my frustration with…all of us

3 May 2012

I am frustrated; aren’t we all. However, I am frustrated largely with my own profession. I am always frustrated with the construction industry, especially the housing industry, but today I’m asking questions of architects. There are two unrelated magazine articles that sparked my rant today and perhaps I am being inconsistent in my conclusions, but too bad, here goes.

First of all, I just read (again) Scott Sedam’s recent article in Professional Builder Magazine, “The Lean Builder: Architects — My Frustration Overfloweth” It was titled “My Frustration with Architects” in the print version. Scott’s basic premise is his construction company can make housing designs “leaner”, more cost-effective without (allegedly) giving up design. He posits he can cut almost $10K out of most house designs. I have read several articles of his and I haven’t found any major faults with his logic yet. Yet in this article he “takes off the gloves” and mentions how bad several sets of plans, by big-name architects, “stunk to the high heaven”. He goes on to boast about his ongoing work to improve them and explains how he’s been asked by representatives of the AIA to stop disparaging architects. According to Sedam, the AIA has turned down his invitation to debate the issue. Not knowing the AIA’s position since they haven’t responded in print, it’s hard to know the full story. However, I think the AIA should give in to his request. A point-counterpoint discussion is in order. Ok, hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.

Also on my radar is the annual Record Houses issue from Architectural Record. Now, these houses are special, custom, million-dollar houses for the well-to-do that demonstrate the progressive possibilities in architecture. I wrote about it last year (twice) and asked many questions. I’ll repeat one of my conclusions that I support these houses and them being published. I only questioned the target or purpose of the issue (architects or the general public) and the lack of “real” houses being published in credible journals. The houses in this year’s issue are consistent with those of the “brave explorations” of the past. They are unusual, beautiful and a bit museum like in their imagery. They are also far from the budget of mostly everyone. The writer’s several defensive statements explaining their purpose (after being sharply criticized last year) made me chuckle.

Now I haven’t been silent about my strong opinions against the typical suburban house. I believe I’ve used words much stronger than “dislike” and “not my preference.” So to Mr. Sedam, I don’t deny your validity in being frustrated with architects. I believe you are experienced enough to have fair criticisms of the designs that landed on your desk. If the AIA isn’t biting on your offer to discuss this in a lively fashion, others should be game. We won’t defend the drawings on your desk, but I am calling all architects to answer your questions. To those architects (and you know who you are) who prepared these designs and drawings, where are you? Did Sedam call you for an explanation or did they just start slashing the drawings? If you stand behind your work, let’s put them out for public comment and see who is right. Has Mr. Sedam made fair conclusions or is he missing something? Just because he is vocal and published doesn’t guarantee he is right. I have often been frustrated by the “we’ve always done it this way” statements or “we’re not used to doing it that way” position. Were the details poor or were they just ‘different’? These are two entirely different points to argue.

My work is custom so I’m sure many of my designs would likely be condemned by the “Leanistas”, but clients paying for them are entitled to unique splurges like our friends at Architectural Record. One could conclude that I am not qualified to lead this charge based on my work. I don’t have a portfolio of production housing designs and for whatever reason haven’t pursued it. Yet I remain a champion for my profession and don’t take these challenges sitting down. In the production housing world, what are we offering that not only makes sense, but is superior in design to the nonsense I see being built in the latest suburban developments? Why do builders still buys these plans and build this garbage? Why do people still buy it?

I know great architects are out there making a difference…aren’t you? Where is your work? Why isn’t Architectural Record publishing an annual issue showcasing great houses for the common man? Can it be measured? It doesn’t have to be the issue before or after the hallowed April Record Houses issue. However, if Scott Sedam is going to be so frustrated with our profession and willingly offer a lively debate about it, why isn’t anyone taking him up on it? Professional Builder is publishing his statements, who is publishing ours? If we are crying the blues about how little influence we have in the residential arena, let’s answer the challenge and use it as a platform to change people’s perceptions. Is it because they’re right?

Let’s also leave style out of this because that discussion is fruitless. Design can profitably be debated on other battlefields. People need to be taught to care about quality, durability and yes sustainablity in a way they can understand. Resale is important, but enjoying the house you live in is more important. Maybe if people enjoyed their houses more (loved them according to Mr. Mouzon), they’d be less inclined to move and take care of what they have. 

