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I was interviewing an individual the other day and going over his past experience as a superintendent. He had an extensive body of work and a very impressive resume. As with many people in his industry, he spent most of his career with the same company doing similar projects. So similar that as I asked him rough square feet of his projects, he was able to guess with reasonable accuracy right on the spot. The reason he knew this was because the buildings I asked him about were of the same type and designed by the same architect. For practical purposes, the buildings were essentially the same.


This information wasn't new to me. It's a practice that's been used in the suburban housing markets for a very long time. You take a plan you know works, make a few client modifications and then have the architect or engineer sign off on them. This predicament is discouraging to me and many other young architects. Most of us went to school because we want to be designers. What most of us end up doing is redlining existing drawings and processing RFI's. This work is useful to us, no doubt, but after a while it can suck the life right out of you. There are also plenty of non-architect types who are happy to do this work for us.


So my question is this: If we go into architecture because we want to be designers, why is design the first thing on the chopping block. The answer is pretty simple, it's the easiest way to cut costs and be competitive against other firms who are doing the same thing. It's also a great way to reduce liability when you know you have a set of drawings that work, and probably won't get sued. These are reasonable concerns by architectural firms and I in no way want to belittle them, but I wonder what we can do to get more design back into the practice of architecture. I'd love to hear some thoughts!

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Tags: Architects, Architecture, Design, Designer, Practice

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Comment by William J. Martin WJM Architect on April 25, 2010 at 10:52am
....Sathish...you said......"I think most architects have failed to understand,if only more constraints appear,the more interesting a generic typology can shape itself to a specific design innovation."

This is exactly it.....thanks, WJM
Comment by SATHISH MOSES on April 25, 2010 at 1:42am
On a personal note,when I started designing a typology for the first time,it was about a search I didn't know,but when it hit me for the second and third time,I did have perfected on how to attack it,like all unknowns were explicit and clear.If one decides to attack any project like a generic one,it is all but not mere repetition of what is already known .But new design possibilities and innovations are possible in spite of repeating the same typology over and over again,only if architects take the limitations the client offers,the site context.If economics overrides,its important Architects today should take that as a positive parameter of design,rather than a restricting one. I think most architects have failed to understand,if only more constraints appear,the more interesting a generic typology can shape itself to a specific design innovation.It also tests the competitiveness of an architect to interpret all these tangles as a design entity.

Especially in a demanding pace and time like today,I feel architects need to be trained to tackle such things creatively,handle deadliest of constraints presented with as a mooting factor for creativity.It is all about the spark which should happen in a shortest possible time and are architects of today equipped enough to face such things? Secondly when an architect can stretch ones thinking,and falling prey to other pressures yield themselves to do generic stuff.The crisis is more simply on our side as failure of architects and not the other way around.

Schools of architecture should indeed update and advance upcoming architects,equipping them to face such situations,You can never stick on to old schools of thought when things are moving on a really faster pace.
Comment by Hubert Haboc on April 21, 2010 at 10:59pm
I thought that the predicament of real architectural design not given its due was limited to us here in Manila. So it is the same in the US.

With us, most clients would just be concerned about the bottom line figures, so value engineering takes the lead. & yes, it is unfortunate that this job can be taken on by non-architects/designers. Run-off-the-mill designs will do. What is lost is the opportunity to create something special for the client. It is not just the architect's fault. Clients are driven by economics.

It is a process of building trust upon trust after the initial meeting. I don't know how it is there, but here, it is unfortunate that after having given so much of one's self in the design development, this is no guarantee to clinch the project. After the conceptualization & its development, the whole piece is now reduced to a tool; a utility that will later be used to finish off the project, sadly without the architect behind the design. Many times, the designer doesn't get paid for his work. Premium for design? Who cares? The intangible design does not merit a proper professional fee.

This makes architects/designers cautious in their dealings with people. The cycle is vicious. The designer & the client become scheming & cautious. I have only a handful of dealings where I could say that trust really had its place in the relationship.
Comment by William J. Martin WJM Architect on April 2, 2010 at 10:45am
The problem is not the activity of designing, the problem is the perception of the value of design and of architectural services.

Take control and design the economics as part of the project.

An economic factor needs embraced as a significant elemental component in the process of artistic architectural creation. Previously architects have tried to ignore an economic factor and have stubbornly refused to admit that an economic factor could play any meaningful creative role in the process of design. This stubborn denial has cost society and the architectural profession dearly. In the past few decades, frustrated clients have turned away from architects and sought others to comment on matters of design. Design decisions that were once solely the architect's have been usurped by other related professions using economics and "value Engineering" to degrade the quality of the architect's design after the fact. This has led to a general degradation of the quality of our built environment. This would not happen if architects recognized, accepted, and included as fundamental an "Economic Factor" in the process of creating their building designs.

Repetitive stock plans never allow the client to make the best possible use of a site. Since each site is unique. Each site needs to be designed so the client can get the most value for themselves. Different clients types have different motivations and builder/developers are different from building users. In the end a successful design must create and communicate value for both types.

It is only natural for clients and building users to desire value in their buildings. Architects need to be creative and provide real recognizable value through the thoughtful design of all three factors. The value of aesthetics, balanced with the value of function, further balanced with value of minimizing economic waste needs to be clearly demonstrated to clients, building users and society. This does NOT mean cheap buildings. It means explaining to the client and building user the value of the design element or the designed function. How does this design element make the building more valuable to them.

The greatest architectural creativity springs from respect for the factors that constrain the design. Key word here is respect. Listen and show respect for the constraints the client places on the design and yes, cost is a legitimate constraint.

Clients will pay more appropriate fees when the client understands they can obtain more value for themselves from the design services you provide. In other words, the value that your services add to the project is perceived as more than what you charge as a fee.

My hope is that architects will come to understand the importance of creating and communicating VALUE. This will lead to a better understanding of the importance and value of an architect's design services. When someone other than the architect decides to modify a building design through value engineering, the whole design suffers when parts are excluded or deleted from the design with no artistic consideration given to the impact on the whole design. This leaves the client and building users with "half a design". In the end it will not be the "value engineer" but the architect who will receive the criticism for an unbalanced design. You will be judged by the end product regardless.

Clients will value design highly when it is explained to them in their terms. Explained so they can understand why it was designed this way for them. Once they understand, they will not allow degradation of the design .

The problem is not design itself, the problem is the preception of the value of design. The profession is still not communicating the value of design to clients and building users effectively enough. This must change...
Comment by Tyson on March 31, 2010 at 10:12pm
Thanks for your comment Rukhsana. I agree that problem lies in the public value of design. Many people don't appreciate good design, they think it's easy, which is why they don't want to pay a premium for it. I think you have some really good thoughts and hopefully the profession will be pushed in that direction.
Comment by Rennaisance on March 29, 2010 at 11:00pm
I think, there are a few things we can do about this Tyson. Here are my thoughts on it, but please let me know if they sound unrealistic. We can add 'design' as that extra component which should be part of our services (which already includes the typo designs and the safety measures for us professionals) and this 'design' has to be a separate element which we architects and designers have to justify to our valued clients as something outside the standard services we have given them (because at the moment we are redlining, RFI processing architects). It is like you are selling a commodity in one hand and a designer product at the other, and company regulations have to be there to support these actions. The people's voice is our greatest support in promoting ideas such as this because it is the people who are the buyers of our great works. The institutes can help us to make free publications for the community to keep them aware of the costs to purchase designed products and non-designed typo products. At the end of the day this will create competition between firms to give that additional service of 'design' to the clients, because they will know where the money is! and hopefully this will give some more work for designers like you and me.

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