(and 3 tips for having a better design experience)
Picture this. You and your family were selected to play Family Feud – exciting! You arrive at the set and an assistant walks all of you to a green room to relax before the big game. Eventually, you make your way to the stage. The music starts, the doors open, and there’s Steve Harvey. Everyone takes their places. Steve invites you and a member from the other family up to the podium. He says, “We polled 100 people, the top 6 answers are on the board. What is the most important word in architecture?” You buzz in right away and say DESIGN.
Congrats, that’s the top answer!
You’re not the kind of family to pass, so you all decide to play.
Steve continues asking the rest of your family. They guess: FUNCTION. Ding! FORM. Ding! You’re on a roll and your family is all smiles. The guessing continues. GREEN. Ding! It’s your niece’s turn and she spent a couple of semesters in architecture school. She says: DIAGRAM. Ding!
It’s back to you. There are 99 points on the board with one answer left. If you get this, your family takes a big lead to start.
You’re not as confident now as when you said DESIGN. You pause for a moment and say SCALE. Steve looks at the board and says, “Show me SCALE.” It’s not there and you hear your first buzz.
You still have 2 more chances though.
Your dad is up and he looks confident. “I’m going to go with FAÇADE, Steve.” Your family claps and offers a chorus of “Good Answers.” Steve says, “Show me FAÇADE.” It’s not there, another buzz, and you’re down to your last guess.
The other family starts to huddle in preparation for their only guess.
It’s your spouse’s turn and they seem nervous. They sheepishly let out, SPACE. Your family claps, but it’s a different clap than before. This one is more timid, more reserved, with an air of desperation. Steve slowly turns to the board and says, “Show me SPACE.”
The producers in the control room have done this before – they’re pros. They wait just one extra second to build the drama before sending in the final buzz. Bummer.
Steve walks over to the other family. They are excited. Steve repeats the question. They say, “Steve, we’re going with FLOOR PLAN.” The audience erupts in applause. The other family’s faces beam with confident smiles. Steve smirks before turning to the board. He says, “Show me FLOOR PLAN.”
The silence is deafening, and this is the longest second of your life. Finally, mercifully, you hear the buzz you were hoping for. They got it wrong, and your family got the points.
Steve turns one last time to the board to show the final answer. He says, “The final answer to the question, What is the most important word in architecture, is……BUILDABLE.”
As the answer gets revealed, the audience reads it aloud, but their collective inflection is more inquisitive than it is declarative. Steve turns to the audience and shrugs, remarking snarkily with classic Steve Harvey charm, “There’s always one.”
Here’s the plot twist. I’m the one.
For me, BUILDABLE is the most important word in architecture. Here’s why.
I worked at a firm once that designed really high-end single-family homes. Clients would come in ready to knock their old house down and replace it with a big, beautiful, new one. They would pay the firm a lot of money – many tens of thousands of dollars – to design their dream home. We would spend months pouring over every detail. At the end of the process, we would have a set of drawings that we would send out to builders. That’s called a bid set. We sent out the bid set and the builders would send back a quote. You can probably guess what came next.
More often than not – literally more than 50% of the time – the cost of the build was more than the homeowner wanted to spend. The big problem was that they already fell in love with the house from the plans and couldn’t bear to give up any of the details. So, they could either choose to spend more than the already-a lot-of-money they were going to spend, or they could shelve the project. It doesn’t matter how much money someone has; everyone has a budget. This scenario, unfortunately, is pretty common in architecture.
Architects get paid for their ideas and to put those ideas on paper. A very small amount (sometimes none) of the fee has anything to do with the project actually being built. If a firm has enough people coming through the door, getting projects built (and the referrals that come with it) is kind of inconsequential. This was disappointing to me as an entry level designer, and it’s even more disappointing now that I own a firm; I wake up every day with the mission to make people happier at home, and that’s only possible if the project we plan together gets built. Those early years taught me a good lesson in how I don’t want to run things at Designed Happy, and I’m appreciative for the experience.
So how do you avoid spending a bunch of money for a set of drawings that end up collecting dust in the corner of the room you were hoping to change?
Here are 3 tips:
There you have it. BUILDABLE, the most important word in architecture. There are certainly many more ways for projects to be buildable, or not, than the ones I described here – zoning ordinances, neighborhood overlays, code regulations, municipality amendments, and on and on – but you can’t control any of those, nor can I. What you can control though is how much you spend on the project, and who you choose to spend it with.
Please don’t spend your money on dusty plans.
Now that you know about the importance of your design being BUILDABLE, you can spend your time, energy, and money on working with a great designer and builder who can help you live happier at home. Give me a call if you want to chat. 571-422-2286
Bye for now.