CALLIE by Josh Brincko

Who is Callie? 

If you have worked with Josh, you have worked with Callie. She plays a major role at Josh Architects, and she is a major reason why I, Josh Brincko, am somewhat sane. As a husband, dad, architect, teacher, coach, etc, I juggle a lot of things. As an architect, I have many projects in the works, I am excited about them, and therefor, I am constantly thinking about them. In a sense, my clients "rent my brain" to dedicate it to their project. This pulls my attention in their direction, and Callie plays a major role in keeping focus on all this work.

She has been my coworker for many years, and she has an integral role on all projects. She keeps things organized, moving along swiftly, and most importantly has great problem solving and creative skills. Josh Architects has been successful largely in part by her involvement. 

Callie, short for Callahan, came from a small town in Nevada and went to a small high school before moving to Seattle to go to college in a big city. This is where I met Callie. I was her professor in a residential design studio, and she clearly excelled in the course and also worked in the cafe on campus. I don’t remember if her projects were any good, but I clearly remember her positive attitude, cooperative demeanor, quickness to absorb complex information, attention to detail, and he eagerness to learn more. She eventually asked if I had any internships available, and although I did not, I figured I should try to create one, so I would not have to pass up on the opportunity to work with such a promising, talented up-and-coming designer.

At the time, I was working on a three story apartment building, with three different layouts of apartment units although each one was somewhat unique. It was a large project, so I asked her if she could quit her job at the cafe, and join me in a more serious role. It was the perfect project to jump in on since each one had components great for learning such as ADA compliance, durable materials, nicely designed kitchens and bathrooms, window and door trims, and custom designed built-ins. With each apartment unit a little different, it gave her the opportunity to receive thorough direction on one unit and to apply that direction with her own insight on the other units that were a little different. She was able to assimilate the information quickly, implement it efficiently, and be flexible as the design changed (as they repeatedly do on most projects). Also during this time, Callie played such a pivotal role when a burglar stole all our computers from the office. She stepped in, remained unphased, and helped in the process of rebuilding without complaining about redoing work that we had lost. You can read about that more here: http://www.josharch.com/blog/2017/6/17/your-architect-lives-with-great-responsibility

She learned a lot on this project and many others for a couple years working with me before she saw a great opportunity to work with a high-end hospitality firm designing hotel interiors. There she focused on over-the-top design experiences for hotel guests while also learning about a broad spectrum of material specifications. She also realized the working environment she was in was less than ideal, so after a few years of learning what she could in the hospitality space, she decided to take a breather. She slowed down and got a job as a barista where she could focus on herself, actually enjoy the great parts of living in Seattle, and charm her customers with her warm personality. 

After a year or so of Callie perfecting the perfect espresso drinks, I randomly happened to be talking with another former staff member who also happened to know Callie although I had not been in contact with her for a few years. I was talking about how my firm was really busy and needed to find someone really talented to come help. This is when I was told that Callie was taking a hiatus from design and working in a coffee shop, and she may be ready to jump back in. After a couple text messages, they setup a meeting with me, and she’s been back with Josh Architects ever since. She has truly honed her skills, continues to step up her game, and is a joy to work with. She remains calm under pressure and remains passionate and engaged with her work. 

One of the coolest parts about Callie is she doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. On a few occasions, she has stepped in and helped to do construction labor on a few of our projects. She understands that doing construction is one of the best ways to learn to properly design and draw things. She has done some light framing, decking, window install, weatherproofing, etc. 

She is also very good about focusing on her well-being. She regularly does exercise, yoga, eats healthy, goes rock climbing, and enjoys time with friends. She’s very active and also very creative. She has been doing artwork regularly and experiments with different mediums. Woodburning is one of the processes she has recently taken a liking to, and she is very talented (and patient) at it. The wood scraps from our clients’ homes are finding a new life in Callie’s artwork. She has even been commissioned to create pieces for people. 

