Take the long term view and trust the professionals.
Dear first time developer:
We address you today because we would like to see your new building become a success and because we are about to embark in a 5-year relationship, and relationships can be hard.
Like all relationships, this one should be based on trust, chemistry, support and companionship. We are going to be your partner in this adventure and we want to help you in the best possible way
Doing a new building, developing a new project is a process that takes time, you could say quite a lot of time for today’s standards. Any mid-size development is going to be a 4 or 5 year process. Half of that getting ready for construction (design + approvals + documentation), and half to build it. That’s if things go more or less according to plan.
Yet, even though it is a 5 years process, time and time again we find ourselves in situations where critical decisions have to be made on the spot, designs have to be developed or modified within 1 week, presentations and submissions are made without the proper preparation or background, and most importantly, buildings are built without the proper documentation and detailing.
This is due to what we at TAMOSPAYA call the “stop and start” approach. A trend we see is becoming more and more popular. The “Stop and Start” approach is used by most developers and stakeholders in an attempt to save money by engaging the design team and the architect at only those moments they consider critical or that are required by law, not being fully aware of the importance and the complexity of the rest of the process in order to achieve a successful outcome.
A successful building (financially, socially, aesthetically) is the result of an overarching process, more than the sum of a series of small steps. All parts of the building and the process have to be considered carefully, because as with cars, computers or telephones, every single element in the building is connected and affects the others. This includes construction systems, façade detailing, interior design, branding, construction management and programme, material selection, cost analysis, budget, sales strategy, and the list goes on and on. Every single element needs to be connected and synchronized with each other and orientated towards the overall goal, and you need someone to guide the process and make everything work together; your architect.
You and he can plan the process from the beginning and have a clear idea of the things that need to be done and how they are interconnected. You can plan when you need to make decisions and what work has to be developed at every stage. .
A long term commitment to your architect will give them certainty and assurance and will let them plan accordingly. They will be able to avoid overtime fees and unplanned expenses and they will be able to develop all those tasks you are not fully aware of, and that are the key unspoken element in the process.
Beyond the legally required tasks to get a Development Application, or the information necessary to market your development, or to get a construction certificate, there are many other things that need to be resolved in a building. Yes, they can be resolved later, and yes, decisions can be made on site, but if you do not make these decisions at the right time and give them the necessary consideration you are exposing yourself to a poor outcome and/or to a cost increase, which is what you wanted to minimize in the first instance.
If you were to use the “Stop and Start” approach for example, you would engage the architect to do the Development Application for you and once it is lodged with Council they would stop working on the project. The architect will not be working while the application is assessed and will only be engaged again once you start the marketing and sales process after Council has granted you consent. Then, once the sales process starts, the architect stops working and you engage him only when you need to start documenting the project, after you have sold a high percentage of the apartments.
In your mind this saves you money because the architect and the design team are not engaged all the time, they just fulfil the legal requirements and produce the minimum documentation required at each stage by council, the certifier or the builder. But in reality you are missing out on all the contributions the design team could be working on and that are not part of the legal requirement but that will have a huge impact in the final building design wise and money wise.
By reducing the period of time your architect is working on the project you are pushing a lot of necessary background and coordination work into a very tight time frame, increasing the workload and the decisions that have to be made in the periods they are engaged. The effect of this is that a lot of the decisions are not properly discussed due to lack of time and some elements are never properly resolved due to lack of research, development and exploration.
Poor decisions and poor resolution of elements will lead to cost increases and also to an increase in potential critical oversights that will come back to haunt you during construction.
The risks associated with using a “stop and start” approach are:
- Poor design outcomes due to lack of time to develop design changes.
- Inconsistency between the different parts of the building (exteriors, interiors, landscape) as they are developed separately or in a rush.
- Poor execution due to lack of detailing and research
- Budget blowout due to decisions and changes having to be made on site
Furthermore your architect’s fees stage by stage might end up being higher than a fee prepared for a long term continuous engagement due to uncertainty, timing, resources and potential variations. So, even if they are engaged for less time, because you have broken it up, it might end up costing you more.
We believe the “stop and start” approach is used by developers due to two common oversights.
Short term vs Long term view. Lack of awareness of the complexity and magnitude of the process.
People tend to think about what they need to solve now, what is important now. We have to juggle too many things in our life and our work to bother with the “later”. I need a DA now; we will see how we build it later.
Whether it is at DA stage, marketing, or at the documentation phase, there are many details owners, developers and other parties are not fully thinking about. It is a later problem for them.
However for us, as architects, it is part of our thinking process to foresee where problems might arise, what things will need to be defined and how they can tie into the overall design. Furthermore, we need to know how those “later” decisions will have an impact on the design now. We cannot leave the interiors for later, they will influence the façade today; we cannot leave the construction details for later because they will have an impact on how we design the floorplans today. We need to think about the whole building and the whole process now.
