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)