Friday, September 28, 2012

Divine Design - The Architects

(Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from my new book Raising the Roof! A Homebuilder's Secrets to Saving Time and Money. So often homeowners take a "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach to the building process. Raising the Roof! attempts to re-orient the process so most of the planning occurs upfront, before leaving the architect's office. This piece is a snippet from the section dealing with the first of the Team Members, the architect. Many additional "tricks and tips" can be gleaned from the balance of the text, but you'll just have to wait for the book to be published before you can see the rest of what we're up to!) 

                                       Divine Design – The Architects

The “Rock Stars” of the entire building process are the architects. Rightfully so – with the lengthy educational requirements necessary before being able to practice, they’ve earned it. But, just because architects have earned rock star status doesn’t mean they have to act like it. Let’s go back to the original thought, “it’s your home, not theirs!” Therefore, architects should adopt an attitude of helpfulness, trying to understand the client’s needs and wants while communicating, educating and taking ideas to the two-dimensional final form known as construction drawings.

Frank Lloyd Wright's "Falling Waters"
On a national level America has several prima donna architects who will invoke “form over function” architectural concepts more suited to their ideas, needs, and tastes. Frank Lloyd Wright, of years ago, is one such person. If living in an art piece was the objective, he was the obvious choice. But “form” doesn’t always lead to the “function” needed in homes to accommodate the needs of a family. Many of Wright’s works are immortalized today for their very avant guard styling, but rarely does one hear about the client that commissioned the work and/or lived in the house.

In the older, more established cities of America, the accepted practice is to hire the architect as the first member of the project team.  Thoughts and ideas the owner has about their home are communicated through a programming process most architects use as a mean of determining the likes and dislikes of the homeowner.  The client’s ability to get what they truly want in a home is directly related to the architect’s ability to de-program, or break the code of what is desired.  Certainly the architect’s ability to correctly interpret the desires of the client, coupled with the creativity to solve unique problems while exhibiting flare in the styling of the home, weigh heavily in the overall outcome of the project.  It works best if large egos are checked at the front door.

Yet, while architects are trained in the art of design and structure, often their communication skills are lacking.  The ability to accurately communicate a design rolling around in the head of the client must be accurately “heard” by the ears of a discerning architect.  This is why clipping pictures and organizing them by areas of the house is so important. Through a two-dimensional set of construction drawings representing the owner’s design objectives, ideas collected from the client’s pictures will finally become three-dimensional on-site when construction begins. Often what the owner really wanted gets lost in the mix because the architect didn’t listen effectively.   As a result, major changes in the overall design of the home follow the framing of the walls.  Once a homeowner can actually walk through their newly framed home, builders will often hear: “…I didn’t know that it was going to look like that!”  But count those concerns as an indictment to the overall process as much as to the lack of communication skills of the architect.  Great houses have to be “drawn” out of the client – it simply requires intense concentration, listening, and communication on the part of both the owner and architect.

A dimensioned floor plan with exterior elevations of the home represents only the beginning in the production of a set of plans necessary to build a good home.  Often the penny-pinching client will forego purchasing the detail drawings the architect will produce (for a fee) which drive the uniqueness of the overall finished product.  It has been said that ‘the devil is in the details.’  So true.  Extra time and money spent on further definition and explanation set forth in the accompanying architectural details makes the bare bones “house” a “home”.
"Ahhhhhhh...that's not what we asked for!"

Friday, September 14, 2012

Raising the Roof!

(Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from my new book Raising the Roof! A Homebuilder's Secrets to Saving Time and Money. Though the blog took the summer off, the writer of the blog didn't - he was busy writing the book. So often homeowners take a "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach to the building process. Raising the Roof! attempts to re-orient the process so most of the planning occurs upfront, before leaving the architect's office. This piece is an overview of the players necessary for the complete planning of any home or remodel. Hopefully this will be as much fun to read, as it was to write!)
Build a Team

As the owner desiring to have a home built or remodeled, it’s your project so you get to be the quarterback. First, interview prospective team members using the interviewing suggestions below, and hire integrity, character, experience, knowledge, and a “can do” spirit. The team must include an architect, builder/contractor, interior designer (unless you have fabulous taste and proven experience) and a landscape architect. Just a thought or two about the team members:

  • ·      Architects are usually creative people who don’t know, or understand cost. Their discipline is not centered around the cost of materials or labor. They have been trained in design, proportion, balance etc. and bring the aesthetic to the project.

  • ·      Builders know and understand cost. The builder’s discipline has them working in numbers and budgets all day long, but most don’t really know design. Assembling both architect and builder in the same room should give an owner the best of both worlds.

  • ·      Interior Designers usually don’t know schedule. Most often these are creative people (read: artists) who really know color, texture, shape, form, and all of the wonderful components necessary for achieving the “look.” But bringing structure to an interior designer’s world and getting selections when the building process demands, is like herding cats. Though the builder and architect can aid in giving structure to the interior designer, most probably the owner will need to reinforce that the designer is being paid to be timely in their creativity.

  • ·      Landscape Architects design and coordinate all of the outside disciplines and elements necessary for a beautiful yard. This should happen along with the home design and interiors. It’s amazing how much overlap there is between the trades needed to build a home, and the players necessary for creating exterior landscaping. Why not reap the benefits of the cost efficiency of having the concrete guy pour all of the footings, pads, piers, and preliminary flatwork necessary for the yard landscape along with the foundation for the house? Why not have the pool designed, located and formed before home construction gets in the way and makes it really expensive to do later? It requires a little forward thinking, but the savings are dramatic.

·      There’s an argument saying structural engineers, consultants, and lighting designers should be added to the team at the beginning of the process. Too many cooks in the kitchen! The “team” functions much more efficiently with fewer people. Your builder, architect, interior designer, and landscape architect should be the core of your Project Team. They should bring in the other disciplines as necessary to accomplish specific things which may be needed in your home. Good team members also know where competent support professionals can be found. Typically these will be professionals they have worked with before who become valuable additions to the project.

·      Remember this process ends up being a “chemistry experiment.” It’s very important that the owner really likes the people on the Project Team because enormous amounts of time will be spent with this group. Don’t just hire the market reputation of someone because everyone in the community is mesmerized by their work. Upon meeting who the market deems Mr. Wonderful, if there is a personality clash, toss them back in the pond.