re-envisioning project delivery in a changed economy
March 30, 2010
a new beginning
March is always a month for change. We all watch eagerly to see if it will finally usher in Spring or provide one more blast of arctic winds. This year it brings lots of change including the ones which led to the launch of this new architectural practice.
For me, change had been coming for years. The NFL market had turned from erecting all-new moving roof stadiums to 'total makeover' style renovations of aging landmark facilities like Joe Robbie and Arrowhead Stadiums. This renovation work was challenging and demanding, but it began to illustrate the need for a new approach to project delivery. There are just too many ways that the project delivery process has failed, and will continue to fail as we find ourselves working harder and longer to accomplish more with less expenditure of resources.
Design fees based on construction cost don't work if your client's greatest need is to reduce scope (and costs) through insightful programming and finding ways for more building functions to coexist within fewer spaces. And the old 'design studio' model of architecture which cherishes aesthetics while turning a blind eye toward integration of other disciplines and trades is equally problematic.
Volatile labor and materials markets have made reliable construction cost estimating extremely difficult, and resulted in the need for continuous 'value engineering' and substitutions throughout design and construction. And while 'expert' construction managers push for 'fast track' and phased document delivery to allow groundbreaking and construction to commence earlier, this opens the door for endless change orders later in the process.
Owners are expected to make decisions with significant cost implications based on incomplete pricing information and a less than clear understanding of what they will receive. At the end of the day, the owner can often be left feeling like he paid higher than 'Cadillac' prices while receiving a 'tin can' product.
No one seems willing or able to perform without a financial or legal incentive. We've lost that connection between the quality of services we provide on our current project serving as the bulk of our marketing effort for the next project.
In the new economy, architects need to identify strategies and solutions which may lead to 'fixing' rather than 'replacing.' And 'fixing' inherently means changing the plan as you go. Rather than striving unsuccessfully to predict and control the exact outcome of construction, architects need to think in terms of providing parameters and communicating the critical priorities up front rather than arbitrarily approving or rejecting work in progress.
There is a growing need for strategic, 'parametric' architects, who have the ability to guide a project steadily toward a successful conclusion even though scope may continue to evolve and the fee may only contract.
It is with these contemporary project needs in mind that I am launching a new practice at SOVOZ Design. If my theories are wrong and the traditional architectural market rebounds, then a whole lot of architects including me can go back to business as usual. But if I'm right then the traditional architect will become increasingly irrelevant and the new 'parametric' architect as project manager will thrive.
So here's to a new beginning, and a new type of practice.