You are in very good hands when you work with Callie, and it’s truly fortunate that she is part of our family. Feel free to reach out to her to say hi (callie@josharch.com) or to ask about commissioning her to do an art piece for yourself or as a gift. She began drawing class at age 3 when her mom noticed her special talent. Over the years, she has realized that art, to her, is less about a set style or topic and more about texture, color, and exploration and finding tension through the combination of unexpected items. She particularly enjoys working with recycled or found objects since she finds beauty in working around their imperfections (angled cuts, awkward sizes, knots, drilled holes, etc). She has collected scrap lumber from our jobsites to reclaim for art pieces as you can see in many of the wood burning below. To Callie, her art is sometimes just about making a piece that will make someone smile. She really enjoys working on commissions for people to create something unique and meaningful to them. It really pushes her out of her comfort zone and challenges her to work in scales, style and subjects which are new to her.

Here are some examples of her work:

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Josh is an "xennial." What's that, and why is it good? by Josh Brincko

Xennial refers to a generation. The Miriam-Webster Dictionary will include the word soon, and Wikipedia refers to it as a "term used to describe people born during the Generation X/Millennial cusp years."

If you're not an xennial, I'm sorry, but your generation is inferior to mine :) Let me explain why.

If a Generation X or more likely a Baby Boomer is told about a cool app to download for their phone, many of them will write down the name of the app on a piece of paper (or try to remember it and ask again 3 weeks later), then they will file the note away, then they will try to download it the next time they remember they might want to try using the new app (if they can find the note they wrote 3 weeks earlier). Once they download it, they won't know how to use the app or won't think it's beneficial, and it will remain on their phone because they don't know how to delete it. 

If a Millennial or Generation Y or Z is told about a cool app to download, they won't write it down. They will just download it, put their phone back in their pocket, and use the app the next time they need it. It is way more efficient. An Xennial would also do this because it is more efficient.

So is an Xennial like a Millennial? Yes, but only when it makes sense.

Here's another example. If a Generation X or more likely a Baby Boomer needs to say something to someone who is downstairs, they are more likely go downstairs and tell them or wait for them to come upstairs and tell them. An Xennial would likely do the same. We appreciate the face-to-face contact and the response we see when that person hears the message we told them. Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Xennials accept the responsibility of communicating the message and getting verification that the message has been delivered and understood by the other person. 

A Millennial or Generation Y or Z would likely send a text message to the person downstairs instead of just telling them directly. They generally don't value the face-to-face contact as much. Why do they do this? I believe, subconsciously, they are shifting the responsibility of dealing with the content of that message to the other person. If a text message was sent, now the person who received the text message has the ball in their court, and they are therefor now responsible for acting upon the content of the message. You see how the Millennial shifted the responsibility here? An Xennial would generally not text the message when it can be more effectively spoken in this situation because the Xennial takes on the responsibility of ensuring both parties are in agreement of the content of the message, and the Xennial also understands the efficiency of talking through it rather than texting back-and-forth dozens of times to get a simple answer.

So which is better? Sometimes it is more appropriate (for both parties) to talk in person, and other times it is more effective (for both parties) to send a text. I have found that Xennials are capable of recognizing which method is appropriate and can easily switch between both methods, whereas other generations automatically resort to only one method or another.

If the message is time critical or the other person is in close proximity, a face-to-face gets the job done better. If the message is something that would be better suited in a written format for future reference, the text message is clearly better. If someone asks for your address in person, text it to them. They will have it documented in their phone forever. If they write it down or just try to remember it, that note will get lost or memory forgotten for the next time they need it. A Generation X or Baby Boomer will verbally try to communicate directions. "OK, get on I-90, but avoid the construction at the blah blah interchange and turn when you get to the old fire station..." Just text me the address, so I can click on it and my phone automatically maps it. The Xennial and Millennial win in this scenario. To the defense of the Generation X and Baby Boomer, they do have a better chance of remembering how to get there for the next time since they paid more attention while they were driving. The Xennial and Millennial will more likely need to rely on looking up the address again, BUT they WILL be able to find it quickly without asking for the address again. If the Generation X or Baby Boomer forget the directions or can't find the note they wrote last time, they will be calling again and again to have the directions repeated.

So how does this translate into the world of working with an architect?

