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.

Get Dirty

I’ve never understood how some architects prefer to only design projects and never see them built or only provide drawings for permitting, but do not provide construction administration to finish out the project.  The process of designing a building, both the exterior and the interior, is exactly that … a process.  It begins with a site, then initial sketches and ideas, then drawings and then, ultimately, it ends with construction.  During the construction period, design continues, details are resolved and puzzles are solved.  No matter how good a set of drawings are, existing conditions or even details that just can’t be foreseen due to the nature of the beast, are dealt with, but only during construction and not by oneself.  It allows the architect to work out details, but more importantly, it allows the architect to create and foster relationships with the men and women building the project.  These relationships create a team and that team creates a better project for the owner.  The feeling of putting on boots in the morning, rather than my Pradas, grounds our profession in what architecture is really about … getting dirty.  Because when you get dirty, it means it’s being built and you’re a true part of that accomplishment.

You never would have guessed

One thing architects strive for is to create new or updated architectural features. We look for opportunities for new shapes, materials, forms or even entire systems. The challenge is often related to modern technology, modern day desires or even the architect’s or client’s wish to simply be different.  However, in a recent project, we found an ironic twist to this “new age” challenge of being beyond creative.  For the renovation of the Mar Vista restaurant, an old fishing shack turned popular Florida restaurant, we chose to match the existing weathered cypress siding rather than create some new material.  Those new features happen in the interior and in other ways throughout the exterior.  But … in the process of determining how to go about recreating weathered wood, the contractor had an extremely creative and simple solution.  Vinegar and steel wool pads.  New material … old look … way simple solution.  Sometimes, you just never would have guessed.

Away from Home

The opportunity to work outside of one’s home state is often eye opening.  No matter what field, expanding your knowledge to other parts of the country or world provides the ability to:

  • Meet new people
  • Witness physical or natural differences like mountains, lakes, oceans or plains
  • Experience climatic changes like snow, dry heat or balmy tropical weather

… and for us as architects and interior designers, we get exposed to new aesthetic and architectural styles.  We find the ability to broaden our comfort zone and design with new materials, new colors and new environments.  Don’t be afraid to venture out into the world.  Whether a plane ride or a road trip, the benefits outweigh any possible concerns.

Renovated home designed by the Schimberg Group in Colorado Springs, CO


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.

Sunlight Creates Art

What is it about sunlight hitting buildings. After a few trips recently, and more photos of buildings than my family, I noticed a distinct difference between the photos of buildings taken in diffused light and photos of buildings taken at certain moments of the day, when the light hits parts of the structure to create this incredible play of shapes, textures, materials and oddly enough … art. Photography is tough, and I’m not a photographer, but when traveling and snapping shots of your favorite architectural masterpieces, look for that moment when the building is more than just a building and becomes a piece of artwork.…ch…changes….

In the world of construction, architecture and design, the word “change” has always been equated with another word, “order.” Change orders have always scared people and been directly related to additional costs. Whether a result of the architect or designer unilaterally making the change or the impression that the contractor was using it as an opportunity to charge the owner more money, it was never a positive word or term.

However, over time, I’ve come to realize that there are actually two other forms of, or use of, the word … “change.” There’s good change and there’s bad change.

Good change, which happens often, occurs when something does not go as expected, like an existing condition or an owner’s late night idea. Ultimately, a change is made in order to make the situation better or the detail work. This type of change, 99% of the time, has positive success and is better than the original idea or design.

The second change is negative. This type of change occurs due to lack of care or a deliberate choice to continue to make design modifications, layout revisions or construction decisions. The owner simply makes changes because they can, without regard for other consultants or team members and has little or no respect for the process of design or construction. Ultimately, these types of changes cost time, effort, and money with less than successful results and negatively impacting the final product.

Embrace change, at least the good kind. Other than that, move on and stop making changes.

The good news about the recession

The good news about the recession was that it weeded out the unnecessary draftsman, the incapable designer, and the architect that ultimately left the business. It, if nothing else, slowed down projects enough that, at least on the surface, kept good architecture alive and well.

However, now, we are starting to see bad design rear its ugly head again. Builders and designers (or non-designers), contractors and architects (or non-architects) are designing projects with little respect for context, the environment or in some cases, just simply color.

Let’s not forget what the last seven years taught us: that being conscientious and reserved in our approach to building and development and even design is not only appropriate for the project proforma, but also for the project’s aesthetic success.