To Mr. Sedam, I accept your invitation to discuss the issue for the purpose of teaching design to the public. I’m sure others do too. I have no interest in being defensive or argumentative. I would actually enjoy a discussion as you couched it as a “point by point” discussion of your frustrations. Let’s start with the 24 “flat out wrong” details and see if your comments are valid. The designers behind these deserve a fair shot at explaining them too. We should be able to learn from one another and as design and construction professionals start offering the general public great design at a reasonable cost. We may not totally agree on what should be deleted or changed, but if we stop talking, how will things get better?

Who’s with me? What about you Architectural Record, are you willing to allow architects to defend themselves in your magazine? How about the AIA…or CRAN? (do I hear crickets?)

Famous photo above of PJ is by LaChapelle Studio

Hockey photos are from Dan4th’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

34 Responses to “my frustration with…all of us”


  1. I would like to watch, or read, a point-counterpoint on this! Keep us posted.


  2. The details were wrong? They couldn’t be built? I find that hard to digest, perhaps the builder didn’t understand them or they were unclear. In my experience, when a contractor states it can’t be built, it really means, “I’ve never built it like this, can we discuss it.”

    Why did no one pick up the phone and call the architect? How is it a highly structured cost/value review if the original designer is not involved to clarify?

    Classic contractor/architect he said she said banter.

    • leecalisti Says:

      I suspect the truth lies out there somewhere. I usually get “this is how we always do it.” I open to allow everyone to defend themselves. These articles can’t go unchallenged.


  3. Hi Lee,
    Great blog post! You are on a roll.

    It’s an epic debate: Architects vs Builders in the residential arena.

    I, too, look forward, same as Liz O’Sullivan, to participating in and reading a point-counterpoint dialogue.

    CRAN seems best poised to lead this discussion. I wonder if they will.

    Thanks for sharing this,
    Tara

    • leecalisti Says:

      I know it is an age old debate that will go on and on. However, when someone starts “fighting words” we can’t sit idly by. There is a professional way to handle this. If I was one of those “big name” architects” I would certainly have something to say. Unless, they didn’t get it right. Who knows?


  4. The debate between Contractor & Architect will not exist as business as usual continues. Why ? Let’s examine that for a second. Global climate change, and, an apathetic country not willing to address the issue is at the core of all life. Yes pockets of sensibility do exists, BUT….

    I can tell by rush hour traffic most do not care about Mom Earth, driving instead of the more riding, or God forbid, walking.

    I can tell on trash pickup day, by the quantity of trash bags curbside, those that do not recycle out, greatly outnumber the “greens” that but out 1/3 bag or less.

    I can tell by the recently arrived NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue, Hydraulic Fracturing, which in our localized area promises to put an end to life as we know it, when the water consumed, the air breathed, and food grown will all be contaminated for generations to come.

    Just as the question. “Why isn’t Architectural Record publishing an annual issue showcasing great houses for the common man?” becomes the obvious choice we should all pursue, the reality is wealth and power of a few dominate the air waves, the periodicals, and the rest of advertising madness permeating our little lives.

    Respect, dignity, and understanding, person to person, is the what will allow the architect and contractor to ‘just get along’ and it turns out to be a great maxim for every one else to practice with each other, no matter one’s socio-economic, cultural or political status.

    Thank you think | architect .

    • leecalisti Says:

      Hey great comments. I am not interested in the age old boring debate between Contractor and Architect. That’s passe. You are spot on with the average American though and I’m sure even you and I could be a bit culpable. We will do the things that are convenient at the time. Also, until “green” concepts are competitive in price to the common items, most people won’t choose them. How many will buy a $50 LED light bulb even if they’ll never replace it again? My basic conclusion about the housing issue is the average Joe really doesn’t care. As long as he was his WiFi, smart phone and a big screen TV (or insert your own things), he/she is fat, dumb and happy in their vinyl box and SUV for which they can afford neither.

      To be honest, I have gotten along with almost every contractor I’ve had to deal with. In fact much of my work now has come in some way from a contractor. So I’m not interested in throwing stones. But, challenge my work and I want a chance to answer.


  5. Great challenge! I hope both sides come out of the discussion as winners.
    And, oh, I hope the idea of promoting residential architecture “for the rest of us” gets more attention.

