In Architecture, we give advice. We tell you what we think, we take those first steps with you, we follow through on those next steps, and then the business is yours. Like a surgeon treating a condition or a lawyer addressing a traffic ticket, an architect takes an active role in his advice, anticipating a positive place for his client to start. A client’s intent is rarely to build a building, but instead to use that building for the bigger goals of doing business, or raising a family, or signifying belief in something Greater. Our advice is what we believe will serve those bigger goals.
We recently had a client in the middle of construction decide to stop taking our advice. For me, it felt like I was in the middle of surgery, cutting out the problems, and being told, “okay, we’ve got it from here, thank you for your time.” I’m overstating it now, and I overstated it then, but there are a lot of reasons why that job had stopped being fun for our firm. I had contact from that client this week, and while I hoped she would say she desperately needed me back on the scene, they are apparently doing fine. For the record, I’m estimating that they will finish the job six weeks beyond schedule and twenty percent over their agreed construction cost. I’m just gloating now, but, you know, an architect can help.
Two challenges with advice – first, you like to be able to say you know how a thing will turn out, when you don’t. When I make a recommendation, I struggle with knowing if I said it clearly enough, or if I’m understanding the deeper conditions enough, or if I’ve actually earned my client’s trust. But, I think the harder question is knowing when to really have a helpful opinion, and when to bite your tongue.
We’ve been having an enormous amount of fun designing this new coffee shop that, incidentally, is already making the staff at my favorite standard coffee shop nervous. We’re so invested in this client, and his friendship, and his future business, that we’re ready to give our opinions and advice on anything he asks. We feel like partners in the project. We’re at the point in the project where our scope is mostly done, and our client’s role as restaurant manager is beginning. As many restaurants as we’ve done, we’re not qualified to advise on certain matters of process and purpose. It also means that small questions turn into big answers. For example, here’s a recent conversation on whether to install hand dryers in the restrooms:
what is your take on the hand dryers?
First, hand dryers would add about a $1000 to the project, with equipment, electrical, and installation.
Other than that, it’s a philosophical and maintenance question. My personal take is that an appliance to dry hands is extravagant, and loud. It’s a machine on the wall in your one moment of escape from the world. Gas stations have the loudest, strongest hand driers possible, to aggressively cure the problem of paper towels on the floor (http://everything2.com/title/Variations+of+Hand-Dryer+Vandalism) – a coffee shop doesn’t have to have that.
I understand the cleanup problems with paper towels, and the carbon footprint debate is not very interesting. It’s like realtors who “went green” by buying tablet PC’s so they wouldn’t have to print brochures. I’d rather have the steward in there, offering linen towels and breath mints, than installing another machine to take his job. We don’t have hand dryers in our homes.
I should have stopped at the first sentence and let him make the decision.
It’s also very difficult to accept advice, especially for one who makes a living by giving it out. From the first day of the business and before, I have actively sought out advice. Most days, advice is simply a matter of education on matters I’ve never encountered – thanks to all my friends who have experienced these things before me. Other days, advice is one voice in each ear, giving opposite resolutions, leaving me to my gut, my heart, my nose, and the soles of my own shoes. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been working through sessions of intense conversations with a close friend that are that are mixed with the things I should have known, the way we wish things were, the things I could do if I tried, and just trying to enunciate those reasons and expectations for risk and hope. This wasn’t on my calendar and it’s affecting my work, but it’s the very thing I’ve procrastinated into not doing as long as I’ve had the business.
Really good advice cuts pretty deep. I think we’re getting some things fixed in the office, but I may be sore for a while. At least, I’m hoping to get a new website out of the ordeal.
Andy Osterlund AIA | LEED AP
Andrew Osterlund, Architect, PLLC
GREEN | URBAN | SMART ARCHITECTURE
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