Which came first, the architect or the contractor?

June 30, 2008

I had a nice conversation with a potential client today and he asked me whether it is better to hire the contractor and use their architect or to hire the architect directly. We do work for clients and we do work for contractors so I can see both sides of this one. Another question that doesn’t have a single correct answer and we should discuss it but this is a starting point.

Generally speaking, I would advocate that our residential clients hire us directly rather hiring us through another party. Clients who need an advocate and someone with experience can really benefit from having an architect working directly for them. We have to respect who holds the contract with us, if it is the owner we work for the owner, if it is the contractor we work for the contractor.

There are quite a few delivery methods for getting projects built (a subject for several more posts) but many people prefer the old design-bid-build format. Competitive bidding requires that you have a complete set of plans and basically necessitates hiring the architect yourself on the front end.

Sometimes clients decide to switch contractors during the design process or after prices come back. If they’ve hired us, we just switch, if we are working for the contractor it can be messier.

There are some cases where the project needs to be fast tracked and that is an area where hiring the contractor to deliver a project with design build may be a faster solution. The contractor can fix a price and needs less than a finished set to get started.

Some contractors have the ability to bundle the architectural fees into their overhead and save on total fee, that’s another place to consider hiring their architect. They may also have the ability to cut down on fees out of pocket that could be rolled into the construction loan.

Finally, it is important that if you use the contractor for your architectural drawings you need to make sure who is actually doing the work. There are many examples of home builders that will have someone on staff draft up a plan and then they have an architect stamp it, where you might be paying enough to have an architect do the entire design. Technically it is against state statute for an architect or engineer to stamp work where they didn’t supervise it but it happens.

Please give us a call if you’re in this dilemma or have related questions about the process.

Do I remodel or start from scratch?

June 29, 2008

We have done quite a number of residential remodels in the last of couple years, and one of the first questions that people ask their architect is often “do you think I should remodel it or should I tear it down and start over”. This is not an easy question to answer and it is very project specific, but there are a few starting points that I use.

Is the building structurally sound? Some structural fixes are easy but some aren’t worth the effort. If the building is going to require a lot of work to make it safe to remodel then that tends to push the needle towards tearing it down.

Does the structure have historic value, is it on a historic register, in a historic district? If you answered yes, then you most likely have to look at a remodel or a serious amount of paperwork and meetings. There have been a few purchases that have fallen through for this reason.

Do you like the style of the existing house? Again, if you like the aesthetic of the house then remodeling may make sense. It might also make sense if the house has an expensive exterior that might be hard to rebuild within your budget. We did a remodel in Bonnie Brae where the exterior was all stone, brick and expensive tile roof so the exterior stayed.

Does the existing house preclude you from doing what you want to do? This is a multipart question, does the house sit on the site in a way that makes expansion difficult, does the room layout really not work, do the levels in the house not work or are the ceilings too low. Those aren’t always remodel fixes and may mean starting fresh.

Do you have enough room to go out, or do you need to go up (or down) also? Adding levels to an existing house definitely adds complexity and may point towards starting fresh.

On the other hand, does the existing house allow you to get away with something that you couldn’t do if you scrapped? We’re currently doing a feasibility on a multi-unit building in Denver that is built to the property lines, if it were torn down it would have to be rebuilt 5-10 feet from the property lines and the site would yield less units. On a smaller scale, your existing staircase or window design may be built in a way that we couldn’t build from scratch.

What are your plans for the house? Consider what your goal is, are you just doing a fix and flip or are you planning to stay for the long haul? This will have an effect on just how far you will need to go with your changes; how far do you chase that old pipe, how much do you insulate existing walls and do you really need to replace the furnace or the windows.

There is also an obvious need to look at the costs of your options and you can look at involving an experienced contractor or builder to aid in this analysis. You need to figure out just how many of the systems will need to be remodeled or replaced in order to bring the house up to current standards and codes. As architects we can give you a lot of advice but you should consider bringing on someone who works with material and labor costs daily.

There is another option to consider, if the house just doesn’t meet your needs but you can’t make the numbers work on tearing it down, you might look at selling and buying a lot that makes more sense.

Finally, if you are facing this dilemma or are looking at property to purchase and need some advice, please give us a call. EVstudio has experience and advice for your remodel.

Architecture Study ranks Denver 8th

June 28, 2008

The was an article on the DBJ site about a citizen poll of which cities are the highest ranking for architecture. The poll was commissioned by RMJM Hillier and put together by Zogby International. Denver ranked 8th, in order the ranking was Chicago, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, and DC.

The article was a bit short on an explanation of methodology and the point was a bit lost on me, but I am happy to see that Denver gets recognition as a great city for Architecture. One of the reasons that I chose to open an EVstudio office in Denver was because I felt that Denver was a city that appreciated good design for buildings, the urban environment and the importance of sustainable building practices. I might disagree with some of the other rankings, but there is no question that Denver is a great place to be an Architect.

On a related note, as a member of the AIA Denver Design Awards committee I’ve seen the reactions that a lot of out of town jurors have to the work being submitted for awards. Generally they are very complimentary of the overall high level of design work that is happening in Colorado. I’m glad that recognition is becoming more commonplace.

Now, if I could only figure out why the article doesn’t explain the methodology or give some more numbers.

Good News for Denver Home Prices

June 27, 2008

The Denver Business Journal had an article today quoting the S&P/Case-Shiller index for Denver. It showed that of the 20 cities in the index, Denver was third for upward movement with a month-over-month increase of 0.8 percent from March to April. That was better than the previous month that showed a drop of only 0.1 percent from February to March.

Good to hear positive news in home prices.


June 27, 2008

Something that we’ve noticed in the last couple months is the tightening of construction money from lenders. This seems to be hitting the smaller residential projects and the larger commercial projects too.

Now, don’t let it get you down. There is still money out there for construction, you just have to look a little harder when people aren’t interrupting your dinner trying to hand you cash.

The suggestion that comes up from both contractors and owners is that you should look for local banks to lend on your project rather than national banks. If your project is in Colorado, Colorado banks are the place to start because they will have a better feel for your area and they want to lend on projects they can understand. I have also heard that several of our clients have had more luck going directly to a bank rather than going through a broker. Finally, if the construction is residential, talk to your contractor and see if they have a track record with lenders and construction loans. Again, relationships and familiarity can help you.

EVstudio website is developing

June 27, 2008

I decided to go ahead and post a new website that I have cooked up. I’m sure we’ll eventually work with Cort (our downstairs Evergreen neighbor) on making it even more exciting. But I like to know how things work, so I took a stab. I had been a GoLive person, but with the Adobe buyout of Macromedia it was time to switch to Dreamweaver again.

On an interesting side note, I paid for my Master of Education with a position developing pages in GoLive at OU and I paid for my Master of Architecture with a position developing pages in Dreamweaver at Tech.

We still need more feedback and questions to make sure that we are providing all of the answers that you’d like to see on the website and the blog so please send them along.

AIA Denver Design Awards Jury Chair 2008

June 26, 2008

Manuel Cadrecha will be the Jury Chair for the 2008 AIA Denver Design Awards program. He is the Design Director for the Atlanta office of Perkins+Will.

I recently traded several emails with Doug Allen, the interim Dean at Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture and he recommended Manuel as a can’t miss jury chair.

The event will be on September 5th at the Cable Center in Denver.

I’ve been the chair of the design awards committee for the last 3 years and I served on the committee for 4 years before that. Each year it is very interesting to see the jury process. As EVstudio continues to have more and more built work we’ll be submitting for awards in these competitions and putting my observations to work.