Thursday, November 15, 2018

Carport Addition, Mt Eden

NB: This 3d hypermodel linked above uses Archicad BIMX technology. Click here for instructions to make your exploration of the model more enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

QUOTE: "The complete architect is master of the elements: earth, air, fire, light, and water. Space, motion, and gravitation are is palette: the sun his brush. His concern is the heart of humanity."

"The complete architect is master of the elements: earth, air, fire, light, and water. Space, motion, and gravitation are is palette: the sun his brush. His concern is the heart of humanity." ~ Frank Lloyd Wright, 1949
[Hat tip to and photo from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation]

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Did you know you can explore the online 'hypermodel' of a Mt Eden house we're working on at the moment?

See how you go... (I'm told folk used to gaming will fly through the documentation!) But you could make your exploration easier by going full-screen, and then clicking on the index at the top left of the screen.



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

QotD: “It is almost possible to say that there is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of his surroundings and the activity of the child; he will make discoveries rather more voluntarily in a gracious setting than in an ugly one...”

“It is almost possible to say that there is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of his surroundings and the activity of the child; he will make discoveries rather more voluntarily in a gracious setting than in an ugly one...”~ Dr Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori educational system

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Recent Project: Bank Conversion

Another project I’ve been working on recently is this one: a mostly interior conversion project (with some delicious exterior decoration to come!) converting an elegant mid-century downtown commercial building into a new life as a funky urban pad for a small family that works from home.

It’s been fun.


Thursday, May 17, 2018

What is the ideal relationship of architect to client?

Floor Plan, Malcolm Willey house, 1933, by Frank Lloyd Wright (with then-radical integration of kitchen and living spaces highlighted)

What is the ideal relationship of architect to client?

I like to quote architect Bruce Goff, who said he "liked to do what they [his clients] would do if they were a good architect." Each client being as unique as every individual, Goff would devise a unique house for every client, spending as much time discovering who they really were, in order to discover how best to make their home best fit them -- as if they had been able to produce it out of themselves.

Architects Charles & Ray Eames had a somewhat similar approach, based upon a conversation with Eero Saarinen on the subject of the Guest/Host Relationship, saying:
One of the things we hit upon was the quality of a host. That is, the role of the architect, or the designer, is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests—those who enter the building and use the objects in it. We decided that this was an essential ingredient in the design of a building or a useful object.
I think that's a great way to think about it. 

Building upon that idea, designer Steve Sikora sees designer and client as "dancers in a complicated tango of wills"--the better clients helping produce a greater architectural response.

