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!"

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