The Second Studio (formerly The Midnight Charette) is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by Architects David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features different creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions.
A variety of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes are interviews, while others are tips for fellow designers, reviews of buildings and other projects, or casual explorations of everyday life and design. The Second Studio is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.
This week David and Marina discuss the different reasons for hiring an architect and establishing a good client-architect relationship: The pros and cons of hiring an interior designer or contractor instead of an architect, design-build services, the difference between drafting and designing, whether or not a licensed architect is needed for certain projects, common fee structures, finding the right architect and what to look for in an architect, why the client and architect relationship is important to the project, and common problems that occur when the right architect is not hired and tips for avoiding them.
Highlights & Timestamps
Why architects are not often the first professionals they consider when starting smaller building projects. The pros and cons of hiring an interior designer instead of an architect and the differences between the professions.(00:00)
If you’re a client you need to think about what the architect’s and interior designer’s m.o. and professional expertise is and what they’re allowed to do. In other words, if you come to an interior designer with a problem… an interior designer, because their scope of work is smaller than what an architect can do, they are much more likely to say, “Let’s stay within this scope, because that’s what I can offer you.” Versus someone who is able to do anything will look at the problem with a full vision and say, “Okay, This is the root of the problem. I don’t care that it’s not in the scope of interior design. I don’t care if it bleeds into landscape because I’m fine with working with a Landscape Architect, or I know a little bit about that.” There is a little bit of when you go to see a specialist for a problem… if your shoulder hurts and you see a surgeon they’re more likely to tell you you need surgery. (11:44)
The pros and cons of hiring a builder or contractor instead of an architect and the differences between the professions. The difference between the planning/design and execution. (23:00)
The pros and cons of using a design-build service for a project and why design-build can be a risk for inexperienced clients.(28:57)
Contractor’s who eventually brand their business as design-build often have a draftsman in house, like a freelancer or a young kid who just came out from architecture school to do some CAD drawings and quick 3D stuff, but that [design] is not the office’s expertise. Their expertise is building and if they have someone in-house it’s kind of accessory. You will rarely find experienced architects in those offices. At least that’s what we’ve been exposed to. They do that to market themselves as designers and get more projects. (31:46)
The two different reasons for hiring an architect and the two different skillsets an architect should have.(39:58)
“To be an architect just means you have a license. It takes a lot of work to get a license, but that does not necessarily mean you are skilled at design. I don’t want people thinking, “If I hire an architect and they are licensed that means they are good at design and I will get a great design from them.” That’s simply not the case. The tests you have to pass and the experience you have to gain to get a license is not really about designing beautiful things. It’s just not.” (43:09)
Hiring a licensed architect or an architectural designer. (45:29)
[In the U.S] It’s illegal for anybody to use the term architect anywhere professionally [if they are not licensed…] If you are going to hire an office for architecture-scope of work and [on their website] their title is not specifically ‘Architect’ or ‘Registered Architect’ they are probably not a licensed architect. (46:44)
Typical architecture fee structures and the pros and cons of each: Fixed fee, percentage of construction, and hourly. (52:39)
“I think most people assume an hourly fee structure is ideal because it’s the most fair. ‘I work 8 hours a day and you pay me 8 hours worth of work.’ But that’s theoretical, in reality, in practice, in architecture, it’s really difficult because the amount of time an architect put into a project is easily three times more than what the client thinks it is. Literally three times the amount. At a minimum. So as a result, when you’re doing an hourly rate… if the architect recorded all of their hours and sent it to the client, the client would be like, “What in the hell are you doing? Why are you burning through all of these hours? Why does it cost this much money for you to design this one room or this door detail?” […] I’ve never come across an architect who uncharges a client. 99.9% of them when they charge hourly, they down-charge, they shave off a bunch of hours to not freak out the client. So for the client, it’s like I’m getting more work for less money […] but in a creative project you just don’t want that kind of sensation in it for anybody. It’s just not good. ” (57:35)
How important is it to find the right architect and qualities should they have? (01:09:05)
“An architect is also someone you hire for their people skills, meaning the [quality of the] communication you’re going to have with them, how comfortable you feel talking with your architect, how reassuring your architect can be with you, how much you trust him or her. You’re not just buying a professional service, you’re buying a relationship with a person for however amount of time and you don’t want to embark on that very complex journey with someone you don’t really feel comfortable with, or someone you hired just because you like their stuff on their website, but you’ve never met in person, or someone who’s just in your price-range and seems to be doing okay work. You do need to do some homework before you hire the architect for yourself and to make sure the project turns out right.” (01:13:33)
Finding the right architect.(01:17:45)
Frustrating scenarios that occur in building and architecture projects when the client and architect relationship is not sound.(01:21:35)
“Usually when a client answers a question there are several layers of information behind that answer which are probably more important than the answer they gave. The architect really wants to know that deeper level of information. That’s why we often talk about the What, How, and Why. I don’t want to know the ‘what’ from the client. I don’t want to know that they want this room to be red. I want to know why red. Then from there I can find a better solution. That’s why the architect has to be a good communicator and have good people skills.” (01:31:05)
“If you want to know why one design option is better than another, then just ask [the architect]. And if you’re not satisfied then ask again. […] The architect should really be able to explain things in a way that makes sense.” (01:30:23)
A great question to ask in the design process to get more transparency in the client and architect relationship. (01:43:05)