My partner, Lynette and I shared the mixed blessing of leading a design and branding firm for over 30 years. One of the lessons you take from that, is the understanding that the quality of your work is significantly determined by the quality of the clients you work with. Notice, I said work with, rather than work for. When a designer is able to ally as equal partner with a client of vision and courage, it creates fertile ground for optimal results in every endeavour. Doubtless, in our practice, our greatest achievements would not have been, were it not for the engagement, faith and occasional challenges presented by our clients.
Applying this to Frank Lloyd Wright's highly innovative 1933 Willey House (plan, above), about which Sikora (as owner) writes frequently, not least about its dramatic impact on modern domestic design:
In the case of the Willey House, Nancy presented Wright with enough constructive resistance to lift her dance partner above the prevailing paradigms of domestic architecture.
Wright's approach demands a demanding but open client.
As John Sergeant observed, “The relationship between client and architect was for Wright a thing of joint intent.” To achieve clear focus and gain permission, even “In large projects he always sought out one person and never a committee, to represent the client.” That, as they say, is easier said than done, but it was a prerequisite that governed his creative and persuasive processes...
When [his son] John Lloyd Wright considered a career in architecture, his father gave him this advice, “You’ve got to have guts to be an architect! People will come to you and tell you what they want, and you will have to give them what they need.” “Don’t you take the wants of the client into consideration?” John asked. “If you consider the house first, you will supply the needs of the client. The wants change from day to day, but a house must embody the needs of those who live in it. The architect must be aware of those needs, the client seldom is. An architect must have the courage to turn away a commission even if he is hungry if his work will not represent the highest ideals….Think it over, John: to be an architect is no light matter.”
The Willey House was a small masterpiece that helped re-set Wright's residential thinking for the rest his career; a new form that flourished in the creative tension between a responsive architectural genius and a demanding yet sympathetic client.
Consider this, a client will typically select an architect based upon their past artistic expressions. Nancy Willey was certainly a case in point. Yet the same client will judge their architect by how well their needs are met, once the design is implemented. This too, is evident in the correspondence between Nancy Willey and Frank Lloyd Wright. In her initial letter she asked “What do you think are the chances of my being able to have a – creation of art?” She repeatedly expressed wanting to follow his instructions to the letter. But when pressed into a corner, having to decide between high art and pragmatism, she was willing to fight for what she knew she needed and could afford. On November 17, 1933 frustrated with construction bids coming in at two times over budget on scheme 1, she penned a terse letter to Wright. In it she wrote, “I do not want a seventeen thousand dollar house even at twelve or ten thousand dollars. I want an eight to ten thousand dollar house at eight to ten thousand dollars. Can I have it?” We have Nancy’s red line and assertive pushback to thank, for what inspired Wright to cast aside his initial ideas and ultimately seek a more appropriate solution. Once the water broke, something new and wonderful was born, relieving the tension between clients and architect. From that point forward, in full alignment, both parties strove to advance the project with renewed enthusiasm. In Nancy’s own words from her Oral History interview with Indira Berndtson “…and how he responded, once he accepted it!!
Dance partners -- host and guest -- interpreter of true needs -- discover of a client's inner person. The good architect is all of these in one. And the ideal client is the ideal reciprocal to all these. But as Steve Sikora summarises, there is one quality above all that is required of a good client:
I had the chance to meet a life-long graphic design hero of mine, Milton Glaser. It was at a conference in New Orleans, where we both presented. An idea from his presentation became indelibly inscribed into my memory. While discussing his long career, Milton spoke about clients. He said, “I could never work for anyone who I did not have a genuine affection for.” His words were profound, because they implied two things; he could only do his best work for people he liked, but also, in a professional context, he gave permission for designers to understand, appreciate and embrace clients as fellow humans, even potential friends. He believed in collapsing formal, professional barriers. I instantly related his sentiment to my own client relationships.
And I, I hope, to mine.

Quotes from:

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"Man, too, is no less a feature of the landscape than the rocks, trees, bears or bees of that nature to which he owes his being.”

“Man takes a positive hand in creation whenever he puts a building upon the earth beneath the sun. If he has any birthright at all, it must consist in this, that he, too, is no less a feature of the landscape than the rocks, trees, bears or bees of that nature to which he owes his being.”
~ Frank Lloyd Wright, 1937

[Top pic of Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Fallingwater,' by photographer Andrew Pielage; bottom pic of Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Tirranna' House, by Houlihan Lawrence via Cottage and Garden]

Friday, April 27, 2018

Getting a flower out of the system instead of a weed

"There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's where the light gets in."

~ Leonard Cohen

Weeds abound. Weeds can be found in every suburb, and every magazine. Weeds are what we get out of the system when we all try least hardest. But why live in a weed for twenty years or more just because the system makes building and buying weeds easier than it is to produce a flower? And why go to the effort of building yourself if the final result of all that angst and energy is just another weed.

We use this frequently as a slogan -- getting a flower out of the system instead of a weed -- but it's a slogan that we really mean. The weeds the system throws up don't interest us. The flowers we can grow out of it do. Immensely.

This is what we do every day here at Organon Architecture: work to get a flower out of the system instead of a weed. With the system now more grotesque now than it's ever been, it's never been more important.

It means we place as much emphasis in designing your home on the process of design and discovery as we do in the final product -- much of the design process involving finding out who you are and your ideal place in which to live.

It means we're designing your special place, not just something that suits every passer-by -- we do what you might do if you were a good architect.