    • leecalisti Says:

      The contractor-architect relationship or debate will probably not go away any time soon. I try not to perpetuate it because it is harmful to both sides. But tell me my work “stinks…” and I’m not going to be quiet. The overall point is to educate and get people to care more about the quality of their homes and our built environment. Thanks for contributing.

  6. William Thompson Says:

    This has always been with us..Contractors always think they can do better than the Architect..It is just simple human nature..

    • leecalisti Says:

      Thanks for chiming in. Many contractors today are unwilling to build something in any remotely different manner than they are used to doing. I will say from reading Scott Sedam’s articles that he has tagged some good ideas on projects. He looks at things like 8′-6″ ceilings being wasteful and similar items. However, it is hard for me to relate because I have clients that want unusual things, so they pay for them. Is that wasteful or not “lean”? Who knows. But in production housing, I have no problem being smart and building economically. I just wish Mr. Sedam would do more case study examples when he’s on a rant like his last one. He cited 24 poor details but didn’t even elucidate one of them as to its “unbuildable” nature. I can’t take that lightly. Of course the architectural journals publishing ONLY weird and funky houses doesn’t help our side.


  7. thank you lee, couldn’t agree more. just like any sucessful project pointing fingers is not going to solve the problem or advance the issue. and the issue i’d like to advance is design sensibility to the consumer. both architect and builder contribute to the lack of an affordable well designed home, somewhere btwn the empty details and pretentious is the ideal. can we take the leap? a thousand points of light? please keep the discussion going lee.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Thanks, we agree. I hope we are all humble enough to be teachable. Telling me “it stinks” didn’t work when I was a kid, so why would it work as an adult. Show me, teach me, and I might learn. Otherwise, bug off dear contractor.


      • i have found the most important factor in my projects being successful is the contractor, the team attitude, working together and respecting each one’s expertise and where they are coming from. i believe the start to understanding is to walk in the other’s shoes. my dwgs are far from perfect and the contractors intent is not always aligned with the design intent, but it gets worked out. collaboration, not dart throwing, benefits all.


  8. Wow, lots of comments!

    I am an architect on the commercial side – so it’s a whole different animal from what we’re discussing here.

    I work as an independent specifications consultant, so I work on about 2 dozen projects every year. I see lots of drawings.

    I see some details that COULD be constructed, but which would be destroyed in the first wind gust over 40 mph.

    I see some details that COULD be constructed, but in about a year will start to rust out because nobody detailed in drainage allowance.

    I see some details that COULD be constructed, but only after the Owner signs a waiver acknowledging that nobody will fix it or replace it for free when it fails, because the material supplier will only let someone purchase it after they’ve signed a waiver indicating that they understand there’s no warrantee of merchantability.

    I see some details that COULD be constructed, but since it’s a combination of 2 different manufacturers’ components, and isn’t built to either’s warranty requirements, neither will warrant it, so the GC would have to tear it out and start over if it fails in the one-year correction period, and the owner would just be out of luck if it fails later.

    I’ve seen a skylight detailed that COULD be built, but would probably cost more than the new roof…

    So, if the contractor-side could get more specific about why things CAN’T be built, the architect-side could probably learn a few things.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Thanks Liz, I am afraid you are right. I’ve seen some poor drawings myself. However, just telling me it stinks doesn’t help. Show me and explain the other point of view. We’ll have a discussion about each others intentions and move forward in a manner that helps the owner. Throwing stones only breaks glass.

  9. suzan lami Says:

    Hi Lee;
    Nice to see your quotes in the local paper this week. Part of the problem is that you are generalizing as much as the contractor you quoted. Maybe he has had to build things from architect’s drawings that were not the best. I have worked with plenty of local contractors who have told me nightmare stories about the drawings and details they see from some other architects. I have seen nightmare drawings and details from other architects. And probably, there have been some nightmare details that have slipped by on my own firm’s drawings. Architects focus on the design, and contractors focus on the construction. In general, architects are going to be better at the design and knowing what to build, and the contractors are going to be better at knowing how to build it. Note I said “in general” – there will be exceptions on both sides. Just as we have all seen contractors who should not be allowed to own a hammer, I am sure contractors have seem architects they think are just as bad. I can see that they would be frustrated when they get inadequate drawings just as we are frustrated when we see a contractor ignoring a detail, or building something incorrectly.