I have discovered there is a profound benefit to working with architects who are Xennials. Well, Xennial architects learned to be architects from Baby Boomers who only knew how to draft by hand at a time where computer drafting technology was coming on the forefront. This enabled Xennials to learn both methods simultaneously. We were able to quietly laugh at our bosses while they created drawings by hand while we were able to do the same thing in a fraction of the time by using the computer. Our bosses never got good at using the computer since they were so set in their ways of doing everything by hand. It was too hard to break the habit. Furthermore, they also do not agree that the computer can do the work faster - simply because they do not understand what the computer can (and can't) do. The Xennial learned to do it by hand AND on the computer, so the Xennial knows why and when the computer is the more efficient tool, as well as when drawing it by hand is more effective. The Xennial understands both and can choose wisely. The Xennial draws something by hand when appropriate and draws it on the computer when appropriate. We know when each method makes more sense than the other. The other generations don't (and it's amusing for us Xennials to witness the arrogance of the other generations believing that things should only be done in one way).

Then came the Millennial. Oh Millennials. They get a bad rap. The Generation X and Baby Boomers don't understand them and their gadgets. The Xennials completely understand them and their gadgets, but laugh when they use gadgets for inappropriate things. In the architecture profession, Millennials immediately resort to the computer. On a job site, a simple question could be answered by sketching a solution on a piece of plywood, but the average Millennial will wait to get back to the office and draw it on the computer, email it, wait until the builder gets access to their email (and printer), and then discuss it back and forth for several days over email. The Xennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers win in this scenario by solving the problem in person, right now, by using the appropriate media: hand sketching.

In other situations, perhaps a builder needs to see a solution created with several iterations, so they may analyse the solutions to choose the best one. The Generation X and Baby Boomer will hand draw it 3 separate times. Although they can hand draft quickly, they are still redrawing a similar thing 3 separate times (then they will scan it into their computer - 3 times - and email it). The Xennial and Millennial will draw it once on the computer, copy and paste it 3 times, then make a few quick adjustments to show the iterations. Then they just email the file (no scanning). The Xennial and Millennial win in this situation.

My biggest pet peeve on this topic is the use of Revit. Revit is a cool software in theory. You create a digital 3-dimensional model in the computer, and the computer automatically creates the 2-dimensional drawings (construction drawings) the builder needs to build the building. There's a big problem here. Revit is not so automatic. It leaves out a lot of information, it makes mistakes, and it takes a lot of time up front to get the insufficient result. AND to make matters worse, the Millennials don't know the result is wrong and incomplete. They will actually fight you when you confront them on this. When you tell them there's a hole in the wall they drew or a foundation is omitted under the wall, they will say, "no there's not - the computer drew it." Two things are happening here: 1. They assume the computer does it correctly without human intervention, and 2. They don't have the training to draw conventionally, so they don't know that something is drawn incorrectly. On 100% of the drawings I've reviewed that were created on Revit, 100% of them had major flaws, and 100% of the drafters were not aware of the errors and omissions and defended their work as if it was 100% correct. The Millennial did not get trained to draw things properly. They only learned how to operate software that is not fully developed to be automated. It is like assuming your self-driving Tesla is 100% automatic. You still need to know how to drive and to pay attention because some of the automatic driving is incorrect and requires human intervention. If you don't know how to drive or how to operate a car, you will have big problems. Similarly, if you don't know what to draw, software like Revit will not be effective because the human intervention is necessary to correct it. 

If you analyse all of these scenarios, you will see the Xennial can identify AND understand both sides. The Xennial understands analog and digital. We know which is appropriate at each moment and each situation. The Xennial wins. Someday maybe the technology will be so developed and perfected that humans don't need to think, but for now, the Xennial is capable of being the mediator.

Payment strategy to builders by Josh Brincko

We have all heard horror stories about the builder who takes a deposit and never does the work and never shows up again. This is usually preventable. 

It starts with vetting. It may seem obvious, but research your builder. Not a little. Research A LOT. Really try to unearth who this person and company is. Start with checking basic licensing with the Secretary of State to ensure they are licensed and bonded. You can search by name and company. Next check the department of labor and industries. This is where they list any previous safety infractions that were violated. Next dig deeper and look into the personal assets of the builder to see if there are any judgements or liens against them. This can be done by researching public records at the county recorder’s office. This is usually all online. All these things will disclose the accountability of the builder. Sure, do the obvious and check the website for examples of previous work and ask for referrals. Here you are sure to see prefiltered examples of the builder’s best work they have ever done. This is the best you can expect to get for your project. Lastly, do a bit of social network research on this person. Before hiring them on the biggest expense you will ever have, it makes sense to know everything you can.

