The value of an Architect…

One of the only good things to come out of a recession is that you get time to reflect upon your previous successes and failures. Time to plan a way forward when things improve. It can be difficult to even think that things will improve but as in all business cycles the recovery will eventually happen; unfortunately the green shoots in Ireland are just going to take a little longer and there will be a period of pain before we get there.

This leads me onto the biggest step forward I personally have made and emphasises the value that an architect brings to a project. I know that Architects bring value at all stages of the project; they’re great at negotiating planning hurdles, construction detailing, managing projects on site, handling accounts etc… but probably the biggest area that I bring value (which I haven’t given myself credit for) is that initial idea; the defining concept that separates the design from a simple collection of rooms bolted together or the single thought, expressed on paper that separates an architects design from a design chosen from a book of house plans. I feel it’s essential in all projects that there is ‘one big idea’ – something that everything hangs off – something that when you look at a project you immediately see the ‘idea’ and just get what the architect is trying to say. When this ‘one big idea’ is done well, all the small decisions fall into place and are a direct response to the bigger scheme.

It is this profession separating element that we as architects should cherish the most, as stated above I know that architects bring value at all stages of the project but I know for a fact that neither client nor other ‘designer’, nor builder could have originated the key idea on the projects I have been involved on.

This ‘main’ idea doesn’t seem to be valued as much as it should; I realise that getting planning can be hard, detailing and preparing construction drawings can be labourious and that being on site requires attention to detail. But without the germ of a good idea, these hard but essential steps are worthless.

The RIAI Agreement between Architect and Client for domestic projects divides a project into 4 work stages, essentially they are:

Work Stage 1: Briefing & Concept Design
Work Stage 2: Further design and Planning Application
Work Stage 3: Construction/Tender information and contract formation
Work Stage 4: On site to completion

I would emphasise that Work Stage 1 fully deserves to be AT LEAST a quarter of the importance to the project; I remember being taught at college by an architect whose sole job was to understand what the client was looking for and to formulate a brief for his partners to work on – he did no actual designing himself but his work was seen as important as the architect who designed the project as it was this brief that formed the most important design concept and every decision thereafter.

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