Looking Forward to Monday Mornings
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
Working with Friends
by Daniel Frisch
Posted March 24th, 2019

Every once in a while, an acquaintance will share a bon mote of wisdom with me, that they “don’t do business with friends.” Sometimes this insight will come after just letting me know that they have undertaken a project, but due to our ‘friendship’ they had hired another firm with whom to work.

This business of doing business with friends, or more precisely not doing business with friends, is an odd thing. Is the world of business so adversarial that one expects that business relationships will deteriorate as the natural course, or even more spectacularly, that working with friends wouldn’t be a joy and a predictor of great success? Perhaps, one shouldn’t hire a friend as a criminal defense attorney or for a contract hit (for the record, I’ve no experience with either). When an individual or a family is fortunate enough to design and build a custom home, expecting and accepting that the client-architect relationship will inevitably devolve into an adversarial one is clearly counter to self-interest.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a great number of friends. I’ve lost one or two through the years, but probably not at a higher rate than other friendships, which fade away over time. Most gratifyingly, more often than not, friendships have grown by our working together, and we’ve also made many new friends over the course of our career.

Unlike so many businesses, residential architecture is founded on intimacy, personal exploration and shared agendas, the same building blocks of friendship. With whom would it be better to work with when designing a home than a friend? I’ve found that the deeper the friendship, the better the outcome. I found this to be so universally true, that when I hear from someone that they don’t want to work with friends, I wonder about the quality and depth of their friendships.

If we at DFA have a blind spot, it is that we tend to treat everyone as friends, and to overextend ourselves, even when the chance of reciprocation may be slight. This became apparent recently to one of our dear friends and general contractors, who pulled me aside and told me with great earnestness, that I needed to know the difference between a ‘friend’ and an ‘acquaintance’ and that not everyone can be extended the same level of intimacy. I am sure he is right, but if we have to sit on one side of this particular fence, I’ll err on the side of making and working with friends every day; and to those acquaintances who would rather not, I wish them well, but hope for their sake that they have a change of heart. Perhaps they might benefit from a re-screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”