Now you are equipped to interview your builder before deciding to hire them. This gives you and the builder a chance to discuss the information you found, and this is for you to decide if they pass your smell test. You will be working together on the biggest investment you’ll ever make for over a year likely. Make sure you LIKE this person. 

Next it’s time to lay the ground rules for how you will be working together. This gets complicated because most homeowners have never had to negotiate with a builder before, and the builder surely has some established protocols they use and prefer (because it benefits them). There is a lot about the construction process that most people are just not familiar with, so relying on your architect (and maybe an attorney) is crucial in reviewing the contractor’s contract and also laying out the ground rules on HOW you require them to bid your project. You do not want to be in a situation where your project is almost done except for a few unfinished (or improperly finished) areas and the builder is requiring you to pay for them - or even worse: you already paid for them. There are some typical checks and balances that you need to be aware of that your architect can help setup at the start of the project. 

Similar to dining out at a restaurant, you don’t pay for your meal (and service) first. No, first you get the service, THEN you DECIDE how much it was worth. This is somewhat similar to construction. There is a menu of items that need purchased and assembled, and there is a price tag for each. This menu is your bid and construction contract. The more detailed the bid, the more you will understand what you are ordering and should be getting. For example, there should be a line item for drywalling. The builder should not bill you for that until you have received it. This means the materials need to be ordered, delivered, and on site (stored properly according to manufacturer instructions). And it needs to be properly installed according to manufacturer’s instructions AND contract drawings prepared by the architect. If it is not done accordingly, you should not be entitled to pay for all of it. Similar to a restaurant, you have the opportunity to accept your meal to ensure it is what you ordered before you eat it and pay for it. In construction it is similar, but to keep things fair for the builder, they should be able to bill you in increments - usually monthly - for the items completed based on a percentage of completion. Again, this is where your architect comes in handy. The architect is a third party who is very versed in what is supposed to be built, how it is supposed to be successfully constructed, and has a thorough understanding of the contract language on typical construction documents.

Your builder should submit an “application for payment” to the architect every month for review. On this payment application, they should list out the items that appeared on their bid that you expected to pay. On each line item, they should list a good faith percentage of completion. Your architect should have a walkthrough with you and the builder to review the work to ensure those percentages reflect the actual work completed, so your builder can be paid for their successful efforts. Any work that is not completed according to the contract drawings should not be paid for until it is completed properly. Your architect will request you withhold certain portions of any payments that still require more work, and the architect will explain this to the builder. This often involves faulty workmanship, so a creative strategy will be needed to get things back on track. The architect is the best party to oversee this since the homeowner is typically not aware of faulty workmanship, and the builder has a financial incentive to build things cheap and fast to get their payment faster. This results in corners being cut that you hear about so often. Having a portion of the payment withheld will provide incentive for you and your architect to motivate the builder to complete any loose ends and to discuss a strategy to do it.

Establishing this protocol early in the build (like before it starts), is important to create a transparent working relationship and to clearly communicate that you expect to pay for the work that is completed according to your plans - and nothing more. 

Most of the builders out there are good, but the few bad ones make a bad name for everyone unfortunately. The good builders own up to their own mistakes usually, and they correct them without being asked. Developing a good working relationship with your builder is key to ensure mutual respect in how you work together and pay one another when there are gray areas.  

Some builders will require payment for portions of work up front. This is called a retainer. This is perfectly normal and acceptable IF executed properly. This retainer effectively guarantees that the homeowner will not stiff the builder. The builder will withdraw money from that retainer as the work is successfully completed or just hold it until the end of the project to protect themselves if a client decides not to pay an invoice. Before you pay a retainer for work not yet completed, be sure you trust your builder, be sure the terms of payment and refund of the retainer are 100% clear, and be sure the retainer amount is not exceedingly large. It really only needs to cover the operating expense of the builder, so they can pay their overhead and crew and purchase the needed materials while waiting for the next progress payment. Anything more than that is questionable.

