impact on the length of a Project. I am sure you have all heard stories of projects that go on and on and on. Architects sometimes find themselves paying out more to get the job complete than they negotiated for in the Lump Sum agreement. With all the details that an architect has to deal with once a project begins, the last thing he wants is to have to renegotiate his or her fee at any fee structure.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

So, You Want To Hire An Architect

“If you decide to build, imagination, self confidence and vision - as well as a good sense of humor, are far more important characteristics than the size of your pocket book.”

John Milnes Baker, AIA

An Architect is, usually , not a Contractor. Architects define Architecture as the reasonable arrangement of the many parts of what one calls the built environment. How these parts, otherwise known as elements, are arranged determines beauty. The elements are floors, columns and beams, walls, windows, doors and roofs. These elements make up the envelope or exterior of the building, affect the environment in which the building is anchored and determine the spaces, and the relationship they have to each other, as interior or exterior rooms.

The Architect, as the expert that understands how these parts come together and function, is able to determine with the Owner/Client, the look of the structure commonly referred to as style. Styles are many and varied. Some common styles are Colonialism, Georgian, Modernism and Art Deco. All of these styles have subsections that make for the varied pallet of the artist Architect.

The Owner and Architect work closely to determine the Owners lifestyle preference, and many other requirements, known as function, as part of the larger category of programming. The Architect then begins a process of representing, in graphic form, the Owner's requirements in the reality of a building or space. This is called Schematics and/or Design Development. Many schemes are created until the Owner is satisfied that the vision of the project is understood. Based on these drawings the Owner’s vision is translated into a concise document for the Builder/Contractor. This is done in the Construction Documents phase of the project, from which a Builder/Contractor will be able to make the vision a reality.

A Builder/Contractor is the expert in the building trade that organizes a group of craftsmen to assist in making the Owner’s vision real. He works closely with the Owner and Architect to make sure the requirements of schedule, cost and function are carried out and adhered to in an organized manner. A good Contractor has garnered a tremendous amount of construction knowledge over the years and is able to assist the Architect and Owner in the areas of material, methods and construction cost.

The understanding of who does what job in this custom-built scenario determines the fluidity of the building process. The Owner determines the vision; the Architect translates the abstract thought of the Owner into the graphic language that the Builder/Contractor uses to make the vision a reality. This is a Timeless Way of Building.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


If you believe that architecture is a living discipline and that the built environment evolves with time and need, then you probably agree that when the dust has settled or preferably, cleared, and the builders have gone, there has to remain a continual dialogue between Architect, Owner and Builder. A dialogue that addresses the recurring questions of maintenance and function or perhaps even extensions. After all, change is inevitable and who better to work with than a familiar, successful team.

For the existing Owner, we offer a full-service, ongoing relationship, a support system to assist and guide you as you settle into your newly renovated space. Think of us as your professional security blanket, one that you can reach for again and again over the years. It is because we understand that need so completely that we provide each Owner with a Project Manual at completion. Manufacturers’ telephone numbers, warranty information, care guides, etc. all in one place, right at your fingertips.

For the new Owner, we professionally and confidently guide you from design development through construction administration all the while answering questions, providing information and efficiently managing your Project. Your dreams will seamlessly take form as the well-designed, functional and comfortable space you envisioned becomes a reality.

For the curious, we offer dialogue. We have something useful to contribute to this topic. Information and insight that we would love to share with you. We look forward to the conversation.