    Housing is such a broad business. Just in my firm, we do inexpensive affordable housing, public housing, custom high end housing, additions and remodeling, historic renovations, and assisted living. I have done tiny compact units that are super green, and extravagant giant houses with laser cut onyx floors. As architects, sometimes we are all over the place. You probably have designed super expensive homes, and more modest homes as well. Contractors tend to focus on one market: they are production builders, contractors doing “semi custom” high end homes,or they build the houses that architects design.

    Maybe we need to look more at ourselves and how we practice, how we present ourselves, and the kind of work we do. If we truly provide value to our clients, then our clients will see this, and we will be successful. As it stand now, the average residential client does not see the value in an architect. That is not the client’s fault, it is not the contractor’s fault, it is our (architectural profession) fault.

    Your quote : “My basic conclusion about the housing issue is the average Joe really doesn’t care. As long as he was his WiFi, smart phone and a big screen TV (or insert your own things), he/she is fat, dumb and happy in their vinyl box and SUV for which they can afford neither.” does not help. If you can’t respect the average Joe, then you probably should not be designing for him. I think the average Joe (or josephine) DOES care, but we have not given them a service that is of value to them. Maybe we should come up with a better vinyl box?

    • leecalisti Says:

      Hi Suzan. Thanks for lively discussion and for noticing the Trib article. I think you’ve addressed several good points. My comments on LinkedIn may be a bit sarcastic, but sometimes I let my feelings get the best of me. I am passionate about architecture and sometimes we just need to say it as it is. Despite your faith in the average Joe, I am going to disagree. I don’t think people neglect their homes, but they don’t care half about them as much as we do. The fact that the average person in America will move in 5 to 7 years begins to support this. This is also supported by people just wanting the cheapest because they’re not going to stay there long. However, I am shocked at the money people spend on trivial things when they can barely pay their mortgage. I’d rather do without some of today’s “toys” and pay extra on my mortgage or have better quality.

      Absolutely, we do need to offer a better box, but I can’t accept the vinyl one. Despite my hate for vinyl siding, I am smart enough to know it is not going anywhere anytime soon. I don’t expect everyone to live in a house with laser cut onyx, but there are smarter choices out there. In addition, when we as architects produce the output of our design and service, the drawings, I expect us to get it right. One or two details may miss the mark, but is Scott Sedam correct that 24 out of 28 were bad? I am giving him the benefit of the doubt in my questioning of the architect, but I feel the architect deserves a fair shot at replying to the indictment. If the architect did produce good details and Mr. Sedam is just throwing stones, then why didn’t they respond? If they did respond, why wasn’t their response published? By the way, I did send a link to my blog to Mr. Sedam to invite the conversation. He responded by saying he loved the article and sent me a few other articles of his.

      Lastly, my second point was questioning ourselves as an industry, more specifically the journalistic side of our industry. If we are doing what we think we are doing correctly, why isn’t it being published? Why are we so vain that we can’t publish a better vinyl box? Why must we believe the average Joe will only buy magazines with houses he’ll never afford? I think they like to dream, but another reason they don’t care is we haven’t shown them a reason to care. They believe architects only design high end houses. We don’t teach our children well enough in school to care for their built environment (or any environment) and we rarely teach anyone the importance of architecture in our lives. I know from speaking at many career fairs at high schools. These are my reasons I criticized Architectural Record and other mainline journals. I’m sorry, but Better Homes and Gardens isn’t going to be the medium to convince people to pursue better design. It needs to come from architects if they are going to take us seriously.

      We do agree on us offering a better service to the public that is of value to them. However, most developers are not welcoming us into their world. They’re defending it well and are not looking for us to join in.

      Thanks for making this discussion interesting. Complaining about it won’t fix anything. We need to converse and address the tough issues.


  10. Wow. Soooo many points here. This will take a paragraph or two, so apologies in advance.

    First, full disclosure: I work with Scott Sedam and am working a Lean process this week as I write… with the Architect in the room. So take me with a grain of salt, or read as verification.

    A. Scott does not overstate the errors found. In most cases, “cannot be built” means CANNOT be built as drawn, which adds cost when the framer (for instance) must create a field accomodation, which of course affects every following trade. NOTE 1: the Architect will not know this unless he communicates with the framer & vice versa. The Architect (note the capitalization, respecting the craft) CANNOT know everyting, but he/she can certainly communicate with the users of his/her drawings. NOTE 2: very few Architects seem to do so. Introsepctive question: how many clients have you had; how many trades have you met with?

