Looking Forward to Monday Morning
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
Accommodation – or – Encouragement
by Daniel Frisch
Posted February 21st, 2019

Collaborating on the design and construction of a private residence is an emotionally and economically charged exercise for everyone involved.  Architects, contractors and clients each hold varied opinions about the process and the details, and these opinions may conflict.  When agendas start to veer and the beginning seeds of distrust appear, the positive approach of “Yes,…and” is useful in keeping the process from becoming divisive. And yet, affirmative strategies only work when parties behave collaboratively, seeking solutions not recriminations.

If agendas, opinions, or personalities diverge too greatly, “Yes,… And” can lead to over-accommodation and sow confusion.  By always seeking appeasement and avoiding confrontation, projects can careen down blind alleys as efforts are made to empathetically accept a differing, possibly oppositional or inaccurate point of view.  While disarming and well-intentioned as such mollification may be, disingenuous accommodation can easily become encouragement, or worse, indulgence.  The upside of accommodation is elasticity and flexibility, which are at the heart of collaboration; but the downside is a lack of forthrightness and honesty.

Project needs and desires are at times at odds and cannot be simultaneously embraced.  Criteria and objectives, therefore, need to be prioritized, and not every need or wish can be fulfilled.  While compromises and subtle resolutions are always good first steps when resolving conflicts, parties occasionally dig in, determined to pursue individual agendas or just simply to win arguments.  When this occurs, affirmative strategies can backfire and become counterproductive to everyone’s interests.

In 2017 and 2018, we had a contractor who (among other shortcomings) repeatedly refused to produce revised construction schedules, and when pressed, submitted schedules that were both inaccurate and misleading.  Our client joined DFA in collectively working with the contractor, rather than demanding performance or terminating the relationship.  Unintentionally, the contractor’s misguided belief that they could reach the finish line with only minor improvements to their management and performance was reinforced.  In the end, it became apparent that the schedule issues were symptomatic of a larger issue, dysfunctional project management, and every accommodation on the part of the client and DFA distracted from the more clear-sighted and tougher measures that may have been wiser.

In addition to underperforming contractors, third parties (clients, decorators and consultants) may also fail to deliver complete or timely information essential to moving forward with an aspect of a project.  Instead of directly demanding completion of the subject task, architects and contractors invariably seek work-arounds.  While supportive and collaborative, this type of flexibility and accommodation can encourage further poor performance, amplifying mistakes, costs and schedule extensions.

Importantly, accommodating client indecision can lead to project paralysis.  Hesitant to commit to choices that are difficult to change, clients quite often keep options open until the last minute and provide direction with only ninety-percent commitment.  Architects, designers, and contractors all too often hesitate to press the client for final answers.  Accepting by accommodation the ninety-percent decision reinforces the opposite what is needed – final decisions that can be facilitated.