That means that we don't know when we start where, and how, the process will end up -- it's always an open exploration, with the discovery and construction of your dream the final goal!

It means we know the rules (and there are many of them!) not simply to blindly follow them, but in order to find and exploit the loopholes -- to let the light get in through those cracks; because in this system it's not the weeds that the grow up within the cracks and crannies (they're everywhere, and in industrial quantities) --  it's the flowers. And they need careful tending.

It does mean the whole process may take longer -- but flowers always do need more care and attention than a weed.

And a weed you can get anywhere, every day of the week.

Flowers are much harder to grow. But worth it.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"'Jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs" [updated]

I was heartened this morning to hear Radio NZ report that "'jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs" -- not about the hoops, and certainly not about the costs they're imposing, but because this is finally being reported as a headline item.
Fire engineers are accusing councils of making illegal demands on them that are inflating building costs by thousands of dollars... "I've become totally used to how bad it is, I'm sort of numb to it, it's just a bureaucratic nightmare right now," Wellington fire engineer Kenneth Crawford of Pacific Consultants said. "We've got so many demands coming from council ... it's pushed up costs, it's creating months and months of delays in obtaining a building consent, and none of this is actually really improving safety." A fire design on a small warehouse in 2013 that might have cost $1200 to $1500 was now costing at least $4000, and up to $20,000, he said.
Sadly, as anyone who's recently endured the consent process could tell you, it's not confined to fire engineers.

The Building Act requires council to process Building Consent applications within twenty working days of being lodged. Council have two dodges to get around this. The first is to set up a process to decide when the application has been successfully lodged. This can easily take two weeks, with no work at all done n processing. And the second -- based on he principle that "the clock stops" when questions about the project are asked -- is to ask as many silly questions as council processors can think of, all of them calculated to show down the processing and frustrate client, consultants and designers. [This 2013 table from Christchurch will give you some idea of the time 'saved' in this way.]

In recent months, for example, and like every regular applicant for building consents, I've spent many, many hours replying to council's Requests for Further Information (RFIs). These days it's often less about being a designer than it is about being a lawyer, explaining the building code clauses to the processor at the other end of an email.

The simplest RFI responses are to tell the questioner where precisely in the document set they can find the answer to their question, already addressed. But in recent months it's been getting worse. Among other things, in order to keep things moving I've been required to tell council the make and model of a shower and the finish of a bathroom cabinet; the colour of bedroom carpets (accompanied by a calculation to show they're bright enough); the normal process by which to pour a concrete footing in engineered soil, to abandon approved details because the territorial authority has decided they don't like them, and to replace them with those they've now decided they do; to discuss the acoustics of polystyrene sheets (that are not being used for acoustic purposes); to resupply calculations and statements that the processor has already received, but lost; to explain why handrails are not required on steps with fewer than two treads, and how an opening window into an open lightwell allows light and air into a room; to draw up a list of a project's "construction and demolition hazards"; to provide mechanical ventilation rates for areas we've shown will use natural ventilation; to draw up simple diagrams because processors are unable to read fairly standard plans; to confirm the use of smoke detectors (when they've already been clearly placed and labelled on drawings); and (in the absence of council finding anything else to ask about) to draw a detail of a bathroom splashback -- just some examples of recent Requests from processors, all of which have wasted my time and theirs, unnecessarily dragging out the consenting process, and all at the time and expense of clients who were once very eager to build.

I'm sure you can all add your own list of examples. (And please do!)

This process is often worse when councils sublet the processing to a consultant, whose motivation is then to spin out the questions in order to pad the bill. This can work out very nicely for the very average consultant, but very poorly for clients who have budgets and builders trying to programme in their work.

