3 Reasons Why Design+Build Makes Sense and Why Architects Should Care

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3 Reasons Why Design+Build Makes Sense and Why Architects Should Care

by David P. Pollard AIA LEED AP

Good design and architecture have historically been considered a luxury in residential homes. Homeowners either spent lots of money hiring an architect for good design or they shopped for the commodity architect to draw what they want drawn. Unless they have achieved starchitect status or have become the architect that a homeowner “just has to have”, the life of the residential architect is a struggle between time management, selling their value, and figuring out if they can build a firm or are simply making a job for themselves for the foreseeable future.

The average homeowner knows little about what architects do, and they don’t even know where to begin finding or interviewing one. The architectural proposals are typically retainers that vary greatly, and the homeowner doesn’t really know what the end-product is going to be. They write a big check to pay for someone’s time to solve their needs with a drawing. The system doesn’t make sense. Why is it so hard for architects to enter the massive residential remodeling market, and why is it so hard for homeowners to have access to good design without paying out sums of hourly fees?

I spent the last 20 years of my architectural education and career navigating a path to success in residential architecture. What I discovered is the design-firm model is broken, and the profession continues to ignore the suburban housing landscape by not explaining the value of design and more importantly, not evolving how design is delivered. My graduate thesis asked the question, why are architects so absent from mass home-building? When I started LivCo, I asked the same thing of the lack of architecture in the remodeling industry.

There are about 80 million existing single-family homes in the U.S., and I would argue that not very many have been touched by an architect. This leaves a huge opportunity, because we know that people appreciate good design. In 2016 HGTV became the third highest-watched channel on cable. Most of the shows feature design as bringing value to a home – some by architects and designers, but always by someone bringing a creative vision to solve needs. This is where the training and mindset of architecture can provide tremendous value, and it is subsequently an opportunity for the design industry to affect the lives of millions of homeowners while changing the built-environment for the better.

I believe the disconnect is not in the profession of architecture, but in the model of the architecture firm. The idea of paid hourly services to deliver an artistic vision and subsequent plan, is antiquated. There are too many resources readily available today to make that a reasonable option for most homeowners. The solution is the design-build model, and there are three core reasons why architecture and construction as one makes sense in Remodeling for both architects and homeowners.

The Building is the Product, not the Drawings

In residential work, the end-product should not be the set of drawings, it should be the built product. The model of an architect delivering the building creates efficiency, accountability, and a streamlined process that homeowners want and need. Remodeling is dirty, messy, and it is likely the largest purchase a homeowner will make in their lifetime, and architects have the training and ability to re-design and control this process.

Expertise and Experience in All Aspects of the Project

This design-build residential model has gained tremendous traction in the last decade. More times than not, it is a general contractor recognizing the value that good design can bring to their company, and they hire architects and designers to be a part of this. These positions elevate the design value of the built-environment outside of the traditional architecture firm. There are also numerous design-build residential firms such as LivCo that are owned by an architect and builder. I don’t claim to be an expert builder just as Russ does not claim to be an expert designer. I have designed my whole life, and he has built his whole life. We then work together to achieve the best end-product for our clients while applying our expertise from each relevant knowledge base.

Goals Are Aligned

Most importantly, in a design-build model the goals of the designer are completely aligned with that of the homeowner. The budget is a critical piece of the program because the end goal is to build, not just draw a project. At architecture firms, I worked on too many projects that were not built because they were too expensive, or the original design needed to be “dumbed-down”. We lost sight of, and did not have experience in how much construction actually costs. Personally, that was not what I wanted to do, I wanted to design projects that I could see built. As a homeowner, we looked at way too many houses for sale that had sets of plans being sold with them. Rolls of paper of what could be done to the house, but the owners were clearly moving because the paid solution to solve their needs was too expensive. If the project is never built, in my opinion, it is a waste money, time, and creative energy.

Some peers may and have argued that LivCo is undercutting the design firms by giving away design for free in order to build a project. I would respond that we do not give away design for free, but we deliver it more efficiently and package it with an end-result that is the actual built-project – the ultimate goal of any homeowner looking to remodel, and all of our clients. We make good design more accessible and tie it into an integrated process. Homeowners do not hire us because we are the cheapest, but they do hire us because of our ability to creatively solve their needs through a built solution. They then trust us because we must build what we design, and our singular team is held fully accountable.

My hope is the continued elevation of the $400 billion remodeling industry leads to a wake-up call among architects to re-evaluate their model if they are truly passionate about residential design. This is the greatest opportunity in our lifetimes in the growing remodeling market to truly make an impact on housing. Otherwise the profession risks being on the sidelines as we were in mass-housing, and the world will stay vanilla.