Sure, we can get by with the minimum level of resolution possible for the stage we are currently working on, but be aware that it will bring consequences later.
How are you going to bring the materials to the site? What is the lead time on these items? What is the availability of this consultant? Depending on the project there might be critical elements that need to be addressed now, even if they are not part of what is strictly necessary to complete the current stage.
If you keep the architect engaged throughout the whole process you are giving us the time to explore those items that go beyond the minimum, those items that will have an impact later. We will have the time to discuss them with you, and dedicate time to explore them and resolve them with no rush.
We can use the “waiting time” of the project to your advantage, so when the next stages come in we are fully prepared and ahead of the game.Using that “waiting time” in a smart way is what will make your project go smoothly, stay on budget and not be delayed. Above all, it is what will make your building stand out, and provide an exceptional environment
Waiting time is the most useful time. Waiting time used in the right way is what will save you money- Waiting time is when we can, among other things,:
- Discuss with the client the next steps, timeframe and priorities so resources can be tailored and ready to go
- Do background research and preliminary design direction of the next stage
- Involve key stakeholders and decision makers early in the process so their input can be properly incorporated into the design
- Explore design changes and analyze their impact
- Perform value engineering and costs evaluations
- Resolve the critical details and work with manufacturers and specialists
- Prepare information packages for third parties that will be involved later in the process
The “stop and start” approach is adopted in the belief that by minimizing the scope and engagement of your architect you will save in fees.
However, by stopping and starting, you are making the architect’s job harder and that has monetary implications. Having to plan resources around this “stop and start” sequence results in delays and/or additional staff required. In some cases new personnel will have to come into the project due to staff unavailability, resulting in time spent getting them ready. They will also have to spend time setting up and winding down, filing and archiving with each stage. They will spend time preparing their fees, negotiating them with you, getting accounts ready. All these factors will have an impact in the fee.
3 small fees for 3 different stages will normally be higher than 1 fee for all 3 stages combined. Furthermore you will probably end up needing some work done between stages that will be charged at hourly rates.
But there is a bigger problem here. The assumption that the “Stop and Start” approach will save you money is based on two main ideas.
- that you are paying the architect only for his time
This is not an accurate representation. Architects’ fees are not just based on the amount of time they will spend on the project but also on the services they need to provide and the complexity of the task at hand. Sure, time plays a role here, but it is not the only factor.
- that your scope is locked in and will not vary
Given the complexity and the length of the process this assumption is very unlikely. Architecture projects are live entities that evolve through time depending on the market, council’s political decisions, overall social context, and other factors.
The main factor of an architect’s fee is the scope and the services provided; at least that is how we do it at TAMOSAYA. What you need from your architect is what will determine the fee.
In a “stop and start” approach you minimize the scope of each stage to what is strictly necessary to complete each step. Just to what is needed now. However, as we have described above, that approach does not include all the background work and additional contributions that will help the project moving forward even if they are not needed now. The result of this is normally a fee variation for all those elements you didn’t think about when you asked to do only the immediate steps.
Every time we have agreed to work on a “Stop and Start” environment we found that stakeholders ended up changing the scope and requesting additional work, incurring fee variations up to 200% of the original fee.
A very detailed scope, stage by stage, will always incur a fee variation because of the nature of this approach; because you are minimizing the tasks of the scope and in a long and complex process, where it is hard to anticipate which tasks will be required and what things will be necessary later on. By using this approach you are running a very high risk of having your fee and budget blow up.
A long term approach to the project and a more loose description of the tasks to be performed will give you and the architect the flexibility to work within the fee. Even though it might seem a higher fee at the beginning, in the long term it will be more economical.
One of the objections we hear about the long term commitment approach is the uncertainty of the process and the fear of being stuck in an agreement even though the project might be halted indefinitely or discarded. But that doesn’t have to be that way. We understand that conditions change, we understand that some things come, some go, some never happen and we can work with that.
For us, at TAMOSPAYA, there is a very simple solution to this issue, we only charge for the work performed up to date. We design our agreements to accommodate solutions in the event a project is discarded or stopped; we agree to break the agreement with no penalties in situations where it is clear the project will not continue in the future.
Our recommendation is always to discuss the long term prospect of the project in its entirety from the beginning, so together we can come up with a strategy for the project before asking for a specific fee or a specific stage.
We also recommend making an agreement for the whole process. An agreement that includes provisions for potential situations or stages that might arise along the process and allows flexibility.
We know we’ve just met, but as one of our team always says, it is better to plan for success. We also normally go on a date or two with you for free before going any further.
We have gone through this process many times and we are here to help you set up your project in the best possible way, so you don’t end up blowing your budget because you have to make critical decisions in 3 days while on holidays because a third party gave you a deadline you don’t fully understand.
With honest love,