And all this of course is in addition to the truckload of documentation, in triplicate, that has to be supplied just to 'get in the door' to make that original application, the sheer volume of which in itself delays the processing and all but guarantees inconsistencies will appear in the document set. By way of illustration, I may be renovating a house built in the 1920s, of a style that is still very popular, the original drawings of which are on one A4 page with another smaller page containing what might be called the specification -- which might say little more than 'use nails.' And this 'document set' was probably drawn up by either the builder or owner. Yet to renovate that house now I will need documentation of around 24 A1 pages, and A4 specifications and accompanying documentation of around a thousand. And neither builder nor owner will be allowed to prepare those documents unless they have been previously Licensed by a government department to do so.

Every year it's been getting worse, without making the houses any better. In 2007, for instance -- aware that things were becoming more complicated in this new age of Licensing, Producer Statements and Memoranda/Certificates of Design Work-- the Department of Building and Housing produced a Guide to Applying for a Building Consent. It was a 44 pages long. The second edition appeared just three years later. It was already 62 pages long. None has appeared since: perhaps because no-one would have the time to read a document as long as it would now need to be. Crikey, these days it takes well over a day just to complete the application forms and processes to apply for a consent, and more than a day for every response thereafter.  All of it time wasted.

Every consultant will tell you similar stories, and not just fire engineers.

Yes, 'jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs, and has been for some time.

Until or unless the Building Act is amended to remove risk from council -- and their ratepayers -- the hoops (and costs) are going to get worse, not better.

UPDATE: Further comment this morning on the mis-apportioning of  risk (Friday 27):

From Radio NZ the morning after:
The impact of everyone trying to pass all the risk on, was it was getting harder to build anything at a time of housing shortages, the Property Council's chief executive Connal Townsend said.

"The overall public policy setting of how the heck we manage risk, is completely out of whack," he said.

"We've just got people passing the ticking timebomb from one hand to another and blaming each other. It's pointless.

"We have to tackle the way risk is allocated and the fact that councils are left carrying the liability is just hopeless, absolutely hopeless."

The previous government tried hard to fix the problem [cough, cough - Ed.] but couldn't, and it was urgent this government confront it, he said.

The risk issue was a perverse result of building laws being overhauled in 2004 to combat the leaky building crisis.

Lawyers, including the Law Commission in a 2014 report, have since then resisted changing the way liability is doled out.

"The net effect of our joint-and-several system is that councils are left carrying the can," Mr Townsend said.

"This story with the fire engineers, all they've done is blown the whistle on a ridiculous problem that has to be solved."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Q: What is a house?

“The house is a machine for living.”
~ a banality from the very banal Le Corbusier

“Oh yes, young man; consider that a house is a machine in which to live, but by the same token the heart is a suction pump. Sentient man begins where that concept of the heart ends.     “Consider that a house is a machine in which to live, but architecture begins where that concept of the house ends. All life is machinery in a rudimentary Sense, and yet machinery is the life of nothing. Machinery is machinery only because of life.”
~ Frank Lloyd Wright, from his lecture ‘To the Young Man in Architecture'

"A house is not a machine to live in. It is the shell of man — his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation. Not only its visual harmony but its organisation as a whole, the whole work combined together, make it human in the most profound sense…  The poverty of modern architecture stems from the atrophy of sensuality.”
~ architect Eileen Gray, designer of the house that Le Corbusier could never have designed, but nonetheless fell in love with

 “A house is not an object but a universe we construct for ourselves – not a garage where we park ourselves.”
~ architect Claude Megson, on 'making a home for man'

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How did the brilliant, intricate work of architect Claude Megson disappear from view?

The November 2nd issue of Paperboy magazine gives eight whole pages to Claude Megson Counter Constructions, the first ever book on the work of this important but neglected New Zealand architect. 

The shorter online version of the article is here, and asks: How did the brilliant, intricate work of architect Claude Megson disappear from view? Conclusion: 
His reassessment is long overdue. 
The beautifully-photographed book is self-published by UK-based architect Giles Reid, with generous backing from the Warren Trust. So here's your reminder that the last recommended posting date from the UK for Christmas delivery is Saturday 9th December.

