These are interesting times. I believe it is the Chinese who use that as a curse, "May you live in interesting times." As an architect it has definitely been interesting for most of the past decade.
Not too long ago, anywhere from 20% to 40% of us had found ourselves unemployed or underemployed. That has slowly changed, but for a while it looked like the new normal.
The Bad News
The mega-firms dominate the design landscape.
The world we operate in is getting more and more complicated. Is anything less complicated than it was 15 years ago?
Complexity favors the large firm over the small firm even though the 120,000 architects in the United States are still predominantly employed in firms of less than 20 people. Firms of five people are the most common. A pizza shop has more employees.
How to survive? How to flourish?
HOW TO SELECT AN ARCHITECT
This article is taken from information that I have shared with clients and potential clients. You might find a use for it in your work. Feel free to modify it to suit your needs.
Selecting an architect should be a lot different from the competitions, RFQs, RFPs, and presentations that are used most of the time. These selection processes obscure what's really important; and they distract you from your criteria for quality, schedule, and budget. These processes have their basis in trying to correct abuses in the selection process for public projects. If you are familiar with the level of satisfaction with public projects, you will know that this process guarantees absolutely nothing. This is a shame, because finding the right architect will determine your project's real success. Any architect can design you a building, but not every architect can give you the building that you need and that you can afford.
First, form your selection committee, which could be just one person or a small committee of four to six (the fewer the better). The selection committee should be key members of the building committee that has set the goals for the project. Once you form your selection committee, the process described here has four steps.
A. Select buildings you admire and talk to the owners about their architects.
B. Ask acquaintances who have used an architect for their suggestions and their level of satisfaction.
C. Check the Yellow Pages listings of Architects for names that ring a bell.
D. Contact the firms whose names keep coming up. Request a list of projects that are similar to what you intend, the building owner's contact person, and basic information on the firm. You will already be getting a feel for which firms are appropriate. Contact as many as you wish, but six is plenty.
E. Weed out the firms who haven't much experience in your type of building or with your type of organization. These are two critical qualifications. Also consider if the size of the firms is too big or too small. No matter the size of the firm, there will only be two to six people working on your project. The smallest firm you are comfortable with is a good measure to keep in mind.
F. Visit several buildings of each architect you are considering and talk to the owners. Ask whether they are happy with the results; what works, what doesn't, would they hire the architect again. This should be three or four firms. This could be delegated to a staff or committee member.
G. Allow about two months for this research.
2) INITIAL INTERVIEW
A. Make appointments with two or three firms you are feeling the best about. Go to their office for the interview. Do not ask for a presentation.
B. Informally interview them. Ask all the questions that are important to you (see samples). Ask why you should consider their firm. Ask what they would like to tell you that hasn't come up, and listen for compatibility between what is important to you and what they want you to know about them.
C. This will take two to three weeks.
3) FOLLOW UP INTERVIEW
A. Select the one or two firms that you really like. If you can't say this about any, repeat the research and initial interviews.
B. Meet with them to discuss your needs, schedule, budget and any hurdles you must address. Ask for their feedback on your plans. This kind of meeting will tell you a lot; but it will take several hours.
C. Ask your favorite one or two firms for a detailed proposal of services - what do they propose to do to get you where you want to go. Include fees now or discuss later. Bear in mind that the difference in fees between firms will probably represent less than one percent or so of the entire project cost. Getting a building that is a good fit for you is more important than getting the cheapest fee.
D. Let them propose however they want - in person, in writing, both. When you see this proposal, it should feel "right" to you.
E. Select the firm that you feel most confident in. Make sure you have seen plenty of the people you will really be working with - not just the sales team that will soon vanish when you have been 'sold'.
F. This can be done in two to four weeks.
A. Negotiate a fee and contract with the firm you have selected.
B. Authorize them to proceed.
This process usually takes more effort on your part, but the success of your project requires it. Think of it as 'due diligence'. You are about to make a major expenditure!
orig post date May 2013
I was reflecting on the tools that were in use when I entered the workforce in 1970. A parallel edge, triangles, french curve, electric eraser, calculator and some odds and ends cost about $300 ($100 for the TR-100 calculator!). These tools could be mastered completely in a month or less.
I am by no means advocating going back. But by contrast, today an architect's tools cost about $6,000 - computer/monitor, CAD/BIM software, operating system, miscellaneous other software. And elsewhere there is a shared server, network, plotter and printer. Despite the hours spent continually on learning how to use these tools, no one ever completely masters them.
These changes in technology are not embracing the individual, but rather the team. The capabilities of one individual and the time constraints of getting a building designed make the idea of the sole proprietor already untenable for the 50,000+ SF project. There may always be a niche for the sole proprietor. Nothing ever becomes completely obsolete. After all somebody still makes buggy whips.
I suspect that technology will someday make the architect's tools as manageable (master-able) as they once were, but the trend of increasing complexity in projects is probably not going to reverse. In the next few years we will probably be including life-cycle costing, psychology of color, of materials and of space to the complexity that accessibility and sustainability have already added to design of buildings.
The team approach is here to stay. Working on team-building will replace working on learning CAD/BIM. Every ten years or so a new crop of designers will need to be indoctrinated into how teams work best. Alternatively the capabilities of technology, which are embedded in the product, will get easier and easier to master.
orig post date Mar 2013
Well, if you live long enough you get to find out how stupid some of your ideas are.
When I designed our house 31 years ago, I saved about $75 by using pull chain lights in three closets. The savings was the cost of wall switches and additional wiring that I didn't have installed. It was probably less than that. Today you can buy a pull chain light fixture for about $4.00 at Home Depot, so you can see we were going 'big budget'.
So what's the big deal?
They don't last forever.
And they are just as much trouble to replace as a $500 fixture. But you don't have a switch so unless you want to get into that, you end up with ... another pull chain fixture for your trouble.
"But, they are so simple; what could go wrong?"
1] The little mechanical chain operated switch breaks.
2] Most of 'chain' is actually a cotton cord. On a ceiling-mounted fixture, the cord 'burns out' from touching the lamp. (Mount to the wall or add real chain until past the lamp.)
Wiring is simple without a wall switch - cheaper by $50 or so. But if you want 'cheap' or the aesthetic, use a wall switch. You have been clued-in.
Side issue - why the f$!k can't anyone make a 100w incandescent equivalent CFL that is actually equivalent instead of 20% less bright. I am about two more trips to the hardware store away from having memorized the lumens I want. I'm sure the NSA is behind this.