Below are photos of a project where the builder did not complete the work according to the drawings or ordinary construction protocols. These items were found during construction, and the builder was held accountable for fixing them. Again, these are photos of new construction that a builder called “complete,” and the builder tried to make the client pay for this shoddy work  

 

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scuffed metal column wrap and gap in siding 

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new deck and new column, but nowhere near being straight

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unfinished drywall work

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Poor quality cabinetry

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poor quality cabinetry

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major gaps in construction

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door not installed with a plumb frame

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door not installed with a plumb frame (see the uneven door hardware)

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door not installed with a plumb frame

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huge gap under door

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Scratched metal detail and cut too short. No caulking

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poorly fitted metal detail

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Missing metal flashing due to poor construction sequencing

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broken siding and rough cutting

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More broken siding

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no caulking on outdoor electrical fixture

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vent not attached (my 2-year old pointed at this and said “uh oh”)

 

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No grout or baseboard

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poorly fitting panels, poor caulking, and rough cuts

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Only part of the door trim painted on right side

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Poorly fitted gasket/weatherstripping  

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missing siding 

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Huge gap in siding

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Rough cut siding and poorly fitted (this is what you see while walking to main entry) 

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that’s not pretty (again, this is a new house!)

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custom blackened steel hardware, but installed off center

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completely unsafe stair stringer attachment (the builder just threw in the towel on this one). Each is hanging by a nail. 

Two Design Schedule Paths by Josh Brincko

There’s two approaches Josh Architects uses sets up the schedule to complete design services: 1. The fast way or 2. The cost effective way.


In the fast method, the client has a stronger desire to move forward quickly than a desire to save on the cost of design and construction fees. In the cost effective method, the client has a stronger desire to save on the costs of designing and building which causes the process to take a bit longer. Let’s examine the benefits of both methods.


Both methods start out the same. The client gives the architect design goals, and we use this criteria to design the basic concept. We review that concept with the client to get feedback to modify and enhance the drawings as needed. This is where things branch off in one direction or the other.


In the fast method, we continue to add more and more detail to the drawings, so we may quickly move into the permit process. While we are waiting for permit approval from the building department, we continue to develop the plans with more detail (not knowing if the building department will approve the project exactly as designed). This includes designing the trim work, cabinetry, specifying finishes, grout color, grout sealer, etc. The goal is to have all the decisions finalized by the time the building department issues their approval to begin construction. This includes the cost to coordinate with an engineer to calculate the structural requirements and also soliciting bids from builders to have a construction contract in place, so the project is “shovel-ready” by the time the permit is approved. In working within this method, we move quickly and have less opportunity to modify the plans to keep construction cost in check. There is limited feedback from builders in this shorter timeline, so the final construction cost remains an unknown until the permit is pretty much approved. The danger with this method is that the permit may be approved, but the builder prices the project over the client’s budget. This means additional expenses will be incurred by the client to redesign the project if it is over the budget. Also, the permit may need to be revised to reflect the change in the scope of work which also has an additional cost. If the budget is not all that important, this faster method is the way to go.


In the more cost-effective method, the architects take baby steps. We design the bare minimum, then we get rough estimates from builders. This is called an ROM estimate (Rough Order of Magnitude). Since the drawings are very basic (without any detail or specifications), the builders make a lot of assumptions for all the ambiguities in the plans. This results in an estimate that can vary quite a bit, but it gives the client and design team an idea if the construction cost will be in the right ballpark. If it’s not in the right ballpark, not much time was wasted in getting to that point since the drawings were only minimally developed. These incomplete plans can next be further updated to include feedback from the builder to keep the project close to the expected budget. These iterations can go back and forth several cycles to continue to get pricing feedback without developing the plans too far down a wrong path. Once the plans are within the right ballpark for construction cost, they are developed further to include structural engineering (which is another cost), so they may be submitted to the building department for permit review. While the building department reviews the plans, we wait in this slower method until the they approve the plans and possibly stipulate any additional items that may need to be included during construction (like fire sprinklers). In the event the building department requires some additional items that would cause the construction cost to go over the budget, the client can pull out at any time. The plans have not yet been fully developed at this time to include the specifications and additional design details, so there is minimal time wasted on the design fees by this point in the process. If the permitted plans do not require any additional construction cost and the project is still within budget, the client can elect to continue to proceed with the design process to include the detailed design work, specifications of materials, selection of windows, etc.