Your price of NZ$69.95 includes postage and packaging. To purchase, go to: 
I hope you will take a look.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Quote: 'Why It's Okay To Like Ornament'

"[Louis] Sullivan’s ornament never feels as though it is imposed from without. It does not feel applied. Instead, his ornament really does manifest what 'organic' is actually supposed to feel like, 'as though the outworking of some beneficent agency had come forth from the very substance of the material and was there by the same right that a flower appears amid the leaves of its parent plant.'” 
~ Barbara Lamprecht, from Part IV of her book/article 'Why It's Okay To Like Ornament,' quoting Michael Lewis

"This greatest feature of [Louis Sullivan's] work was esoteric. Is it any the less precious for that? 
    "Do you realise that here, in his own way, is no body of culture evolving through centuries of time but a scheme and 'style' of plastic expression which an individual working away in this poetry-crushing environment ... had made out of himself? Here was a sentient individual who evoked the goddess whole civilisations strove in vain for centuries to win, and wooed her with this charming interior smile -- all on his own, in one lifetime too brief. ... Although seeming at time a nature-ism (his danger), the idea is there: of the thing not on it; and therefore Sullivanian self-expression contained the elements and prophesied organic architecture. To look down on such efflorescence as mere 'ornament' is disgraceful ignorance. We do so because we have only known ornament as self-indulgent excrescence ignorantly applied to some surface as a mere prettification. But with the master [Sullivan], 'ornament' was like music; a matter of the soul..." 
~ Frank Lloyd Wright writing in his book Genius and the Mobocracy about the only man he ever called his Master


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright, and the importance of the built environment

Listening in this weekend to the Wright Society Virtual Summit (you all could be too, you know), I'm really enjoying hearing Frank Lloyd Wright's clients talking about their homes, and their lives in and around them.

Roland Reisley was just 26 years old when he joined a housing cooperative in Pleasantville, New York, able to commission Wright to design the community and several of the houses, including their own. "We didn't dream of approaching Frank Lloyd Wright, ordinary people don't do that," smiles Reisley today, 67 years later. But when the community founder showed Wright the site thus began "a wonderful, long, productive and happy relationship with him."

Asked what he has learned after a lifetime of living in and enjoying his Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian home — enjoying every day the nature of the design, seeing the seasons change, how the light passes through the home, Reisley sums up with a very important observation about what essentially makes good architecture:
I came to realise after many years … a pinch-me realisation, that after many years there had not been a single day of my life, even the bad days that happen in every life, where I was not aware of seeing something beautiful. I always, every day of my life, [am saying] ‘isn’t that lovely’ — whether it’s … in the morning I look up and see the way the wood is mitred in certain places, and how it contrasts with the light through the window which is either nice and green fro the trees or white with snow; and I could go on with similar awareness.     “We sit outside (in summer-time) … and look around and say ‘isn’t it beautiful!,’ ‘isn’t it wonderful!’ — every day, every time…
    Neuroscientists have observed … that living with a sense of awareness of beauty brings a sense of comfort, a reduction of stress, and these other kinds of things, that may contribute to physical and emotional health, possibly even longevity. I’m 93 years old! I’m in very  good shape for 93 years old. I like to attribute that to this sense of beauty that I’ve lived in all my life.
   It also has made me very conscious, as I talk about this house and the architecture and how it makes me feel, of the importance of the built environment generally.     “I remark these days not just to visitors but to architects as well: ’You know, these buildings are just objects. We may like how they look, we may not like how they look, but what matters is how they make us feel. When we’re in this environment, does it feel good, does it [make us] feel better, does it feel enriching. And that may or may not coincide with whether we like the way it looks. I think Wright understood that, and he created environments in which people feel good.
Not a trivial point.

[Pics from the Wright Society Virtual Summit Guide, and The Weekly Wright Write-Up]

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Cathedral of Sport

How to begin designing a stadium? An early concept sketch here by Daryl Jackson for the Great Southern Stand at the MCG reveals the inner structure of this Cathedral of Sport.

"There should,” he says, "be a sense of arrival at the outside ticket box, a celebratory progression to one's designated seat, and the anticipation of spectacle."

And so there is ....