    B. We frequently have the Architect in the room as we go through out Lean processes. We have one in the room this week. They often start out wary, maybe defensive, then a bit embarrassed, then wide eyed and full of learning. Like they were in school, but better. It really is a joyous thing to watch.

    C. Public debate would be a great and epic engagement, but one that probably should not happen. The examples I have seen would all be denounced by AIA as bad examples of the science, art, or craft… definitely not representative of AIA standards. But they are nevertheless real. Moreover, the only way to really get into it is to show plans, but of course none of our clients would want their most egregious errors publicized, so suddenly the real life examples cannot be produced. Sad, but a fact of capitalistic life.

    Still, the idea of a challenge is intriguing. Perhaps a new competition can be raised, one in which great design ALSO must be built, with comments from the building trades included in the judging, as well as the cost-reducing or cost-increasing features called out by those trades. Unfortunately, cost/sqft has too much variability by geography to use as a measure. NOTE 3: we have run these Lean processes across the USA and Canada as well as Australia and Mexico. It is not an empty process, and the conclusions are worth heeding.

    D. Lean is not about cheap. A winding grand staircase is wonderful if the client wants to pay for it. NOTE 4: The definition of Lean is eminently simple: “anything the buyer will not willingly and knowingly pay for is muda (waste). Get rid of it. If you can’t get rid of it, reduce it.” By this definition, a custom home can be delightfully intricate, if that’s what the client wants. But will that client want excess studs in the wall or complex ceiling framing to accomodate an intricate volume ceiling? Maybe. Maybe they’d want a slightly less complex ceiling that is easier to buld, and redirect those savings to a more dramatic entryway. Cheap isn’t Lean, and Lean isn’t cheap. That’s been Scott’s main rant. By the way, we’ve also done $1-7 Million dollar homes and found an average of over $57,000 in waste per home.

    Final point. You may disagree with Scott, but there’s easy way to find out if he’s right or prove him wrong. Several comments above touch on this very point: show me. We offer one simple and compelling thing to every client: if your own employees, suppliers and trades do not find more than $2,000/house in waste (see above description), don’t pay us. We put our money where our mouth is because problems abound. Nobody else does what we do, and nobody else has the standing to challenge our results. It’s not just Architects, it’s the builders, engineers, suppliers and trades as well. And consultants. We’re guilty, too. But there is no debate about the ultimate conclusion: phenomenal waste abounds.

    If you want to find out how YOU as a professional are doing and honestly want to learn, talk with your trades. If you are confident about taking us on, have your builder contact us. It costs nothing if we fail to prove our point. And when we DO prove our point, you will have gained more than you can possible imagine.

    –Paul

    • leecalisti Says:

      Paul, I very much appreciate your comments and willingness to participate in the discussion. I respect Scott and have learned much from his articles. I do believe he is finding waste in the projects that cross his desk.

      One big criticism though that cannot go unchallenged is you CANNOT throw a dart at architects and say their work “stinks to the high heaven” and not give examples. It is unfair, cheap and fuels the fire in the contractors that are already prejudiced against architects. Making these types of statements without objective backup does not help the debate between our professions. I know Scott has published articulate articles elsewhere, but I take offense at the magazine for publishing his statements with no credible backup in the article itself.

      The focus of my rant was actually against the architect for not being beyond reproach, but an arrogant shot at architects is uncalled for too. Thus my offer for architects to discuss this professionally point by point. I am sure we can learn from Scott and his methods, but let’s not use terms like “stinks to the high heaven.” Even with my sarcasm and frequent rants, I try to be more mature.


  11. Oh, I forgot to add that Hockey is one of Scott’s favorite sports. Excellent choice of imagery for your blog. I think you two are more of a like mind and temperment.

    • leecalisti Says:

      My email conversation with Scott was pleasant and I look forward to more dialog with him. I do respect what he is doing and I would love to learn from him. I have printed the articles he sent me and will read them again. However, I also think the premise “will the client pay for it” as a cost saving device can get into murky water for custom work.