Each client has different goals, and we are happy to work in each method. Design is a bit of a chicken-and-egg process since a builder can really only provide an estimate on the things that have already been designed. So we have to take a leap at some point and design something for a builder to bid on. We have to guess at what will be likely to fit within the budget. We can take a giant leap and do all the designing at once to speed things up, or we can take many baby steps by designing a little at a time to get more frequent feedback from builders to inform the further development of the drawings. It all depends on the client’s desire to save time or save money.

Jobsite Sketches by S. Joshua Brincko

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The most valuable work I do for my projects is on a jobsite with a pencil. There’s a lot of work that happens before construction begins, but the jobsite is where the most important work for the architect happens. As the builder interprets the original drawings, my guidance on site keeps the construction according to plan. Without my guidance, construction deviates from the plan 100% of the time. Since there’s an inherent disconnect between a drawing and the choreography of what a builder is supposed to build, the drawings could never be fully articulated to the builder. It requires careful, methodical explanation every step of the way to ensure the build matches the plan. Some call it “hand-holding,” but I call it “collaboration.” I give the builder more credit than most since I understand the plans are just a starting point that require practical explanation during construction. This service is called construction administration (CA) which is defined really well in the American Institute of Architects contract B201 section 2.6 http://aiad8.prod.acquia-sites.com/sites/default/files/2017-10/B201_2017.sample.pdf. Some “CA” results in revised CAD drawings, and some results in sketches on plywood on the jobsite.

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Does anyone think an actor reads a script for the first time when they perform? No! The actor studies it relentlessly and asks questions. The script is a very loose narrative that gets explained to the actor by the writer over coffee, it gets practiced and modified over rehearsals, and it gets fine-tuned once everyone understands the performer’s talents, nuances, and shortcomings. It is simply not possible to write the script to include all this interpretation on the first draft. It must be performed and modified.

This is exactly what happens during construction. The builder reads the “script” and starts building. As the different trades begin to integrate their scopes of work, it is absolutely essential that the architect is available to interject with guidance on how to interpret the original drawings to make best use of the resources and talents of the builders as the building begins to take shape (and before it takes the wrong shape). This is analogous to a director during a rehearsal telling the actor to say the words from the script louder, with more emphasis, while stomping a foot on the floor - all while the technicians setup the lighting and microphones to adapt the best way of recording these actions.

Please understand this: THERE IS A LOT OF EXPLAINING THAT MUST HAPPEN DURING CONSTRUCTION.

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I’ll be frank here. It pisses me of when builders or clients believe they should be able to just use the drawings (produced for the sole intent of getting a permit) to actually build a building without the architect’s involvement. This is completely absurd. It pisses me off because I’m witnessing a client wasting every dollar they have paid me, and I have wasted every minute of my time in working on a client’s behalf. Without the architect’s frequent oversight during construction, the project suffers at the expense of the client 100% of the time. Every single thing that gets built without architect oversight, gets built wrong. This is a heavy statement, but it is true. It is a fact from 18 years of experience. If it’s not 100% correct, it’s wrong. And a simple interjection on-site from an architect like “that plywood needs to overlap this part because...” quite easily fixes everything, and it can become 100% correct. Or a builder may consider it "right" because that's the way he or she wanted to build it, BUT that may not have been the way it was planned, drawn, and approved.

Much of this explaining happens on a jobsite while I explain the concept to the builders and sketch the idea on the floor, or the wall, or whatever surface they are trying to build. These sketches bring it all together using language a particular craftsman understands, and builds upon his or her particular talents. These sketches explain how to get out of the current situation and move onto the next one while getting the intended result without spending any more time or money. In fact, these sketches often will save time and money when done at the right time (which proves frequent involvement from the architect is valuable). 

Here’s a collection of some of my sketches that are priceless in conveying a concept to a builder. They initiate that “light bulb moment” where the builder finally “gets it,” so they can spend the next 100 hours building something the way it was planned in the drawings - not the way they think it’s supposed to be, or the way they did it last time, or the way that makes them the highest profit.

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Rogue builders by Josh Brincko

During construction  clients commonly ask me, “Why would I need the help of an architect during construction? Can’t the builder just build from your plans?” 

This does not work, and the following photographs prove it.  These photographs show what can happen when a builder refuses to involve an architect during the construction process. This builder believed he did not need the oversight and guidance that the architect provides. Had the architect been invited to review the work regularly during construction, these problems would have been avoided. There are also additional problems not depicted in these photos of inadequate structural framing issues that are causing the house to move. This builder believes his work is high-end, high quality construction. This is not true, and consequently he is currently involved in a lawsuit to repair the work to be compliant with the requirements of the approved contract drawings. I believe these photographs speak for themselves. (Remember, this is a NEW house.)

