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.