I ran into a young professional at a building supplies store the other day. He was shopping for doors. We got to talking while waiting for the clerk, and he aired his frustration with the fact that every time he turned around, his builder was saying, “I didn’t price for that.”

“What does your architect say about that?”, I asked. Without answering my question he noted that his architect was a Government employee, implying that he was not involved in the process. I thought for a minute, and then asked him another question.

“If you decided to take up boxing, would you sign up to fight Mike Tyson as your first fight?”

He laughed and said of course not. I told him that is exactly what he had done with his builder. He was an amateur in the ring with a professional. Like many otherwise smart professionals making the decision to build, his approach had been to begin the process with the assumption that all he needed was “plans”.

Imagine walking into a doctor’s office and asking for a prescription. Everybody understands that the prescription is only the doctor’s instruction to the pharmacist to provide treatment based upon his diagnosis. Similarly, the drawings are the architect’s instructions to the builder, based upon specific agreements made during the design process, and are of limited value without a diagnosis. People who walk into the pharmacy and ask for over-the-counter remedies accept responsibility for the results. People who ask for over-the-counter plans with generic information and anticipating little or no follow-up most often do not. They try to blame either the builder’s dishonesty or the draftsman’s incompetence.

Controlling both cost and quality requires first documentation that fixes the requirements, so that what is agreed is clear, and follow-up by a professional with the experience to monitor the delivery of those requirements. That is the system. That is the standard architect’s service.

That costs money.

And, as my former employer used to say, “therein hangs the tail”. To avoid paying for a standard architect’s service, clients risk paying considerably more in “extras” as the builder, a seasoned professional, reveals, item by item, what his low price was based on, either in quality or quantity, and the hapless owner either accepts what he says has been “agreed” or pays more for what he wanted all along.

Architects watch this drama unfold daily. They watch their attractive proposals with more than fair prices go unsigned, as professionals like my friend in the building supplies store decide,

“I only need some plans”

Christmas 2015