Colorado Series:
Photos Should Tell a Story

Our website has morphed multiple times over the years, but the main purpose of any designer’s website is to express the visual success and achievements of that designer.  The photography gives us the channel to express our talent and specifically, what our buildings or spaces look and feel like.  Though always subjective in nature, our aesthetic and built form is our life and these photographs represent our careers.  They show the evolution of our designs and they can also tell the story of a project.  If photography is used properly, the photographs taken should allow the viewer to take themselves on a journey through the relationship between space, proportion, materials, the furniture and its context.  The images, organized properly, can explain the thought process of the architect or interior designer, expressing how they approached the project and ultimately, the project’s success.

Don Jones Photography

Don Jones Photography

Running your own business

They don’t teach you in school about running your own business. They may naively and ignorantly promote being on your own or starting your own firm, but they do not tell you how difficult it is to begin, and more importantly sustain, a company. Here are a few things to consider before jumping:

Employees – Hiring them, firing them, finding them, keeping them, befriending them, relating to them…

The Office – Should I lease, should I own, how much square footage, what location, what about signage, should I be downstairs or upstairs …

Technical Capabilities – How many and what kind of computers, how many and what kind of printers, how many and what kind of phone system, how many and what kind of cellular phones, how many and what kind of computer programs (there’s Autocad, Revit, Archicad, Sketch-up, Photoshop, InDesign, 3d Studio Max, Rhino …), should I video conference, should I back up on a server …

Insurance – Do I get general liability, professional liability, workman’s comp, auto, health, dental, eye, for my leased equipment, disability …

Projects – Should we focus on residential, commercial, renovations, new construction, locally, regionally, nationally, internationally, small ones, large ones, municipal ones, industrial ones …

Accounting – Am I a corporation, a partnership, should I use Quickbooks, what about a bank, payroll, sales tax, unemployment, 941s, W-9s, K-1s …

And this is just the tip of the iceberg …

To Revit or not to Revit?

For the last 10 years or so, the question of whether or not we as an architectural firm should move into Revit or a similar program has been a consistent topic of discussion. Is Autocad or Sketchup sufficient or should we make the jump to Revit? One issue has always been whether our engineers are using the program or not. Until recently, the answer has always been a resounding “no,” however, even today, it is still not a given.  The BIM (Building Information Modeling) programs are clearly the direction we are heading, but for smaller firms, I find that it still is a struggle to make the leap. And now, there’s Archicad, which seems to be gaining momentum and giving Revit a run for its money.  Just as in Hamlet, it is about questioning a decision and what to do. We must continue to ask ourselves regularly when it is time to Revit or not to Revit? (Or whatever BIM program you choose). That … is definitely the question.

Developing is tough!

As they say, if it was easy, everyone would do it.  Our goal, as a firm, is to ultimately develop our own projects.  There are many reasons for this decision, but recently, we bought a property and began the process of developing it.  We created pro-formas, designed it, negotiated leases, worked with the city for permitting and the contractor on pricing.  As the title describes, it is extremely difficult.  Mentally, physically and financially.  However, there is an inherent advantage for architects to evolve into developers.  Our ability to constantly design during the entire process puts us ahead of other developers.  It saves money and/or helps to resolve the financial pro-forma, in real time.  There’s no need to call your architect and then wait for their response.  We can do it on the fly which is invaluable.  The only thing they don’t tell before you begin your venture is … developing is tough!

Be choosy …

Maybe it’s age.  Maybe it’s experience.  Maybe it’s even personality.  I take on projects:

  1. I like.
  2. With good clients.
  3. That pay well and on time.
  4. That make me smile when I’m working on them.
  5. That don’t keep me up at night miserable and stressed out over them.

Life is too short and growing your business with a clear focus and selectivity in your projects and clients keeps your mind creative and your business streamlined.  It is sometimes hard to say no to a potential project, but when you find yourself saying yes to the right ones, it all falls into place.  And most importantly, the quality of work increases which then increases the quantity of work.  Be choosy … it works as a business model.

Concierge Architect

Counting hours is the worst.  Architects do it.  Attorneys do it.  Accountants do it.  It requires a tremendous amount of effort and places the client and consultant in a precarious position wondering about how many hours have been spent.

