Looking Forward to Monday Mornings
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
Houston, We Have a (PR) Problem
by Daniel Frisch
Posted March 23rd, 2019

Over the weekend, I saw a Facebook post from a summer acquaintance, self-admittedly ranting about her City apartment renovation, and the extended schedule that was occasioning her to skip travel plans for her son’s spring break – so she could mange the conclusion of the project. What surprised me was that the subject of her animus was not her (Park Avenue) building’s work hours, mercurial board, or even her general contractor, the post placed the blame squarely upon her architect. Intrigued, I read the seventeen comments posted to date.

The comments, in general, poured gasoline on the fire, the most astounding comment stated that ‘most architects do this since they couldn’t hack it as used car salesmen.’ No joke. The second startling comment was that the client should not ‘pay for one change order!’ The owner refuted this recommendation, stating that the project’s budget control was quite good, and that change orders were negligible. The comment was an assumption and all too frequent allegation that architects create change orders and encourage out-of-line pricing – in this case, without even an understanding of the project metrics. It is hard to imagine how the architect (or the general contractor, for that matter) may have benefited from a schedule extension without additional fees generated from additional work. The third comment thread was specific to the particular architect, known to the person commenting. The allegation was that his particular architect (as are most) is really a ‘GC’s architect,’ and not an effective agent of the owner, which is supposed to be the architect’s role. Notwithstanding the inaccuracy of the agency premise, the widely held belief that architects sell out and are incented to assist GC’s in an effort to inflate costs and collect additional fees is absurd. If true, it would be hard to imagine an architect maintaining an ongoing business or ever having a repeat client.

Projects don’t always go perfectly, and architects can certainly contribute to delays through poor communication or design disagreements, and even through mistakes, but this venomous social media rebuke of our profession was as naked and slanderous as any I have seen. While I have no insight as to whether the project’s architect performed as well as hoped or expected, or whether additional circumstances contributed to delays, I find the broad character assassination of our shared profession truly sobering. My DFA family and I have spent a career confronting such sentiments, whether voiced or not, through (hopefully) enlightened and fair professional practice. Our repeat clients and the friends we have made on all sides of the business tell us we have succeeded.

Yet, Houston, we have a (public relations) problem, and it may be deeper than I ever could have realized.

DF, 3-23-2019