These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.


Notes from the Road
September 2009
Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?

puzzle houseThe training, skill set, and experience of many Architects suit them well for transition to the 'Other Side'.  Owners may benefit from an open-minded appraisal of the value of a good Architect.

Two relevant anecdotes:

1.   My partner-to-be (in business) reminds me that “It is our job as Architects to think about every dollar spent as if it were our own.”

2.   I was hired as Director of Project Management at an Ivy League University by an Associate Vice President who specifically wanted an Architect.  He believed (perhaps prejudicially) that he could train an Architect to manage other Architects and Contractors; but what he couldn’t do is train someone in a thorough understanding of the design process.

The examples are kernels.  Architects are not the only people who might be able to think like Owners, nor are they uniquely capable of appreciating and managing a design and construction program.  Even some developers can be frivolous. 

Alright, why?

Reason 1: Architects know how to listen to the client

Owners Representatives have internal clients.  All have opinions and needs.  Each organization is a wildly extended family, sometimes speaking in code, and often contradicting one another.  With training in project programming, Architects have advantages over allied professionals and are accustomed to the responsibility of recording and comprehending disparate thoughts.  Listening in this environment is familiar.

Reason 2: Architects are trained to convert ideas into forms

lightbulb houseLiving in, working in, or using a well designed and constructed building is a life-enhancing experience.  The core competency of Architects is to create environmental wonder out of conceptual ambitions.  Occasionally, especially when they serve as in-house Owners Reps, they are inclined to preconceive and dictate the built form; but when done rightly, they oversee the transformation of ideas into reality, allowing for the appropriate role-playing of the clients, users, designers and operators of our buildings.

Neon HouseReason 3: Architects know about building systems

No surprises here.  Every Architect knows about the basic components, structural, mechanical, electrical, etc.  Good ones are also familiar with things more obscure; and the best architects not only know “about” them, but are competent in the “how” and “why” of what they do.  For the majority of building projects, they can have the advantage of approaching the problem holistically, without over-emphasis on the specifics of embedded components.  When done well, the final elements are in balance.  Architects know how to do that.

Reason 4: Architects know where the money goes

Dollar HouseAs designers, Architects are in the unique position of affecting the cost of creations as they play out on paper.  They are trained to listen to the client, to formulate the program, to synthesize the concepts, and make a vision real; and in this effort, they virtually touch every penny of building expense.  When they do this long enough, and pay attention to the results, they develop a sixth sense about cost implications.

Reason 5: Architects aren’t Contractors

Yes, this actually is a good thing sometimes.  Many Contractors as Owner’s Reps are tempted to manage details of construction operations.  Most Architects have the advantage of thorough ineptitude and disinterest in these areas.

Owners need to receive information and product, and this is the awareness that an Architect can effectively communicate and administer.  In my mentor’s words, “An Owner’s Rep must know how to BUY buildings; the actual building is someone else’s job.”

Arrow HouseReason 6: Architects have an orderly thought process

They are trained: Programming, Concept, Schematic, Design Development, Contract Documents, Bidding, Construction, Occupancy, and Post-Occupancy.  One step flows into the next.  Even when they overlap, as they must sometimes, the consequences and the pitfalls are understood.  For most building programs, a progressive, additive approach is essential.  They know how to do this.

Reason 7: Architects can be non-linear

Isn’t this a contradiction?  Well, no.  The creation of the building concept is best when it is simultaneously logical and chaotic.  Award-winning design often latches onto serendipity, solidifies disorder in a magical array, or freezes the wonder of life in three dimensions.  Good Architects can do this, and equally good Owner’s Reps know when to patiently allow this behavior to play itself out.

Reason 8: Architects have egos

Many architects are indeed imbued with an element level of arrogance, or ego if you will.  They gravitate to the limelight, and are not bashful about taking charge.

To the extent that leadership comes from people who are comfortable taking the reins, generally they qualify. 

The point?pencil

A talented Architect is an “Owner’s Rep” regardless of who they work for directly.  “Spend every dollar as if it were your own” is not a bad mantra for the architectural profession.

Now, unquestionably, the Architect who has fully gone over to the Owner’s side adopts a variation to the consulting Architect’s attitude.  But the differences are decidedly subtle.  Doing the service and buying the services are flip sides of the same capital coin.  In many ways, Owners Reps can affect the design solution and the quality of the building more than they ever thought possible; and often more than the Design Architect alone.

Whether on staff, as an extension of traditional design services, or retained as independent consultants, the right Architect can have a balanced, appropriately-biased view of your needs.

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