A Typical Architect? (We Hope Not)

Feb 21, 1994

We just had the experience in the last few weeks of working with an architect. Business has been good, and we are committed to growth, so we decided to triple our office by moving to a new suite right here in our same building. Our building complex had just the right size space we needed. Unfortunately, this space had been poorly carved off from another, larger space. This required an all-new main entrance and reception area to be created, as well as an additional emergency entrance to meet local building codes. On top of this, we planned to add a new conference room (since we lost our old one to three new cubicles) and an employee exercise room (maybe if it’s convenient, I’ll get off my rear end and finally do something!). We made up a preliminary plan showing how we thought things ought to look, and the landlord sent it on to their architects. The next thing we know, before we have signed the lease or ever even seen the plan, it’s being put out to bid. The problem was that what the contractors were bidding on wasn’t what we wanted. For example, the architect decided to nearly double the width of our conference room (from 13 feet to approximately 25 feet). Her change required that a partition be installed bridging a window— but the best part was that if you wanted to get to the workroom where all of our book and newsletter orders are processed (which doubles as a utility area with special HVAC and electrical equipment), you would have to go through the conference room! That really made sense! The reception area, too, was modified for no apparent reason. Instead of a 10-foot- by-8-foot space off of the waiting area where the receptionist’s desk and credenza were to be located, we ended up with something that was 8-by-3, and was too small to do anything with. A glass partition for the new exercise room was being tossed out instead of reused alongside the other glass interior partitions for that room. The plans noted that existing carpeting was being re-used, and that we wanted an all-new 2-by-2 ceiling put in. What we wanted, however, was all new carpeting and to reuse the existing ceiling! When we found out from the building superintendent that bids were being taken for these improvements, we told them to stop until we had a decent set of plans and specifications to work from. We completed negotiations on our deal with the landlord, which included the landlord paying for one revision of the plans and specs. We then set up a meeting with the architect— an associate in a prominent firm. After she arrived 20 minutes late with no explanation, we sat down to talk about what we wanted done. She asked what we did for a living but showed no acknowledgement that it was in any way connected to her business— we might as well have been dry cleaners for all she cared. After we sat down in my office, she first argued with me about the what the width of the conference room would be if we put the wall where we wanted it. She was wrong. Then I asked her which was cheaper— to put in an all-glass interior partition or a six-foot wall with glass (or glass block) to the ceiling. She wouldn’t give me a straight answer, and instead tried to talk me into a full floor to ceiling panel next to the door only. Then we talked about the ceiling. I asked for a ball-park price per square foot for a new 2-by-2 ceiling to be installed in the event we did want to consider that option, and she couldn’t provide me with any idea of what that would cost, either. She said she wasn’t used to dealing with the cost of things— that was strictly the domain of the contractor. You can imagine how much fun we had talking about how to reuse that glass interior partition for the exercise room. It took us 10 minutes of talking to come to the conclusion that we could use what was there the way we wanted to. Finally, we were unable to get a specific date our plans would be finished before she left. She wasn’t angry or upset with us— I really think that this woman was simply incapable of giving anyone a definite answer to a question. Hopefully, our experience wasn’t typical of what most clients of design firms are going through. If this level of communication ability is the norm for an associate level staffer in one of our reader’s firms, we’ve got some big problems in this industry. It makes it easier to understand why so many A/E firms feel threatened by design-build. Originally published 2/21/1994

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