One of the most frustrating realizations most first-time clients experience is that architects’ designs and drawings aren’t perfect. Should they be?
The simple answer is no, but let’s take a deeper dive into why and suggest the following 6 factors to shape expectations regarding the design and documentation of a construction project.
- One of a kind design: To begin, unless we’re referring to a prototype McDonald’s or Menards design that is built and refined multiple times, no two projects are exactly alike. Each project has very unique and specific parameters that are only applied one time (codes, site specific issues, existing conditions, desired image, space requirements to support specific building functions, etc.). Mastery or perfection of any activity requires significant practice and repetition, willingness to adjust and evolve. Projects that are only designed and built once aren’t exposed to the refinement required to achieve ‘perfection.’ Rarely, if ever, do we hear a client or architect say “if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.” The fact is: if we did the same project with the same client ten times, we would make changes every time.
- Standard of Care: Licensed architects are required by law to perform their services consistent with the professional skill and care ordinarily provided by architects practicing in the same or similar locality under the same or similar circumstances. The requirements, or lack there-of in rural communities without building departments, warrant a much more simplified level of drawings and details than a highly populated metropolitan area with stringent zoning and code regulations. Architects adjust their level of service, design and documentation to align with local requirements and to adequately serve their clients while keeping costs for their services reasonable. The level of design and detailing to comply with one municipality will be overkill for another.
- Variable needs: Some clients only want the bare minimum drawings required to obtain a building permit and are content to work directly with their contractor to determine the more specific details during construction. Other clients want significant design refinement and in-depth, comprehensive documentation to support competitive bidding and minimize changes and additions during construction.
- Room for interpretation: As thorough as the codes are written, they are still subject to interpretation by Code Officials and design professionals. Referring to that one-of-a-kind design, in many cases the governing codes and regulations are broadly written to apply to a wide variety of design solutions, thus leaving them open for interpretation. In many cases, between architects in the same firm, or between an architect and the building official, there may be disagreement regarding the interpretation and application of a specific regulation.
- Unique perspective: Have you ever written, proofread and refined a document to the point you thought it was ‘perfect’ only to learn that someone else found errors or portions that don’t make sense to them. As architects develop the design and associated drawings they see and read the drawings as they intend for them to be read. However, it is inevitable that the fresh eyes of a contractor, building official or client representative will read the drawings differently than the architect who created them.
- Priorities and opinions: Design professionals have different opinions regarding what is functional, stylish, extravagant and appropriate. A client’s priorities shape their opinion of design solutions. What is right for one client, will be wrong for another. What one client considers perfect, another may be woefully dissatisfied with.
Webster defines PERFECTION as: an exemplification of supreme excellence: an unsurpassable degree of accuracy or excellence. Realistically, very few professionals (of any career path or discipline) ever reach the nirvana of ‘perfection’ but are in constant pursuit of it through their practice. The key is to have frank and open discussions with your design professionals about goals, priorities and expectations, and to align your commitment to compensate for the level of service that will most likely produce the results you want.