Why don't builders like architects?
Do you know about Amelia the Undercover Architect? She’s a totally fab woman who offers really down to earth and very practical design advice – she won my heart the first time I came across her when she wrote a story for Reno Addict about why you shouldn’t use an architect. Coming from an architect this was powerful stuff! She ruffled a few feathers but I thought it was a great piece.
Recently on her blog she posted on Why don’t builders like architects? Being an almost-architect myself and married to a builder who told me on our first date that he wasn’t such a fan of architects, I was immediately intrigued. It’s a topic that gets a fair bit of air-time around our kitchen table.
While I thought it was a great post, the reasons she listed as to why don’t builders like architects were quite different from the reasons JD (and other builders) is sometimes not so keen on architects.
We are big believers in good design and JD will generally steer people straight towards an architect if they’re doing anything more complicated than replacing a window, for example. There are a number of architects that we work with and I think that, especially on smaller jobs (which is where we focus these days), getting an intelligent and elegant design solution before you start is absolutely critical. Architects have the skills and vision to get the most out of your space. In contrast, we’ve seen building designers who’ve have “designed” an open plan family room with a column in the middle of it because they couldn’t work out a design or structural solution. Fail.
In addition to smaller jobs, JD has also built a number of architect-designed, luxury homes and definitely values the details that architects put into these projects. He doesn’t see them as being too complicated and our carpenters really enjoy having the chance to push themselves and learn a new skill.
So, why do we think builders don’t like architects? Like many things on this blog, a lot of the time it comes down to budget. A customer starts working with an architect and tells them their budget is $500,000 (let’s assume it’s a medium-size renovation/extension). The architect gets them all excited about plans and 3D elevations and perhaps some mood boards with suggested finishes (oh, burnished brass tapware!). This could cost around $30,000. They then take the plans to a builder, sometimes to six builders, to get a quote. The quotes come back at between $750,000 and $900,000. The customer is not happy. They get angry at the builder and ask them to make it cheaper. The builder gets upset because he didn’t design this amazing house, he’s just telling the customer how much it’s going to cost to build it. The builder gets grumpy at the architect for designing something that costs way more than the homeowner’s budget. The architect gets grumpy because the lovely relationship that they’ve built with the customer over the past couple of years is now under strain. No-one is feeling good.
Say the project goes ahead (and a lot of them don’t) and the customer decides they want the architect to project manage the build. JD doesn’t enjoy working on jobs that are project managed by an architect. Why not? I can only speak for JD, of course, but we’ve found that jobs where an architect is the project manager can be very painful with regards to invoicing – the builder completes the work, submits the invoice the architect who then decides whether all or part of that invoice should be paid. This can result in some difficult conversations and various levels of financial stress for the builder – who has often paid for sub-contractors and materials before he’s paid by the customer. Our preferred way of working is in partnership with the architect – of course we want to build the house to their designs and details but we don’t want them signing off progress payments – we would prefer to deal directly with the customer when it comes to money.
Architects are an essential part of the building process – the value that they can add when it comes to design is huge, but it’s a relationship that can be fraught. JD loves architects – he married one after all! – but he is sometimes wary of working with them. We enjoying working with architects in a team environment – practices like Pidcock Architects aim to have builders involved from the beginning of the project which is great. Having six builders tender for a job rarely creates a team environment going forward.
This little video puts a blackly humorous spin on the topic from the builder’s perspective (watch out, contains plenty of swearing as well as the word “just”!)
Would you see an architect first or a builder? Do you think an architect should project manage a build? Do those little animated movies make you laugh – I love the one about the woman who asks her friend to help her sew a costume.