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PRESS > ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE

The Management Component

Noushin Ehsan, AIA, is President of NYC based Accessible Architecture.
Steven Hall, a consultant in Farmington, Connecticut contributed to this essay.

Architecture, July, 1996
excerpt (pages 53/56)

Time Management

Architects constantly complain about extra work performed without pay and appreciation. Each of us could learn to become dramatically more effective in the business side of the practice. But before we can change, we must understand our shortcomings. Fear of losing a job can lead to falsely accomodating the client. We get the project, ourselves and the profession into trouble when we accept a budget too low to cover either construction or our fee. Our present method of evaluating the cost at the bidding stage is a self-defeating spiral. We must present realistic cost estimates to the client in the programming phase that allow restructuring if required, and be accurate and firm in our practice.

In order to be compensated for any work, architects must monitor the time spent versus the project’s objective, and at each review provide updated timesheets and discuss the status of the project. Clients are made more aware of the extent of our services, and thus are more willing to compensate the services rendered. If the results are not satisfactory at any given stage, additional time is requested in writing. By establishing this written agreement, we avoid the trap of investing “unbillable" time in correcting diverging expectations.

Project Management

Another problem is the misperception regarding who is responsible for project development. Construction management achieved a high level of growth and profit in the 1980’s, and continues to do so in the 1990’s. At one time this service was an integral part of our scope, but poor management abilities, casual attitudes about budgets and schedules, and lack of flexibility in accommodation design with other issues resulted in the relinquishing of our profession’s construction services to builders and consultants.

Project development, as a result, has become increasingly complex. Cost and schedule overruns are a stale joke among clients at parties. What the client usually lacks is a single point of coordination, management authority, and responsibility. We all know of the delay, confusion, unforeseen costs, and finger-pointing crises that occur when this function goes unfulfilled. With design / build and project management approaches, some of these problems are being addressed, but the average architect remains isolated in the design thought process. We need to regain a strong role in managing project development. For our clients, we must become like a general practitioner, who oversees the team of specialists to give the project a signed bill of health.

Solutions

We can gain only so much training in five or even six years of study; specialization may be necessary if we are not to sacrifice our design education. In the interim, we can look to partners with diversified skills and knowledge, or we can include different specialists as sub-contracting consultants. “PartneringEmay be useful for architects learning to become construction managers. In the long term, we need to restructure our training for future generations of architects. We must find a way to smoothly direct the process to a final product that is appealing, timely, and under budget.