architect as juggler

Your first thoughts might be directed towards the circus. You’re somewhat correct.

A juggling act may be a fitting metaphor at times for the life of an architect. Nevertheless as we peek into the life of an architect, more specifically a small practitioner or even a solo practitioner we see that we are often learning to master the art of juggling projects much like talented performing artists juggle pins and chainsaws.

In my world as a solo practitioner I will have between six and twelve projects at any given time all in different stages, however, I can only work on one at any point in time, but several in the course of a day or week. Therefore, it’s like juggling.

Projects do not develop in a simple linear time frame. In other words what does not happen is a commission starts, we immediately work on it nonstop, finish the project, hand it over to the client, get paid and then immediately turn around and start on the next one. There can be too many pauses in between project phases that must be filled with other projects if one wishes to make a living at this. In other words, when you’re waiting on client A to review the design documents you just sent over, what do you do? Hopefully, you jump onto another project.

It can take months from the initial client inquiry to meet, work through a proposal, negotiate a contract, start enough work to send a bill, and get paid. Therefore, figuring out how to juggle is obviously an essential skill.

Here is a cross section of the projects active in my office today and what transpired recently.

New restaurant addition, Greensburg, PA | Phase Concept Design – complete

See images here. Nothing happened on this project this week; we finished this design study months ago, but I did talk to the client about this project. In the meantime, he has asked me for a proposal for something personal for his home. This is where we learn to network, service clients and patiently wait for them to move forward on their projects.

Six unit apartment building, Uniontown, PA | Phase Contract Administration (under construction)

stone ridge

This is an affordable housing project for a nonprofit organizaton – important, but not glamorous. Now that it is well under construction, we meet to review the construction once every two weeks. The fee is limited, therefore I have to control time spent while doing a thorough job in monitoring the process. Most of the submittals are complete at this point. The project is about a 45 minute drive one way. Once we meet and I type up the meeting minutes, distribute them, answer any questions that may arise this takes about an entire day once every two weeks. Emails occur frequently throughout the week too.

Throw that ball up in the air…

New single-family residence, Penn Township, PA | Phase Schematic Design

florio

This week I was able to jump back onto one of my current residential projects, a 2,000 square foot, single-family residence. This is a very enjoyable process but one with an extremely tight budget. Before my concepts are overly perfected, I review them with the client. This way we work together. This week I finally dove deep into 3D schematic modeling, developed plans and elevations from the model and generated many interior and exterior views for them to understand the project. I just emailed them last night – we’ll meet soon to discuss.

That ball is up in the air for today, so I move on…

Mixed use building renovation – three-story urban building, Greensburg, PA | Phase Construction Documents

1511 Concept Image

The overall plan layout is set, but before we “draw” we must get others involved. Two weeks ago I met with the client and my MEP engineering consultant to discuss this 7,500 square foot renovation project, I emailed him the floor plans this week. Aside from that, I am also working with curtainwall manufacturers and fabricators to discuss the new facade replacement concepts. This process is stalled as I await input from people outside of my office. It’s important to get those processes happening concurrently with my development of the design.

This ball is up in the air as I wait for engineers, vendors and fabricators…

New addition single-family house, Cranberry Township, PA | Phase Schematic Design complete

cranberry

This 5,000 square foot addition (that’s right) is quite exciting. Months ago we completed the schematic design and forwarded the final package to the owner who in turn forwarded it to their banker. They are waiting on confirmation on the property appraisal for financing before they can move forward with subsequent phases. I mention it because late last week I spoke to one of their bankers.

That ball is up in the air for an unknown time period…

New master bedroom addition single family house, Pittsburgh | Phase Schematic Design Complete

croft

I am collaborating with Jeremiah on this one. We worked together to finish the schematic design phase. Before we can move forward on this project, our design assumes permission from the City of Pittsburgh for a variance. The hearing is scheduled for next week. If it gets approval, the owner will certainly call and be ready to move forward. I’ve sent the schematics to three contractors. I spoke to one this week, so I put it on this list.

That ball can stay up in the air for now until I catch up…

Renovations to an urban building for small retail area, Greensburg PA | Phase Construction Documents Complete

2015-03-12 12.06.57

I just finished up a simple and quick set of permit level drawings for a small, basement retail renovation (vinyl records) for the new Rabbit Hole Records. I worked three days straight two weeks ago to quickly produce as much documentation as possible. I wrapped it up and sent it off for plan review. Today I should pick up the approved drawings and will deliver them to the owner. My involvement is essentially complete at this point, but my favorite coffee shop is directly above, so I’ll be by.

That ball can be set aside…

Three single-family “cottage type” houses, Uniontown, PA | Phase – Construction Documents

Screenshot 2015-03-31 19.11.06

This, the second project for a non-profit who provides services to homeless people, is in dire need of getting out to bid as soon as possible. With affordable housing projects like this, there’s no room for gratuitous items or even generous items at times. Everything must be the minimal size necessary while still working within a reasonable construction dimensions and proportions. I just received owner feedback, so this ball is now in my hands. I have a friend who will be helping on this next week.

That one is in my hands today…

Interior Renovations – Five Story urban building, Greensburg, PA | Phase – awaiting approval of proposal

205

After developing a basic schematic design, code review and feasibility report, we were asked to submit a proposal to develop the project through construction. I found time (somehow) to develop a fee proposal with my engineers, met this week with the client and am waiting for his board for approval. I hope they spend “adequate” time reviewing it so I keep this ball up in the air for a few weeks.

Up in the air…

Renovations – Four Story urban building, Greensburg, PA | Phase – Pre-Design / Code Review

2015-04-06 14.49.46

Yesterday I finally was able to get clarification on a few ambiguous but critical code issues for this client seeking to renovate the empty, first and fourth floors of this building downtown Greensburg. I need to edit my report, tighten things up and send it off. This would be all interior renovations

I will soon throw this ball in the air as they read the report and consider their next steps.

Summary:

In a small firm, projects are relatively small as well as the fees. Therefore, it is imperative not to spend too much time on each project and work on completing tasks and moving on. This is a weakness.

We have to keep a steady flow of work ready for the future to reduce down time or gaps in the system. Ideally when a project is complete another one can move into its place. Fortunately, I have several potential projects and/or proposals I’m working on in the background to keep that flow. Some clients will wait, some will not.

Architects don’t get paid to do marketing and proposals so we often work on these during off-hours to keep from taking away the workday from billable time. As stated earlier, I have met with and/or had conversations with a half-dozen other the actual clients with whom I am working to politely delay. That doesn’t address if dormant projects awake either.

Lastly in the course of all of that juggling, during the course of the day are unpredictable e-mails or telephone calls. I’m working at getting better at avoiding these first thing in the morning or leaving my email open all day. It is important to note that when a client calls, we must stop and talk to them; they are very important people. When a contractor calls, especially one whom is building one of my projects, they are equally important because their questions likely require some type of feedback so that they can keep the construction process moving. Potential clients are important people because they will be the ones paying me in the future.

When you call your architect and wonder what he or she is doing, they’re probably wondering how to juggle all these balls.

Oh, and there’s my family that trumps all of this. I make time to spend with them. I’ve never missed a school or sports event for my son.

Is juggling crazy? Yes, my days are crazy at times but I do enjoy the variety. I have learned over the years there’s grass on the other side of the fence but it is never greener, it’s just different.

If you are an architect, what has been your experience? Feel free to join the conversation if you can find time while juggling.

photo 1 is from georgia reading’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

all other photos courtesy of lee CALISTI architecture+design

architect as juggler