Just add water: architecture startups!

Not getting your hands dirty
August 31, 2014, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Startup

One of the skills that I’m most proud of is having worked on-site and in the field for many years.  While construction can often feel like a warzone — demolition causing huge craters in the ground, often looking like archaeological sites.  The daily conversations with subcontractors, and the people who really build the building. So when I’m meeting with new clients, its nice to be able to say you’ve been apart of the whole experience from early conception of a project to the final punchlists.  Truly a full service architecture firm. 

Recently I met with a client who has done three projects already with a contractor they like and have worked with.  They asked if I’d be willing to only do the design drawings (including construction docs) but omit construction administration— given they knew they could handle it and were willing to work directly with their contractor. Initially it seems ideal because let’s face it, construction administration is a total time sink. You spend endless hours coordinating with the contractor, you end up having to redraw things 10 times because after demo things look differently and all your basic workpoints feel like they’ve been reset. 

but then…as usual I overthink. Not doing construction administration also means not having control over the design direction when things do start to shift. and all those subtle details that you worked out so carefully during design get glossed over or clumsily (un)resolved.  Not being apart of construction administration means you give up the rights to the design in some regards.  It’s also a legal issue — if you didn’t file the drawings as the record architect, then you’d be basically just the “designer” and not the “architect of record” which legally has no ramifications (and a more limited accountability).  If you are the architect of record but aren’t doing construction administration then this is entirely different. You’ve filed, and it seems you would be accountable….even if it gets built not to your specs.

I’m not sure how I feel about not doing construction administration….what phases are you apart of?  




Unintentional Design Build
August 19, 2014, 5:58 pm
Filed under: Startup

I’m currently working on an interiors project in a Tudor style 1930s building. and like most renovations, there’s a period where you open up the walls and you start seeing the ghosts of past renovations. The walls start to resemble the cross-section of a gobstopper — ten layers of random wallpaper, paint, plaster layers upon plaster layers, random buildups for no apparent reason, cavities that you never suspected existed, and not to mention the relics of dumbwaiters and other things….it’s pretty fun until you realize that your design has more potential to graft into those spaces and you’re suddenly surveying the existing conditions AGAIN and AGAIN, while trying to figure out where your workpoints are.  *oof!*  These renovations are difficult because usually there’s no existing drawings and even worse, when you do have a sense of what is, you end up discovering new things as you open up the walls.  I guess this is all part and parcel for renovations…


The real issue that I’m encountering is not the (re)discovery period during demo, but the compound effect of clients who constantly change things during construction. It’s extremely difficult. At the time of construction documents, I had strongly emphasized like a good bartender, “last call”…they silently nodded in agreement.  But here we are, half-way through construction and each day is a new adventure.  A new “idea” for this…or that… It’s starting to feel like an unintentional design build, and while I’m trying to herd these clients towards reason, it’s been difficult because in the end, architecture is a service industry and no one wants to hear “no, you can’t do that.” 


Fingers crossed we make it through this construction alive!

Advertising vs. Reviews
August 17, 2014, 3:07 pm
Filed under: Startup

A few days ago, I was leisurely reading the New York Times Homes section. There on the front page was a picture of two modern interior projects with the proud owner posing alongside the glossy images.  Seemed pretty common and I quickly flipped through it, until I realized that the whole article is about the owner who is the interior designer for both places….and I being to wonder, is this an advertisement?  Is there a line between marketing and reviews on design?  Not that we should all expect critical writings on our work, but hey, it just makes you wonder how this whole marketing process works…


June 20, 2014, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Startup

I’ve been slowly building up my materials library over the last few months. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to make your whole office feel like a petting zoo of cool but random materials. It completely opens your mind up to infinite possibilities and a little bit of daydreaming on what the next project would be that would even let you use some of these random things.  Never mind trying to convince your clients to do outside of the norm and expected…

In my research, most places will give you samples for free, and even pay all the expedited shipping fees.  It’s almost embarrassing how much packaging and waste there is in just getting samples.  But that’s an aside.  One question that came to mind: would you ever pay for a sample?

Able to stomach it in my youth/naivete, but not so much now…
May 8, 2014, 7:30 pm
Filed under: Startup

I recently encountered an old client from a former office and it felt like a jolt of Mountain Dew — y’know when you’ve drank too much caffeine ‘cos it was at the moment feeling like a really good idea but ended up making you feel absolutely sick to your stomach from the rush of caffeine and sugar?  yeh…that feeling.  (sorry– the analogy brought me to my undergraduate years).

This client was super demanding, needed attention 24/7 (literally… you’d get phone calls on Sunday nights because he had an “epiphany”. He’d write 3-page, single spaced, dense emails of highly detailed, yet totally incoherent manifestos.  Most of the time, I felt like we were one step away from getting fired or sued — for what? I never knew or could predict.   It was either that or we were the greatest thing since sliced bread.  (Somehow this was a fine line that I couldn’t figure out, even after 1.5yrs on that job!) The flip side was that he was extremely wealthy– paid us hourly for our design fees, the schedule wasn’t really a pressing issue, and the project itself that conceptually was interesting, though insanely difficult to build.  At the very least, the project was something that photographed well.

This run in made me start to think about my own practice and marketing– if he came to me now as a sole practicitioner/small business, would I take him as a client? Is this the type of client/project I would be able to handle?  or want?   Are there different criteria that you use as a sole practictioner/small business from the marketing of your former offices? What makes it different?


Social Media
May 1, 2014, 2:43 am
Filed under: Startup


I recently had a chat with an old client of mine.  We somehow got on the topic of marketing and development of small businesses.  Over the last few years, his business has grown largely in part because of his website and social media.  He encouraged me to start a blog (ha! this one being not included), a tumblr page of images, instagram of the latest and greatest, linkedin, pinterest, facebook, twitter….it was endless his embrace of these social media outlets.

Halfway through our conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder how much time he spent constantly updating hi statuses on facebook, and instagram. At what point does it feel like a 24hr workday!  *yikes*  I’m all for free PR, but honestly it sounds e x h a u s t i n g!  Wondering how much you feel your firm needs to embrace social media to get new business?  Is it actually effective or is it a waste of time?  What sites are most effective?  Does anyone think these things are taking away from our work –is there such a thing as design/intellectual property?


Ethical responsibilities?
April 18, 2014, 4:44 pm
Filed under: Startup

There’s so many buzz words like “environmentally responsible” or “historically sensitive”, but what about ethical responsibilities as an architect?

Recently there’s been a lot of press on the building of buildings in Qatar and Abu Dhabi – and the ethical role of architects.  Zaha (in)famously declared we don’t have responsibility to the migrant workers’ working conditions and the almost 900 deaths in the building of her stadium. Legally speaking, I think OSHA is in place to prevent that. Or at least certainly, in the US, there’s an obligation to notify the client (at the very least) of unsafe working conditions.  Whether the legal responsibility is the definition of ethic responsibility is another question.  What do you think is our responsibility as architects during construction?