Why are architects so stubborn?
We recently met with a client who was questioning a bill. They were sure the work being billed was included in our agreement. We explained, perhaps not too convincingly, that changes made to the design after the design has been agreed to (in this case after the building permit had been issued) had to be billed separately because it required us to do additional work, first making the revision then coordinating all the related work.
During the conversation I remembered an incident many years ago when my employer was caught in a similar conversation, during which the client suddenly blurted out,
“You architects are so stubborn.”
My shocked employer apologized and, in a flustered tone, tried to explain that the design process had been standardized for the client’s benefit, and his insistence on sticking to it was meant to maintain the fairest business relationship, so that the project did not suffer.
At the time the importance of that conversation was lost on me, an enthusiastic young intern. Even I felt that my employer was just being a stickler for details. Unnecessarily so.
Over the years I have heard other architects I respected, mostly older ones, referred to as “stubborn” or “inflexible” or even “cranky” for defending the need to respect the service delivery process.
What, then, is the service delivery process?
Simply put, it is this: Architects get their clients to make decisions in a sequence that progressively defines the needs of the project. It works something like this. At the beginning of a project, after the client has presented the brief, the list of project requirements, the architect must develop a layout that responds to the functional needs of the project. What the building will look like is not important until the building does what it is supposed to do. So the schematic design stage fixes the layout, the relationship between spaces and their sizes and the way the building will address the site. In some instances the elevations are agreed, however this is more for the comfort that the design is headed in the right direction, not an agreement to be finalized at this stage.
The next series of decisions fix how the building will be built, what it will look like and how it will be serviced. This is called the design development stage. Decisions about specifications of doors, windows, finishes and fixtures are agreed to, and the budget is either confirmed or updated.
At this point the architect knows enough about the building to have it built, but he or she must communicate that information to the builder. For that the architect and his or her team produce construction documents, which are also used for obtaining a building permit.
Finally the decisions needed are about how to get the building built. The client must decide whether it will be built by a friend on a handshake or by a certified contractor with a written contract. Or whether the contract will be agreed by negotiation or by bidding. And if by bidding, who will be invited.
Some clients choose to delay some of these decisions, often for what they think are good reasons. They may choose to decide on the type of tiles for the living area later, hoping to find a good deal. Or to choose the plumbing fixtures after the next sale. But the tile thickness might well affect the door opening, leading to having to cut down expensive doors or not having a place for the whirlpool motor on the tub.
Finally, then, the building is ready to be built. If most of the decisions have been made when appropriate, the documents should reflect a complete design and the construction process should be without undue pain. But if, during the construction documents stage the decision is made to add a wing or change the type of window, the client should expect additional fees. In some circles it is called “work out of sequence”.
So there you have it. The reason architects are stubborn, and the reason they insist on being paid for changes made “out of sequence” is that they prefer to save their clients money. And sometimes they have to fight their clients to do so!
- Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the Northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.