26 July 2009

Why design / build?

d Over the years many people have asked me why I only offer design build services and not just design or just standard construction. The answer, like many things, is simple yet complex. The simple answer is that I prefer to see projects from conception to completion and that design/build is the best way to do this. Very simple see. The more in depth answer is as follows:
I grew up building and went to architecture school. My studies completed, I went to work as a stone mason apprentice and then on to a stone mason. During this time I designed a number of projects and built many of them. I found that being able to work on both the design and construction very satisfying. To be able to see how the design would progress and grow naturally through the building process was a magical experience for me, where with the projects I designed but did not build, completed, gave me a feeling of separation and I was less connected. Like when your arm falls asleep and you look at it, but feel it is not a part of you.
I worked in this way for about 6 years and then had my first child. I realized that i needed to make a more consistent and higher paying wage so I got a job in an architecture firm. ARGH! Boy was that tough! I only stayed there about 10 months before quitting and going back to designing and building. The whole architectural firm was about hierarchy and seniority and not about collaboration and good design. I was expected to be an unthinking cog in a larger wheel and frankly that is not me!
After a few years of designing and building (still not doing only design build, but designing and only building a small portion of my designs) I went to work for a construction company. This was somewhat more satisfying than my previous employment, but it did not feel right. We did a lot of bidding and I was asked to do things by my boss that went against my nature. As an example, on my first week on the job the boss brought me a set of plans to bid on. He said " look through this and find all the holes, mis-specified items, multiply specified items, questionable details and problems with the plans". After lunch he came back and asked "what do you have?". I told him that I had about a page and a half of items for clarification and asked if he wanted me to write the architect for clarification. He told me "Oh no, put that list aside, that is our change order list. Now go ahead and bid the project with all those items left out or using only the lowest cost items, that is where we will make our profit". I learned that that was the only way to win a bid. If you were not low bid, the owner would not even invite you to talk. I found out that this was the way business was conducted in the construction industry and that most architects were recommending that owners carry a 10%-20% contingency for all the items left out of the bid. Wow, what a way to do business! I am a professional and know fully what it would cost to build projects, but had to be dishonest just to get work!
When i decided to open my own firm, I decided to go back to the design build model. To treat my clients as I want to be treated and to make sure that they knew exactly how much their projects would cost from the beginning. Well 10 years, and hundreds of clients later, I have found that this model is very satisfying for both myself and my clients. I am able to look them in the eye from day one and know in my heart that I am giving them the best advice and guidance that I can and that they are getting the full benefit of my experience. It has been a good choice.

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