      Clients generally do not understand the construction process. They trust us to design what they ultimately want within their budget. However if they understood what it takes to get that, would they still want it? That’s a difficult answer that can’t merely be dealt with by telling them it will add $__ dollars for ___ more studs. Some design features take unusual effort to create them. It all depends, thus my desire for Scott to be specific regardless of what the AIA thinks.

      There has to be a balance here and nobody is advocating waste. Let’s have a fair lively discussion.


  12. “We offer one simple and compelling thing to every client: if your own employees, suppliers and trades do not find more than $2,000/house in waste (see above description), don’t pay us.”

    How often are you not paid? Pretty easy to find ‘problems’ when that is how you justify/generate your fees. Send me your post ‘lean review’ drawings, I’m sure I will find even more problems. Builders typically state it can’t be built because they don’t know how to build it or they just want to build what they did on the previous project. Where do I get off saying this, well I typically know more than the builder on the job site. Where did I garner such knowledge, from builders who understand the importance of teamwork.

    I’m all for many sets of ‘eyes’ on CD’s. Thankfully I have primarily worked with builders who ‘get’ what it is an architect does and brings to the project. I understand the value of a great GC, and only work with such. We have pre-con meetings with the GC and subs, issues are flushed out and addressed.

    Your comments, and ‘Lean Design: The $10K Solution” white paper, only confirm why builder houses look like builder houses- the Pulte connection doesn’t help (I worked for Pulte in the late 80’s early 90’s so I can say that). Some clients want a room that doesn’t lay out into equal (non-cutting) of sheet rock panels, it’s okay. The lean process seems perfectly geared for builder production housing. For one-off architect designed homes, not so much. There are differences between an architect designed home and a builder designed home- and the difference is not waste.

    The lean review has it’s merits, but if you want architects on board you need to extol the benefits of such a review, not cast disparaging remarks at architects. The holier than though builder mentality doesn’t work, nor does it work for the architect. Never has, never will. Builders make mistakes. Architects make mistakes.

    I often wonder… Why so many people seem to know how to be a better architect yet they themselves are not? Why are some builders driven by profit and have narrow vision? Why are some architects driven by vision but lack construction and budget realities?

    So who’s right?
    The builder? No.
    The architect? No.
    The builder and the architect? Yes.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Despite the fact that I raised the question considering the possibility that the architect put ‘canned’ details on the drawing without checking them, I’m with you. The more I thought about this and the more responses I got the more irritated I got about the cheap shot Mr. Sedam made without backing up his reasons.

      I’m going to look into the “lean” ideas more but I think they’re geared to quick production housing far over custom as most have stated.

      Also, no architect purposely wastes. It’s just not in us to do that.


  13. cogitatedesign & leecalisti — You both raise good points and are correct in most of your positions and accusations. The biggest one is that dart throwing is non-productive. Totally correct, although it does make for passionate discussion. We do believe in collaboration based on trust and mutual respect. Can’t have the latter when you are throwing darts, rocks, and other messy comments.

    Quick couple of points, but first I want to acknowledge that 6 years of Architecture training is a lot. Probably more than many or most builders have. But to have an Architect understand purchasing? Both are full time professions. Add Engineering. How can one person to internalize and act on all 3 levels effectively? I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation. That’s why getting everyone in the room and going through the process works. I think we are in agreement on that much.

    That brings me to our fee. We are careful to say WE do not point out the waste. That’s the trades calling out builder practices and design conflicts or alternatives. The dollar value and practicality is the builder personnel taking responsibility and adjusting procedures or practices or materials or design to make it work better for everyone without dumbing down the house. There’s that collaboration thing again, in action. Easy analogy: when each function maximizes their own silo, the gaps between silos increase unless — as a group — they focus on the interchanges and interactions.

    We’ve had over 90 lean events. All 90 exceeded the guarantee by a multiple. So to answer your question, “How often are you not paid?” the answer is never (yet).

    Probably the last point is that Lean works everywhere it is tried. Production builders have repeatability and they get HUGE benefits, whereas custom one-off designs don’t get that multiplier benefit. Still, we’ve done a number of custom builders doing one-off designs, or highly personalized versions of stock starting points. On $1-$7 Million houses, the average finding was just over $58,000/house. Some in design, some in process, some in materials. Maybe that’s not available to everyone but it was available to the guys who looked for it. Surely that’s worth saving the customer. Or if not the customer, the builder. Or if neither of them, you the architect.