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Lykes House, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Officially the last house that Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed, this 280sqm house for the Sonoma Desert in pre-airconditioned Arizona was completed after his death by apprentice John Rattenbury, working from the master’s sketches — and adding both a pool, and an upstairs office.

The lounge, this great space, looks over the desert to what is now the city of Phoenix, its lights twinkling in the distance of an evening.

And it’s all yours (well, it could have been) for just $3.6 million. See: great architecture appreciates.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Q: What is organic architecture?

"Organic architecture is an architecture from within outwards — in which entity is the ideal. … Organic means, in a philosophic sense, entity. Where the whole is to the part and the part is to the whole. Where the nature of the materials, the nature of the purpose, the nature of the entire performance becomes a necessity and out of that comes what significance you can give the building as a creative artist." 
~ Frank Lloyd Wright, from his interview (above) with Hugh Downs

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Quote of the Day: "I finally got why architects spend as long as doctors getting an education"

Burridge-Read Residence designed by architect David Boyle
“People say ‘location, location, location.’ They never say ‘design, design, design.’ I finally got why architects spend as long as doctors getting an education. They do something really magical. They don’t save lives but they enhance them.” 
~ Tim Read, owner of the Burridge-Read Residence (above), quoted in the article 'Selling architect-designed homes: real estate agency that markets on architectural merit not location'

Monday, September 25, 2017

"Those are the ones that should really go to jail."

"Paul Newman will have some time in jail to read up about architecture. Maybe he can even study for his exam and, no doubt, pass it. He could even emerge as a good contributor to the discipline and the profession. But what worries me more than the presence of a few shady and crafty operators such as Newman is bad architects who, under the cloak of licensure (and without the [architects institute] or anybody else able to do anything about it), commit crimes against our landscapes and lives on a daily basis. Those are the ones that should really go to jail." 
~ Aaron Betsky, dean at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin and Taliesin West, on the jailing for seven years of a man for practising architecture without the state's license

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright | HOW TO SEE the "American Home"

More from Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s’s important ‘Unpacking the Archives’  exhibition, unpacking the 150 years of archives of architect Frank Lloyd – this video (part of a series) unpacking yet another delightful series of artefacts.

This snippet: a brief introduction to Wright’s presentations, over several decades, of systems for ‘The American Home.’



Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Recent Project: New kitchen in home renovation

The wonderful kitchen designer with whom I often work, Leonie Von Sturmer, is far better at self-promotion than I am — and here (above) on the front cover of the latest Trends magazine is the new house and kitchen we recently worked on at Greenwood’s Corner, Auckland.

With its new roof carefully located to manouvre through council’s height-in-relation-to-boundary controls, I love the way you can relax at the kitchen counter with a beer, enjoying the birdlife and foliage of the surrounding trees through the glassed gables and dormers.

(If I say so myself), it makes for a surprisingly open and informal setting in a relatively constrained site.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: ‘Unpacking the Archive’

To me this is far more important than any stupid election: Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) celebrating the work of Frank Lloyd Wright 150 years after his birth.
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most prolific and renowned architects of the 20th century, a radical designer and intellectual who embraced new technologies and materials, pioneered do-it-yourself construction systems as well as avant-garde experimentation, and advanced original theories with regards to nature, urban planning, and social politics. Marking the 150th anniversary of the American architect’s birth on June 8, 1867, MoMA presents Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, a major exhibition that critically engages his multifaceted practice. The exhibition comprises approximately 450 works made from the 1890s through the 1950s, including architectural drawings, models, building fragments, films, television broadcasts, print media, furniture, tableware, textiles, paintings, photographs, and scrapbooks, along with a number of works that have rarely or never been publicly exhibited. Structured as an anthology rather than a comprehensive, monographic presentation of Wright’s work, the exhibition is divided into 12 sections, each of which investigates a key object or cluster of objects from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, interpreting and contextualising it, and juxtaposing it with other works from the Archives, from MoMA, or from outside collections. The exhibition seeks to open up Wright’s work to critical inquiry and debate, and to introduce experts and general audiences alike to new angles and interpretations of this extraordinary architect.