As you can see from these photos, it makes sense to have frequent oversight during construction. Commonly, clients attempt to save on design fees by not involving the architect during construction because they believe it is an extraneous expense. With oversight during construction, we can prevent these problems and spot them before they become bigger ones. We also come up with friendly solutions (compromises) that work for everyone's agenda. In some situations, rework is necessary, and credits back to the client are required. A solid team between a builder, architect, and client is essential to keep the communication open, so effective and efficient decisions may be made in real-time. Fixes after the fact are messy, expensive, and difficult. The builder who built the items shown here is now involved in litigation and is being held responsible for the items that he built below the standard of care that is ordinary for the industry and for items that are not built according to the drawings. This builder was negligent in seeking guidance and approvals during construction to enable a good outcome. Thorough vetting of builders is also important. In busy construction climates, lower quality builders seem to emerge since the good ones are busy, and the cost of everything is going up. Taking a step back and evaluating all possible avenues is certainly worthwhile. In this situation, the client will end up being compensated for the builder's negligence, but nothing will ever compensate for the stress and added time that this causes.

SMALL Projects with BIG expectations by Josh Brincko

As an architect, I get requests all the time from friends, family, previous clients, etc to help them out with their little remodel, addition, or feasibility to see if they should pursue a possible project. Since I love designing things and seeing them get built, I'm always happy to help where I can. I've done some really cool small projects in the past, and it's also enlightening to see projects that can be built quickly instead of a couple year turnaround. 

Although small projects are small, they are not necessarily small from a business perspective. To get to a point where the designing can actually begin, it is necessary to go through the same few steps on most all projects - regardless of the size of them. Measuring the existing building and drawing it takes the same amount of time (and expense) for a small addition as it would for a large one. It is important (and required by the building dept) to document the existing parts of a building instead of only drawing the proposed work to it. We do this work of documenting very strategically. We do not measure each and every little thing when we first start a project. This would not be prudent. At the beginning of a project, nobody really knows what the design solution will be, so it is not time well spent to measure everything in a building with 100% accuracy. In addition to taking photos and carefully filing them, we generally go around and measure the length of every door, window, and wall as quickly as possible within about an inch of accuracy. This does not account for existing walls that are not built straight, existing construction that deviates from standard practice assumptions, and any extreme level of detail which we know we will focus on anyway much later in the process IF the client decides to actually do the project. Many projects never move forward for a myriad of reasons, so it makes a ton of sense to only get a rough idea of the existing conditions and not spend too much time drawing them until everyone is certain the project will move forward. The main point here is this phase of the work to measure and draw the existing building takes the same amount of time for all projects - whether its a big project or small one, so the economy of scale gets out of whack when you proportion that time over the actual design time of a small project.

Another area where small projects share the same (large) expense as large projects is with surveys and geotechnical reports if required. In many projects, even small ones, the building department will require a survey to be completed by a licensed surveyor to document the location of the property lines, the location of the building in proximity to those property lines, and even the trees and slope of the ground. The cost of a survey or geotechnical report is the same for a small project and a large one. Consequently, this is another expense that causes the overall design fees of a small project to be out of proportion with a larger one. Even if you’re building a shed, the building department still needs to know how close to the property line it is and what percentage of the property will be covered including the shed, house, and any other items.

The process of applying for a permit is another expense that is the same for a small project and a large one. We need to fill out all the same forms, do all the same calculations, and monitor the progress of the building department's processes whether it’s a big project or small one. Again, the economy of scale is lost here when doing small projects. For some small projects, there are some abbreviated processes the building department puts into place, but this really only saves wait time and not necessarily the production time of participating in the process.

Bidding is another phase that takes architects the same amount of time on large and small projects. Once we complete our plans, we send them out to builders to get bids with specific instructions on how to provide the bid for the project. The coordination here takes the same time investment on all projects. On larger projects, a builder may have more questions, but this is somewhat negligible. Most of the questions relate to the existing building and not necessarily the proposed new parts of the project. Again, the economy of scale is lost here on small projects. It is faster, however, for a builder to provide a bid on a smaller project. The coordination time for the architect doesn’t change though.

