Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about past projects that we didn’t get. The news has been coming from all angles: sometimes it’s second-hand information from friends, other times it’s an acquaintance giving us the scoop, and occasionally it’s even the homeowner that checks in with us to explain the situation. Whatever the case, each scenario usually has two things in common:

1. During the process of interviewing and selecting an architect, BUILD was one of at least two firms being considered for the work, and the owners chose to move forward with someone else.

2. The project has gone sideways because the costs are coming in well beyond the owner’s target budget.

The first is always a bit of a disappointment, but perfectly acceptable as we’re not the right fit for every project. There are a host of very good design groups in Seattle, as well as very capable builders, so we learned a long time ago not to take it personally. And, often, we’ll “lose” to a friend of the firm, which just keeps us all going on fun projects.

The second, however, is always unfortunate. We typically address budget the very first time we look at a job and we’re committed to providing real construction costs from the get-go. Confronting a potential client with realistic design and construction costs at the front end of the process seems to have one of two distinct effects:

Scenario A. They are a bit surprised (construction is expensive) but appreciate that we’re being straight-forward, transparent, and factual about the costs of design and construction. They agree that it’s better to hear the bad news upfront rather than later in the design process. Or worse, during construction.

Scenario B. They run for the hills and typically go looking for a group that is more “optimistic” about costs, initially. We still don’t understand the inner workings here, and don’t necessarily believe there is any overt misleading. But, we do think that folks fall into a very dangerous fantasy at a very vulnerable time. And that fantasy will, almost as certain as the sun rises, turn into a nasty reality at an unfortunate time. Plus, if we factor in a down economy (particularly in our industry), many architecture firms are in need of projects, which only raises the pressure to be “optimistic” about potential costs.

Scenario A doesn’t necessarily mean the client moves forward with BUILD. There’s still a variety of paths to choose, including not continuing with the project at all. The important factor is that the clients move forward with an understanding of reality, and the result is much more predictable. Scenario B, on the contrary, is highly unpredictable and rarely turns out well for anyone. After the design process is underway with another architect, there is very little we can do to get a project back on track for a number of reasons:

+ Most architects’ insurers won’t assume liability for someone else’s design work. In order to comply with an insurer’s requirements, the architect needs to be the sole designer on a project.

+ In order for an architect to ensure that it’s a healthy project, they would most likely want to return to the schematic design on the project. Very few (good) architects would put their stamp on someone else’s work.

+ Most architects don’t want to inherit the potential flaws of another designer’s premises on land use, code requirements, structural issues, client’s program, etc.

+ If the owners weren’t comfortable with the reality of design and construction costs the first time around, what’s to say they’ll be comfortable with them on round two?

+ It’s difficult to step into a project already under duress. Done correctly, design and construction should be enjoyable and it’s not very appealing to take on a project that has already evoked frustration and difficulty.

Choosing an architect is, more or less, a one-shot deal. Without starting from scratch, it’s very difficult to switch designers once permit drawings are being developed. We can’t stress how important those initial meetings are with a potential architect and if there’s one factor of paramount importance to both clients and architects alike, it’s that the first step of any project is confronting the facts. We’re optimistic folks, but we’ve learned never to bank on that optimism, especially when we’re banking with our client’s hard-earned dollars.

Cheers from Team BUILD