Here's the lecture/interview celebrating what’s been and being unpacked:


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Q: Why employ your architect for construction support during construction of your home?


Today I want to tackle one of those questions that every client asks as a project moves toward construction ...

Q: Why employ an architect for construction support during construction of our home?

It's a question I’m often asked, and it’s one that every home owner should be asking the designer of their new home: why the hell should we be paying you to visit our new place during construction?

A very fair question. Let’s see if I can answer it.

1. Because every new home has many enemies

There are several levels of construction support, and man things it might be called, but the first and very simple reason to employ your designer to make regular site visits this: to make sure that your new home is built as you’ve had it designed. You (the owners) and your designer have spent many hours getting everything about your new place just right – getting each and every detail just the way you want it, to make it just the house that you want. And it’s very easy (frighteningly easy) to muck up many of those things during construction – for you or your builder to do “small” things onsite that may have big implications for all those big things you really want; or for you or your builder to be persuaded by a building inspector or an engineer that things will have to be changed.

And every change may have an unexpected impact. Change a door swing and a whole room may become a place nobody wants to be. Remove too much wall in a renovation (or too little) and you end up with spaces not flowing (or embracing you) the way they really should. Alter a window and a space may not get the sun that makes it work. Add a thicker layer of tiles and you suddenly discover your new stair no longer works. Change a flashing material at an upper level and you may affect the corrosion profile of all materials below it. Install a different lighting system and you may end up repelling guests rather than welcoming them in. Even removing a tree that your designer has relied on can end up in bringing in more sun than you want – or end up in you and your neighbour seeing far more of each other than you’d ever really intended!

Your builder won’t necessarily see these things – nor will he necessarily identify, say, the foundation or locational problems that might emerge from a slight change in, say, the position of a post – and your engineer or building inspector will not even be interested – but there is nobody better placed than the designer to do it, and he can only do it properly if he’s on site to sniff them out.

2. Because every change has unexpected implications

You see, it’s your designer’s job to be your eyes and ears on site, to sniff out all the implications of any changes you or your builder may suggest, or may inadvertently make.

Your designer will not be opposed to making changes – once a building project is under way, it’s then that many improvements can be very easily seen, and made – but it is his job to ensure that changes made are necessary changes (how many clients have been gulled by builders/engineers/inspectors or just folk they meet at dinner parties to do things that are utterly unnecessary and often very pricy). And also that you do understand the full implications of any changes you do propose (implications on both your wallet and on the way the house will work for you) before you authorise the go-ahead. Not to be negative about any changes proposed, but to let you decide what is more important to you – the thing proposed, or the thing that change may rule out.

3. Because your builder will have many questions

At the very beginning of a building project, and at the beginning of every stage thereafter, the person who has most thought it through and will understand it is the person who has drawn it up in the first place. So even if neither you nor your builder nor anyone of the grey ones has proposed any changes, your builder will undoubtedly have many questions that, in being answered, can save him an awful lot of time (and you an awful lot of money).
And there is no better person to answer those questions, or make time- or labour-saving suggestions, than the building’s designer who has thought through the whole process, and then watched the building being erected from the ground up.
Because it’s important to understand that every new-build is in essence a prototype – a one-off – and if it weren’t, then there would be few reasons to have engaged a designer in the first place! (And it’s an old saying that every builder likes building things that he’s already built before.)
So, being a one-off, that will mean the design will almost certainly contain things your builder will not have considered before, or considered doing that way before. And if he doesn’t ask those questions out loud, you can be sure he’ll be asking them in his head.
Much better if he has those questions answered before they appear in unexpected ways in his bill, or in your house!

4. Because every new-build is a prototype
The other very good reason to employ your designer on site during construction is because of this very reason: that every new piece of architecture is a prototype. It’s never existed before on this earth, and so, even if your builder has no immediate questions then, like every new thing as it’s brought into being, there will be unexpected things occurring from time to time.

