Writings

Looking Forward to Monday Mornings
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
Triangles
by Daniel Frisch
Posted June 26th, 2019

The title of this piece would probably make people search for it filed under ‘design.’ Triangles, after all, are integral to structural integrity; from tripods to geodesic domes; from trusses to the gable ends of houses. The triangles I reference, are not based in civil engineering, but rather describe the collaborative and mutually supportive relationships we enjoy while pursuing the business of design.

The first relationship is that known as colloquially known as the Owner, Contractor and Architect triangle. The diagram in this case establishes the checks and balances of the design and construction process; similar to the three branches of our federal government – when it works properly. The owner hires an architect and together they work to refine the owner’s program and put forth designs. It is only when the contractor is added as the third leg of the tripod that successful execution is possible. Of course, the owner, who is commissioning and funding the work stands atop the pyramid, yet without the architect and contractor, the project could not be built. From our perspective, the architect is fairly important, but without an engaged owner and experienced construction personnel, the best architectural designs would fail to deliver. The contractor in this relationship is often relegated to second-class citizenry, but nothing could be further from the truth. We know our construction partners to be insightful, talented and ethical builders. Many business models have been developed to create efficiency by weakening one leg or another of the triangle. Spec-house building for one, pre-fab and design-build for others. While efficiencies might be thought to be gained by collapsing or compromising the triangle, projects suffer from the quieting of any one voice.

The second triangle I reference most frequently is “Time-Quality-Money.” The triangular relationship between time, quality and money has less to do with a balanced distribution of the three criteria, than with the establishment of equilibrium between the three. When working with clients to understand their program, we spend a great deal of time assessing the three priorities and the relationship between the three. Simply stated any client can expect to achieve high marks with regard to two of three of the criteria, but not realistically, all three. If the project needs to be delivered at highest quality (scope being interchangeable with quality) and quickly, costs will rise. If economic efficiency and quality represent the two most important goals, a client would be well advised to allocate additional time. Most client-partners would like unparalleled quality, delivered quickly at extraordinary value, who wouldn’t? Early in our discussions, we seek to establish which of the three criteria it would be acceptable to (invariably) slip for the project to still be termed a success. In this triangulated relationship, we ask that our clients pick two of three – very different from our “Owner-Architect-Contractor” diagram.

The third and final (it would be inappropriate if otherwise) triangle we’ve been working with as of late relates to the fine tuning of our business model. Over the years, we’ve specialized in high-end residential projects for private clients – many might say we’ve over specialized. Along the way, we created our DFA STUDIO Program for projects of modest scale where investment stewardship is a priority. This division of the business has grown and become a strong tripod leg. The third leg has been the addition of interior design services to the mix. While we may periodically pursue other endeavors (real estate development, designing a restaurant or a store, or helping a private client with their corporate needs), private residences, our Studio Program, and Interior Design services support each other, each leg stronger due to the support of one another.

The DFA STUDIO Program makes our design, process, and management available to a wider community of homeowners. Having an in-house interior design group supports both the Studio Program and our clients seeking to continue the design experience all the way through to sofas, rugs, window treatments, and even, table settings. Having developed close, intimate relationships with our clients, it is natural that we complete the design process by providing best-in-class interior design services. This addition has been so integrated, and the accolades have been so consistent, that we have begun to have stand-alone interiors clients. Thank you, Zoe and Quincy for spearheading this endeavor and for making the DFA experience ever-richer, and the tripod ever-stronger.