The problem with architects (and building designers)

concrete wall with circles

So this might be a first, a designer writing about the issues you might experience when working with a designer or architect.  However, it makes perfect sense really… who better to point out a few things that we as a profession should be doing right.  I shouldn’t be speaking for others; so I’ll speak for myself… here are a few things that we are continually trying to improve in our office.

Listen… really listen – One of the most important things we need to do to be able to deliver a great design response to a brief is listen to our clients, however more than that we need to be able to ask the right questions; the question behind the question. Only by really getting to know the intricacies of our clients’ lifestyle, needs, wants and dreams can we be in a position to help them create the home they desire.  This is something that we do really well now, as evidenced by the wide range of homes that we have completed for our clients, however it’s important that we don’t take our eye off the ball.  The thing I enjoy most about designing homes is that every brief, every site, and every budget is different; so we must have a thorough understanding of our clients and take a fresh approach to each project.

Designing to budget – This is probably the most common concern that makes homeowners nervous when working with an architect or building designer; the ability to deliver a design on budget.  One problem we often face is an imbalance between the design brief and the budget; we all wish for that little bit extra and hope that it will come at little cost.  However, as experts in the field our role is to see the signals of a mismatch between the brief and the budget and to inform our clients when that is the case.  The other problem we face is the issue of scope creep, where, as the design concept is developed the client requests changes that add more detail and complexity and additional size to the home.  All of these things add cost, yet the resulting inflated quotes are generally a surprise.  We haven’t nailed it just yet (nobody has!), but we are getting much better at helping our clients to stay on track to meet their budget by asking the right questions and by simply telling it as it is.

Utilising technology – Our industry has come a long way since I picked up my first drafting pen.  CAD was a game changer for architectural and drafting offices that allowed a higher level of precision as well as being significantly quicker.  Now, we are seeing a new technology make a big splash in the industry.  BIM (Building Information Modelling) is a major leap forward from CAD and offers a skilled user a range of previously unavailable and desirable options; like perspective views, colour renders and sun studies.  I am really proud of the quality of BIM documentation that our boutique office produces and I’m excited by some emerging technology that we hope to bring to our service offering soon.  By utilising BIM we are able to produce drawings that are of the highest quality which ensures our designs are easier to quote and more predictable to build.

Play to our strengths – Or as my Dad once told me, “Play the games you’re good at”.  For us that now means that we only work on residential projects; no commercial, no industrial and no retail projects, only new homes and extensions and renovations.  Yes, we learnt the hard way that if you’re not experienced in a particular area it is easy to get your fingers burnt.  They didn’t get burnt badly, but enough for us to make a decision to stay away from the fire in future.  We just weren’t prepared and didn’t realise until it was too late.  It was one of the best decisions I have made.  It has allowed us to continue to focus on our strengths and on projects that we enjoy most.  In every industry, there are a lot of businesses that claim to specialise in a wide range of services.  However, that is contradictory by definition as it’s very difficult to offer truly specialised skills if you are providing a wide range of services to a variety of client types.  Once upon a time I would never have stated this publicly, but we only work with people who are interested in high quality design and who will typically have a budget of $300,000 plus for extension and renovation projects and $500,000 plus for new homes.  However I am now happy to let people know who we like to work with as all parties are better off with that knowledge.

Have more fun! – I enjoy what I do.  I’m lucky that on most days I look forward to going to work.  After all, I enjoyed drawing pictures of houses as a kid, so why wouldn’t I like it now!? I’m also committed to making work enjoyable for those who work with me and for our work environment to be enjoyable for those who we work with.

There isn’t a week go by that my team and I don’t discuss the product and service we are delivering to our clients and how we can improve on it, be it quality control, effectiveness of our designs, efficiency of delivery and timing, quality and quantity of documentation and client services.  Every day holds a new challenge that we look forward to solving and improving the way we operate, to making our clients’ experience positive and rewarding, and that will never change.

sketch with book