This is the very reason that prototypes are made! To sniff out anything unexpected before you go into mass production.

Now, your new home is not going into mass production, but it is still very much a prototype in the sense that it’s a one-off that’s never been built before, and just as a prototype for mass production is built in order to discover anything unexpected about the product, we should (with every new-build) almost expect that unexpected things are going to occur.

It’s best when those unexpected things are called to everyone’s attention that the designer be there to help think through the best response. And he can do that best if he’s been there every step of the way first, so he thoroughly understands all that’s gone before, and all the cost implications of the decision(s).

Because one of the important implications of this is that if you do ring your designer when the unexpected occurs, then if he hasn’t been part of the process up to that stage then he will need time to try to come up to speed (because he won’t know all that’s happened before this, and he will no longer have been focussed on the project), and you will then generally have to pay him by the hour for any work he does at this stage rather than have it covered by your agreed weekly/monthly/fortnightly rate, which will often end up cheaper, and will almost certainly allow him a fuller grasp of the issue in question.

4. Because having your designer on site regularly affords him the fullest focus on your job

Ring your designer out of the blue when you’re halfway through your job, and he or she hasn't been involved onsite thus far, and they will have to take their head away from the projects on which they're presently focussed, and wonder where they've stored your plans. In other words, you won’t have their fullest focus, and they can't do their best work for you. And you won’t have that unless you've actually employed them to maintain that focus.  

5. Because having your designer regularly on site makes them part of the command structure

And another thing ... if your designer is not on site regularly and then you ask him to just show up out of the blue (which I guarantee will happen at least once on every project), what builder (or tradie, or QS, or site engineer) is likely to take them seriously? You've shown by not employing them yourself to provide regular construction support that you don't value that input, so why should they? And without that regular opportunity to be part of the command structure on site -- to share conversations about job progress and proposals; to vet quotes and payments; to run or attend regular site meetings; to issue variation orders when necessary -- there is no opportunity for your designer to gain that respect that can often, when the moment might arise, spread much-needed oil over unexpectedly troubling waters.

6. Because regular payments are generally more affordable for you, in the long run, than most of the alternatives

Because the thing is, there are many reasons why you should and will need to employ your designer during the construction stage – even if it’s just to draw up the now mandatory “as-built” drawings that council demand at the end of every job (something easy to do with regular site visits, but frustratingly hard without) – so in many ways the decision is really this:
will we be paying our designer an hourly rate every time we call him (which may discourage you making that important call? 
should we pay him a regular weekly/fortnightly/monthly rate for him to keep our interests uppermost?
For my own part, as a one- or two-person office, I much prefer having that regular engagement on site that keeps me personally involved with the project, and being there regularly to support the builder and owner. (And it’s much less stressful for everyone involved when I’m suddenly involved in a project about which I’m by then somewhat unfamiliar, and with tradesmen who I’ve never met.) For most medium-sized projects, unless there is something particularly challenging, then one or two hours a week, or a fortnight, seems to work well for both me and my clients, and for their builders. Some weeks there will be more, and some less, but it generally evens out and (a little like how insurance can cover the unexpected) when or if there is much more work to be done, then those regular payments will generally absorb the work required.


So why should you employ your designer during your building project? Here's the short summary:

·      Because even if you know how to build, no-one will know your new building better than your designer
·      Because you will want to build the place you’ve had designed, not inadvertently build something different
·      Because even if you do decide to build it differently, you will want to know that you are aware of the fullest implications of that difference
·      Because when you build something that’s never been built before (or built in this way before) then the builder is going to have questions
·      Because when you build something that’s never been built before (or built in this way before) you need to expect the unexpected
·      Because when you build something that’s never been built before (or built in this way before) then you will want your designer’s fullest focus when you or your builder do call with questions.
B   Because making your designer part of the command structure affords them the respect they deserve.
·      Because it’s easier for everyone to have an expected regular outgoing than an unexpected and reluctantly-paid hourly rate.

I hope that's helped to answer the question for you. 

Leave questions in the comments if you have more.