Control. In a remodeling project, everyone wants it — contractor, client, architect. In the traditional remodeling process, the three-way struggle for control creates instability. For many remodelers, bringing an architect in-house is the best way to achieve balance. “Whenever I farmed projects out in the past, it was always problematic. I couldn't get things done in a timely manner. But that's all changed,” says Cathy Gaspar, a designer and co-owner of Gaspar's in Seattle, which switched to design/build in 1993 and employs two architects. “I love having control of projects and working with really creative people who can do things I can't do.”
But it can be difficult for remodelers to find good architects and keep them. “We look for someone out of school with some experience,” says Ty Otjen, an architect with HartmanBaldwin Design/Build, Claremont, Calif., who says it may take many months to find the right person, someone who is “well-balanced in the industry, who won't need a long training period or need to be retrained because they're set in their ways. We go through a lot of interviewing to get the right person to fit the needs of the company.”
When you do find one, maintaining a good working relationship is one of give and take — and learning — on both sides. “I'm a better architect because I'm a contractor and a better contractor because I'm an architect,” says Michael Menn, co-owner of Design Construction Concepts in suburban Chicago, echoing the sentiments of many of those interviewed for this article.
Laws of Attraction Once upon a time, architect and builder were one and the same. Some time in the late 1800s, when the United States was growing rapidly and large building projects were commissioned, a legal firewall developed between architects — educated and professional —and builders — not usually professionally trained. This led to an adversarial relationship in which the parties doubted and questioned one another. Given this history, what would a remodeler need to do to attract and keep a good architect?
HartmanBaldwin Design/Build (HB) seems to have the method down. The $9.5-million firm has seven project architects, four of whom are licensed and three who are in the process of getting their licenses. Having one's architecture license is an HB requirement.
“Our theory is that the first person a client meets is Devon [Hartman]. We want the client to feel they're making a horizontal step,” says Hudson Pruitt, an architect and HB's head of design. “Getting handed off to an architect without a license, clients feel it's a hand down, that they're not as capable.” He adds, “It's architecture that we're doing. As far as client expectations for our company, an architect lends a certain amount of credibility right up front.”
Since architects cannot technically call themselves architects until they're licensed (they're often referred to as design professionals), their drive to get licensed “lets HB know that the person wants to increase his knowledge and aptitude,” Otjen says.
Under those circumstances, HB makes every effort to treat its architects professionally — offering flexible hours, good benefits and compensation, challenging work, and room to grow. “We have a lot of long-term personnel here,” says Otjen. “Some people have been here 20 years. That says a lot about a company.”
Hiring a professional means giving up some authority. “You can't say, ‘I just want you to draft my ideas up,'” says Eric Jenkins, assistant dean and associate professor of architecture at The Catholic University, Washington, D.C. “He or she is like a doctor or an attorney. You have to trust the person to make professional decisions for [the company.]”
And you have to give them the tools to do it. “You have to make the investment in computers and software that an architect needs to work with,” says Chris Landis, an architect and co-owner with his brother Ethan of Landis Construction, Washington, D.C. “It could be roughly about $10,000 per person.”