To talk about architecture and construction without ever mentioning cost overruns is not an easy thing to do. These kind of unforeseen problems happen in the majority of projects, as the dynamics of architecture and construction are extremely complex and often present challenges that aren't 100% controllable. Over the years, project management consultants have been integrating cost management into their services, making an effort to fill this market gap with a proper solution. Still, most of this work is performed by consultants with a financial background and little knowledge of architecture and construction solutions and processes.
With this increased attention to budgetary issues, the cost performance of projects has been steadily improving, but usually at the expense of the project’s aesthetic concept and final quality. Would it be possible to put architects in control of this kind of management? After all, they’re the ones with the conceptual sensibility and the technical knowledge necessary to perform this work in a truly integrated way.
At DIMSCALE, we've been developing a cost management model mainly performed by architects since the end of 2012. What we've found is that it’s actually relatively easy to train an architect to become a cost manager, but almost impossible to convince a financial professional that the key to a project’s success is its concept, functionality and final quality. Even if you succeed in convincing them of this, training them to have a comprehension of all conceptual and technical knowledge will prove to be an even harder (nearly impossible) challenge.
Though we started as a quantity surveying company working for architects, we now have an all-round concept that covers all aspects of cost management, from initial cost evaluation to the procurement phase. Although we have engineers on our team that perform very specific work on each particular engineering specialty, the majority of the team is composed of architects.
The knowledge that architects have and their complete understanding of the project is truly irreplaceable – where a financial consultant sees numbers an architect sees a lot of other variables that have consequences on the project’s functionality, maintenance needs, quality and concept.
The cost of each project is hidden within these four aspects, whether we’re talking about immediate costs or the long-term costs of the project’s use and future maintenance. During the design phase, one solution cannot be switched for another solution lightly, and there is much more to know about this process beyond looking at the “price tag”. Architects have a 360-degree view of everything one needs to know to make these kinds of decisions while remaining aware of the consequences of every single option. A solution that is cheaper today may impair the project’s functionality and represent higher costs in the future. The truth is that there is a tendency to look at cost management merely as a short-term management, when it should take a wider view besides the immediate cost of the project.
Besides functionality and maintenance, an architect is the best person to understand the project’s concept and to balance this with cost expectations. The conceptual scope of the project is as important as any other variable – it is what brings meaning to the design, making it possible for the project to be truly complete and make sense within its surroundings. The concept goes far beyond the project’s image, it has decisive implications on its daily use and on how people experience the space. Architects understand how each decision impacts the project’s concept and what it will bring to the project in a very practical way.
Recently, for example, we have worked on a university campus building (IB-S) located in the north of Portugal. The first estimate we made far exceeded the budget imposed by the university, but the optimization work we did together with the project's architect Cláudio Vilarinho made it possible to maintain the main conceptual aspect of the project, a striking cement matrix façade skin. We had to reduce the cost of the building’s interior, but we did so in a way that did not influence the functionality, quality and maintenance needs of the project. The project is currently under construction and everything is going as predicted, including its cost planning, and the feedback we’ve received from the architect and from the university has been nothing but positive.
In this particular case cost optimization ended up having a very important role during the process. Architect Cláudio Vilarinho recognized the importance of cost management within this project, saying “cost optimization is vital to the construction of any project. The design architect must be careful to respect a realistic budget, which the client must provide. Usually the design architect has some difficulty in connecting creativity and cost. With the IB-S project we were having exactly this issue, so we felt the need to complement our team with an external one.”
Another example of how we’ve added value to projects through this concept is our now five-year partnership with Atelier Central Arquitectos. Architect José Martinez recognized that this connection with DIMSCALE has allowed him to present to his clients much more consistent projects. “We consider it indispensable, extremely important, that our client can have a very real idea of the investment inherent to what he is trying to achieve in each project phase,” says the architect. Martinez's Lisbon office has been relying on Architecture Cost Management throughout its work on projects, even from the first studies and drafts. “This closeness allows Atelier Central to permanently have an awareness of the cost associated with each project option, right from the sketch phase. This collaboration has resulted in very consistent projects without any big surprises or budget deviations, avoiding the awkward project revisions that have to be made to meet the client’s budget. Just as important as to dream is to have a grip on reality”, added José Martinez.
Architects need to realize the value of their own know-how and to understand that they can be key assets in other jobs besides the project’s design - contradicting the usual scenario in which architecture projects are managed by engineers and financial consultants. In our view, the best scenario seems to be the specialization of some architects in more specific areas within architecture, real estate and construction, adding to the particular approach of each specialization with both the general knowledge and the project understanding that only architects can provide.
Artur Sousa is CEO at DIMSCALE, a Portuguese company specialized in providing cost management services tailored for Architecture and Real Estate projects. Currently almost 90% of the Production team is composed of architects.