Architects and builders have been jockeying for control (and respect) ever since Thomas Jefferson called his architect a stubborn jackass — and then promptly punched himself in the nose.
OK, I'm exaggerating. But I do wonder: Who first conceived of architecture and construction as separate disciplines? Is there any other business, industry, art, science, or profession where the planning and the doing have been so systematically severed from each other and set at odds?
Of course, the trend toward design/build has taken great strides to correct this sorry state, but we're not there yet. The lasting causes and effects of this long-running rift are all too apparent. There are still many independent architects in the field of residential remodeling who are inexperienced, impractical, and/or egotistical, just as there are many contractor-led design/build companies producing uninspired, bland, or just plain ugly designs.
New Breed To be sure, there are also many exceptions, and I applaud them heartily. But I believe that our clients (and our profession) are best served by the rising trend toward full integration of professional architectural services and construction services into a new breed of architecture/build superfirm.
To better appreciate where our profession is headed, let's take a brief look back.
As late as the 1970s, residential remodeling was virtually ignored by established architectural firms — most either turned away this work or handed it off to the youngest staff member to cut his teeth on. By default, residential remodeling became the testing ground for inexperienced architects who had little or no training in the nuances of residential construction.
Remodelers, figuring they could provide a better set of plans themselves, brought design in-house. But the earliest design/build companies tended to hire exactly the same sort of inexperienced and underpaid designers and, if anything, designs became even worse (although many firms found an increase in profits by avoiding the competitive-bid process).
The tendency was to view design primarily in terms of selling construction services, and because these companies didn't value design on its own merits, they undercharged for design services. It's not hard to appreciate the depressing effect that this had on design. The motivation was to simply sign the job and get it out the door. This was good for remodelers but not so good for clients.
The Architect's Role By the 1990s, architects began to realize that they had forfeited a leading role in the residential remodeling market — just as that market exploded into a major engine of the American economy.
Savvy architects set out to reestablish a key role for the architect in that market. They found their way back in through the recognition that the architect's professional responsibility must include not just a commitment to design excellence but also a commitment to supporting the contracting and construction processes by providing complete, accurate, practical, and user-friendly architectural drawings.
Architectural firms emerged that were devoted solely to residential remodeling and to the challenges of managing information in an environment of constant change. At the same time, architects brought to bear their considerable talents in garnering awards and marketing their services. Upscale homeowners responded, seeing that having an architect on their remodeling project added prestige. Architects were back in, and the game was on.
Coming Together But something happened along the way: A large segment of the remodeling industry seems to have moved beyond recrimination and has found constructive and lucrative ways to bring architects and builders together into seamlessly integrated firms. In some cases, the next step in the evolution was for the upscale remodeling company to bring qualified architects on staff. In others, architectural firms specializing in residential remodeling (mine was one) merged with sophisticated remodeling companies. And many more architects and remodelers have formed alliances of all kinds.
One thing is clear: The upscale client now expects that high-level architectural and construction services will be seamlessly integrated and smoothly executed. Infighting is out. The highly professional, trouble-free, positive remodeling experience is in.
Dean Brenneman, AIA, is a principal of Brenneman & Pagenstecher—Residential Architects & Builders, an upscale remodeling company in Kensington, Md.