Monday, June 24, 2013

Who We Are

Not everything at is either accurate or helpful, but the image below nails it when it comes to architecture:

Not only is it funny - and yes, I do wish I could play with Legos for a living - but it accurately captures a real problem that architects have:

No one seems to know exactly why architects are important.

I could spend time writing about the long list of skills in which an architect must be proficient.  I could also discuss the job descriptions of the various positions that must be filled in order to round out the practice of architecture (such a discussion is available at Life of an Architect).  But that would be only to describe an architect's function, not his purpose.  One or more job descriptions simply tells you what architects do, not who they are.
Consider the following hypothetical conversations:

1.   You: "So, tell me about yourself."
      Lawyer: "I'm a lawyer."
      You: "Oh, so you argue..."

2.   You: "So, tell me about yourself."
      Soldier: "I'm an officer in the US Army."
      You: "Oh, so you kill people..."

3.   You: "So, tell me about yourself."
      Architect: "I'm an architect."
      You: "Oh, so you design buildings..."

The first two conversations are ridiculous.  A lawyer may certainly argue as a part of his job, but that does not describe who he is.  A soldier may be called upon to kill another person, but that is not why he considers it a high calling to be an officer in the armed forces.  We do not, in general, consider professionals to be merely the sum of their duties.

The third conversation, however, happens all the time.  Why?

Architects wear a lot of hats, arguably more than most professionals.  We have a lot of skills with many corresponding duties.  Yet, all of the things an architect does serve who an architect is, which is, in fact, quite simple:

An architect guides and protects.

An architect guides the owner, for whom he acts as agent, through the process of creating the kind of space they require in a safe and legal manner, whether it be for residence or for business.  In so doing, an architect also guides the physical development of a community by balancing the owner's needs and desires with the context and direction of the owner's community.

An architect protects the owner from the consequences of poor decisions, incomplete knowledge, and financial overrun.  In so doing, an architect also protects the public by balancing the owner's interests with the safety and well-being of the owner's community.

A lawyer is not a hired arguer.  He argues to obtain justice.
A soldier is not a hired killer.  He fights  to defend the helpless.

An architect is not a hired designer.  He designs so as to facilitate a beautiful, functional, and safe community.

Above All:

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well."1
 - David, ancient king of Israel and accomplished guide and protector

Did You Know...?

All architects are held accountable to a set of rules of conduct published by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards(NCARB).  These rules establish guidelines for architects' competence, compliance with laws, and professional conduct.2  In other words, architects are held publically accountable for the way they do their job!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I'm Not the Only One

In case you thought I was the only nerd person that is concerned about things like contracts, I offer an article for your consideration.

Bob Borson, over at his blog, Life of an Architect, has written an article outlining the many approaches to agreements between design professionals and their clients.  He concisely describes them and makes a case for their comparative strengths and weaknesses.
Here is part of what he has to say about the importance of solid agreements:
"A properly prepared legal agreement between owner and architect will clearly communicate a project’s terms and conditions, determine responsibilities of each party and set expectations for schedule and payment for services. The most successful architectural projects are those where open lines of communication are established, and trust and respect are mutually granted."
I wholeheartedly agree.

You can read the entirety of the article here.  In spite of the blog's title, the article is written for lay readership; nothing too technical.  I would recommend that anyone seeking to undertake a building project read through some of his resources first.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

First Things First

I have been in the architectural profession long enough now to realize that, for most people - including the building owners for whom we work - a building project is a complete mystery.  How can three different entities - the owner, the architect, and the contractor (the builder) - each with their own assumptions, interests, ways of working, and means of income, come together to produce a functional and beautiful building?

The bad news is that there is no perfect process, chiseled in stone and kept in a vault for eyes-only access, of designing, bidding, and constructing a building.  Period.  Every building project is different, which is why anyone initiating a building project needs the knowledge and experience that a licensed architect brings to the table.  But is the building owner at the mercy of the limited experience of that one architect who acts as his agent?

Actually, no.

The good news is that the American Institute of Architects has worked with building owners and general contractors nationwide to produce a document called A201 - General Conditions of the Contract for Construction.  It was first produced in 1911 as a revision to the highly successful Uniform Contract published in 1888.1  It has been revised approximately every ten years since then.

On the surface, it might seem like one more stack of paper, filled with legalese, meant to keep lawyers in business.  Practically, however, it provides the construction industry - and the unsuspecting owners who walk into it - with clearly defined standards for how the owner, the architect, and the contractor are to cooperate in the common pursuit of that functional and beautiful building.  It contains time-tested guidelines for...
  • to divide responsibility in the most sensible and equitable way possible.
  • ...what to do if something goes wrong, whether someone is at fault or not.
  • to protect the financial interests of everyone involved.
If you are an owner - our lingo for anyone who initiates a building project - or a potential owner, you should know that A201 is nowhere near as simple as I am attempting to make it, to say nothing of the complexity of the contracts you will hold, the drawings, the specifications, bidding documents, change orders, and permits.   But if you would take a word from me, you will be sure to see that A201 is incorporated into the contract documents.  It is over one hundred twenty years worth of wisdom and experience that you should not do without.

Above all:

"Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight."2..."How much better to get wisdom than gold!  To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver."3
 - Solomon, ancient king of Israel and experienced building owner

Did you know:

Architects are licensed in the state in which they practice.  State law requires that drawings and specifications be prepared and sealed by a licensed architect for most new construction and renovation.  In other words, state law recognizes how important architects are!