Let me tell you a quick story about a recent client of mine, what not to do, and the serious impacts their early decisions had on their dream home. These clients, let’s call them Jack and Jill (obviously not their real names), purchased a new summer home in an exclusive neighborhood about an hour east of New York City (in the Hamptons). The house needed serious work, but the property and location were great (minutes to town and the beach). Jack and Jill were both very successful professionals and, through no fault of their own, had never experienced a building project and didn’t understand the process or role of their architect.
Jack and Jill first hired a “design architect” to “design” their home renovation project. I put “design architect” in quotations because this individual misrepresented him/herself as an “architect,” was unlicensed, and was therefore illegally practicing architecture. Saying nothing to the design, a professional may had advised the clients that they would be happier, and it would be more cost effective, to simply rebuild the home. Regardless, they continued through the design stage with this individual, and then were forced to hire a second “licensed architect” for the limited purpose of permitting. This second architecture firm was not invested in the project and only preformed their limited scope of obtaining the required municipality approvals.
Then, with very poor drawings and documentation, the project was bid to three contractors. When the bids came back, the lowest was just over one million dollars, and the highest nearly three. This disparity alone tells you there was something very wrong. Without a professional architect guiding the project, controlling the budget and very poor documentation, there was no possible way any contractor could accurately bid on the job. The lowest bid was chosen, and the “design architect” claimed he/she could handle overseeing the construction. Needless to say the “design architect” was not qualified and unable to do so, and halfway through construction, the entire job site nearly stopped. The first “design architect” disappeared, the second architect only performed the work he/she was contracted to, and the contractor did not know how to proceed. At this point it was nearly two years into the design and construction process. This was when I was called, architect number three.
Constrained by the previous design and the work already preformed onsite, we halted all pertinent site work, quickly triaged the project and design, and were able to get the site moving again in a few weeks. It took a few more months to truly get the project back on track. The cost (emotionally, monetarily and in time) of not having a professional architect guiding the process was high. The project ended up costing nearly twice the initial bid and was delivered over a year late. On the upside, we were still able to work with the contractor and our clients to deliver a home they absolutely love and will continue to enjoy for many years.
Yes, part of why I tell this story is to demonstrate the importance and eventual savings (in time, money, and headache) an architect can provide throughout the entirety of your project. However, the main reason I tell this story is to display the role and importance of your architect as an expert, organizer, and professional leading your project, regardless of his or her skill as a designer. Of course, it is essential to hire an architect based on his or her past work and design sensibility, but it is equally, if not more, important for your architect to be a professional and person you trust. You’re entrusting your architect not only to design your project and oversee the construction team, budget, and schedule, but to work closely with you to realize your dream. My personal view is that a very good architect will do just that, but a great architect will allow you to discover and deliver a project far beyond what you ever could have envisioned.
Jacob Bek, R.A. LEED AP
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