Construction administration is the final phase that shares many of the same expenses between small projects and large projects. Sure, there are more items to review on large projects, but the time spent getting to/from a meeting, setting up a meeting, filing the notes/photos, etc are all the same time invested whether the project is large or small. (The state of Washington standard acknowledges time spent traveling 50 miles to a project site is considered a legitimate billable expense, and there is even a standard in place for longer travel.)

In conclusion, the time spent designing is really what architects get hired to do, but there's a lot of effort and due diligence required to get to that point. On a small project, there's a small amount of designing relative to the amount of other required tasks to be completed. On a large project, these other tasks get shadowed by a much more robust amount of actual design time.

When comparing the cost of design fees to the cost of construction, these facts result in a much higher percentage of design fees for a small project when compared to a large one. It is also widely accepted that renovation projects are more complicated than new construction projects and therefor have a higher fee. The state of Washington standard acknowledges that design fees for remodels carry an additional 3% of the overall cost of construction. Additionally, it is recognized that residential design work is the most complicated project type. Yes, designing homes is more complicated than schools, hospital, stadiums, and museums. Residential architecture is the brain surgery of the industry. There is simply much more detail that needs to go into a residence than is necessary in other more open and repetitive types of buildings. This website summarizes architectural fees and complexity of project types from recognized government agencies and trade organizations: http://architecturalfees.com/project-complexity/ . You will see that it is common for custom residential remodel design fees to be around 20% of the total construction cost for smaller projects, and the percentage goes down proportionally as the cost of construction gets higher.

Over the past 18 years in the architecture field, I have had 4 clients get upset with my service. They all had one thing in common: they were small projects, so they did not want to engage in the full scope of architectural services to save money (despite my warnings). When the full scope of architectural services cannot be completed, an architect cannot protect the clients' interests. Although design fees may seem high relative to the construction cost of a small project, the intention of design services is to ensure construction goes according to plan. Mess-ups in construction are much more costly than the cost of preventing them with thorough design services. Design fees are well worth the investment. Here are some additional resources that substantiate these figures:

State of Washington Guide

Washington Post

Architectural Fees Website

Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (Published by American Institute of Architects - see page 11 TIER 7, and page 30 which defines custom residential as being in the most complex tier.)

Curbed.com  

Home Advisor (scroll down to "How Much Do Architects Charge as a Percentage of a Project?")

Design Is (Educated) Trial and Error by Josh Brincko

Automobile designers come up with an idea, build it, test it, redesign it, build It again, and repeat until it's as perfect as possible. It is really a form of trial and error. Architects don't get that opportunity. We design it, and it gets built only once. We only get one chance to make it right.

Doing something abstract or cutting edge comes with risk. If we do something that hasn't been done before, we don't really know if it's going to work. We think it will. We have reasons to do it. We analyze the idea as much as possible. But, at some point, we just have to take the plunge and build new ideas and adapt as we go. This requires commitment from the architect, builder, and client to attempt innovative ideas. The client must trust their team will perform successfully based on their previous track record of ingenuity. 

This is why I find architecture so interesting. I get the opportunity to design enourmous, custom, functional sculptures for people to live in, and I get to explain how to build them to great builders. I do this all while knowing the things we are doing have not exactly been done before. We are working together to figure it out with the information and conditions available to us at that moment. It's rewarding to be part of great teams that take great pride in their work. When working with builders who are less confident, less passionate, or some combination of the two, they tend to want to build it the way they did it last time. This works when you WANT it to be exactly the way it was last time, BUT living in inspiring spaces requires innovation, so there’s some variation in our surroundings. This variation actually responds to the surroundings when the architect is truly in tune with the limitations and opportunities within any given place. We innovate to come up with the best solution for the specific scenario. No two projects are ever the same. I can confidently say this after designing hundreds of buildings. 

This innovation ranges from designing an innovative space, to pushing the boundaries to how much glass and little structure you can have, to figuring out how to insulate a wall to the maximum extent possible, and even things like figuring out how to waterproof intricate and difficult intersections between different materials.  

These challenges are very fun to envision, and they are even more rewarding to see them get built and utilized to the extent it was intended. It's so rewarding because we work so hard and only get one chance.