Fixed fees are better, but they are typically based on completion of work and billing is based on a percent of completion.  Retainers are often given, but if the project is delayed or just doesn’t happen, the retainer doesn’t matter much.  I’ve had to give back retainers because the project didn’t get off of the ground.  That’s not fun.

Instead, we have created a new format.  I call it the “concierge architect.”  Based on a defined scope and understanding the value of a long term contract, we provide that scope and more, within reason, for a pre-determined monthly retainer and a minimum one year contract.  This provides cash flow for both parties, ours in and theirs out, removes any question of hours spent and gives the client an opportunity to get more than just the projects discussed.  We are available “on call” in a way and our clients love it.

Everyone’s An Architect Sometimes

I hear often, “You know, I was going to be an architect but I was terrible at math.” I typically chuckle and shake my head in an “I’ve heard that one before and I’m not quite sure what to say” way.

Here’s a secret: I’m an architect not because I’m good at math but because I absolutely love the essence of what architecture represents. I am one hundred percent passionate about this field – everything about it, even the bad. I love shapes and the spaces they create. I love watching people interact with each other while walking through a hallway, discussing their day. I love looking out of a plane and seeing the grid lines created by low tracts of land. I love how the ‘a’, the ‘r’, the ‘c’, the ‘h’, the ‘i’, the ‘t’, the ‘e’, the ‘c’, the ‘t’, the ‘u’, the ‘r’ and the ‘e’ create an inspiring and wonderful word and gets me just as excited today as when I graduated from college over 20 years ago.

If you love these things too, then go, be, learn, create and collaborate. Become an architect. It’s a wonderful career and an amazing foundation for other life choices. And it’s not a bad education either, though its code name is “archi-torture.”

~Barron Schimberg, AIA, LEED AP

Branding the Architecture

One may associate the word ‘brand’ with marketing or advertising or PR. What’s interesting is that as we continue to design or develop buildings, whether as designer or owner, spaces or site plans, residential or commercial, we are inherently branding something.

One of our first questions to most clients is, “What style do you want this project to reflect?” The answer typically leads to history, personal experiences, the tenant’s purpose and other influential design elements that help create a brand. Don’t underestimate that power and that opportunity to use architectural branding to help mold the final design. We do it naturally anyway.

~Barron Schimberg, AIA, LEED AP

Stop Talking About Yourself

I recently attended a conference where I heard two speakers. The first speaker chose to relay a message that was applicable to our business, our life and our field. There was nothing really specific to architecture about it, however it addressed topics that we as architects could relate to and understand. We could use his insight to better our future endeavors. It was clear that his address could have been to anyone: architects, lawyers, accountants or doctors. It was interesting, engaging and helpful.

The second speaker spoke about himself. He started with a slide show of projects his firm completed, continued with projects his firm completed, interjected slides of two paintings that he painted himself, and ended with projects his firm completed. Though aesthetically interesting and even architecturally inspiring, I found the approach to educate and engage versus talk about oneself much more appealing.

Maybe at times, we, the architect or designer or lawyer or doctor, who love what we do and love to talk about what we do, look beyond ourselves to express our ideas. I know it’s hard, but the people around us may appreciate it much more than seeing an abstract we painted for over the mantle.

~Barron Schimberg, AIA, LEED AP

image source

The Glamour Shot

Our office recently participated in the ever so fun and creative exercise of office portraits. As architects and designers, we inherently made this process more difficult by not simply sitting on a chair with a very nice solid background color (or for those Sears Roebuck fans, the mottled teal, purple and pink drop down screen). Instead, we thought about it. We scouted locations. We brainstormed in the office for hours. We even thought about traveling to a distant setting. In the end, we tore apart our conference room and completely redesigned a 12 x 20 space with only two blank walls, one wall of closet doors and one wall of windows. Go figure.

The result: an extremely interesting photo to use for marketing purposes that not only looks good, but tells a story. It is not just a pretty picture. It uses the opportunity to capture a single moment in a way that provides the potential client, consultant or future employee a glimpse into what we do in our profession. Whether architecture, interior design, law, restaurateur or even janitor – if you’re taking photos, think about what the photo could say. Tell the longest story in the shortest time ever. You may even take two photos.

~Barron Schimberg, AIA, LEED AP

One of The Schimberg Group‘s architects, Todd Anderson, ready for his closeup.

Photo Credit: Greg Dechow Photography