    To think it doesn’t apply is to miss the opportunity, and to reinforce Scott’s argument about Architects not knowing and not caring about such mundane details as someone else’s money. I think that’s his major carp.

    Am enjoying the conversation though, and you are causing me to choose my comments carefully while working with the collaborative teams like I am today. For that, thank you.


  14. What terrible spelling and punctuation, rightfully diminishing the power of my comments. My apologies to all readers; I should have stepped away and proofed it after a pause.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Paul, I’ll say it again. One, I think the discussion is very healthy, thus the reason for starting a blog. Two, despite my occasional, ok frequent, sarcasm, I don’t believe I’ve thrown a dart without an objective backup. That was my number one complaint with the article and I was equally as frustrated to the editor of PB for allowing it to be published.

      I don’t believe any of us can categorically say that Scott is not successful in his lean philosophy. However to get us to buy into it more, we need examples and in past articles he’s done that. Nevertheless, we need to carefully explain what type of housing he’s doing it in and what type of client. As was said by others and yourself, the custom one-off projects do not benefit to the same degree. Also many architects do renovation work and I’m sure that is not going to bend to the lean thinking easily either.

      My largest concern here is the general public’s perception. I just had a frustrating call with a potential client and it’s hard enough to sell them on our value, we don’t need contractors or trade magazines pulling the carpet out from under us unfairly. Regardless of the architect’s position, the AIA or PB’s position, it is only fair for Scott to write a follow up article objectively explaining (with graphics) why he is so frustrated with architects. Moreover, he is frustrated with those architects. He has yet to be frustrated with me…until he reads all of this of course.

      I never said I couldn’t learn from a contractor, but at least be honest and respectful enough to say you may just learn from me.


  15. Being respectful and honest, I freely admit and acknowledge that I am learning from you. Thank you for giving me cause to say it clearly and, while I’m at it, apologize about the dart comment. It was not directed at Architects or you. I used the impersonal “you” meaning “one”, as in a generaic, non-specific person. Perhaps I should have written, “Can’t have the latter when WE are throwing darts, rocks, and other messy comments” referring to Scott, me, and anyone else not in the collaboration mode.

  16. Dan Sloan Says:

    Love to see jpegs of these “unbuildable details” so we can assess for ourselves this claim!

    As both an Architect and a General Contractor, I’m very curious…

  17. Enoch Sears Says:

    The drawings architects produce have several purposes, only one of which is to serve as a template for building. Other purposes include demonstrating the code compliance of the design for jurisdictional authorities and creating a basis for pricing (bidding).
    Architect’s instruments of service were never intended to be exact replications of a built project, but to display the overall design intent. Over the past 100 years we have seen a shift in the way design documents are interpreted. Previously, drawings were more schematic in nature detailing only the most essential elements. Today there is increasing pressure for architects to show every nut and bolt.

    My experience is that builders & trades tend to lean toward the side of wanting architects to show every nut and bolt, whereas architects lean the other direction- being more diagrammatic/schematic. There are complex reasons for these differing approaches. It definitely makes the contractor’s life easier to have every single detail clearly delineated. But in the past, this has not been the standard of care. Can poor details be defended? Clearly, no.

    Yes, Scott’s dig at his ‘anonymous architects’ paints the profession with a broad brush. But his feelings and comments do make a great starting point for discussion about the roles of project stakeholders and the expectations of each. There are many unanswered questions that an objective inquirer would ask that are not addressed in Scott’s article. For instance, what was the purpose for which the plans were bought by the builders? Was the goal to have a set of highly efficient, ‘lean’ plans? Were the builders wanting a building that was cheap to construct? Was the intent to have masterpiece designs? The goals of a production builder and a Pritzker-prize winning architect are very different, and different criteria will be used to determine what is “GREAT” for each. Were the firms in question selected because of their technical prowess in producing excellent drawings? If so then someone made a big mistake in the selection process.

    Scott’s article is more an emotional rant than an objective discourse and must be understood as such. Unfortunately, those who read it might not get the intricacies.

    I for one am more interested in discussing the systemic weaknesses of the current project delivery framework than defending the capabilities of architects as a whole.

    Thanks again Lee and others for a wonderful conversation.


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