Looking Forward to Monday Morning
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

During the spring of 2019, I read 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.  She had to stay home to manage 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 that had been posted.

The comments poured gasoline on the fire, with the most astounding comment stating without humor that ‘most architects do this since they couldn’t hack it as used car salesmen.’  A second startling comment recommended the client should not ‘pay for one change order!’  The owner gently refuted this recommendation, stating that the project’s budget control was quite good, and that change orders were negligible.  The all too frequent allegation assumes that architects create change orders and encourage out-of-line pricing, in this situation without an understanding of the project metrics.  For the record, it is unusual for an architect (or the general contractor, for that matter) to benefit from a schedule extension.  In this case, it sounds like there were no meaningful additional fees attributable to runaway change-orders or scope creep.  The third comment was specific to the particular architect who was familiar to the person responding to the post. The allegation assailed the architect for being a ‘GC’s architect’ (as are most by implication), and not an effective agent of the owner, which is supposed to be the architect’s primary role.  Notwithstanding the inaccuracy of the agency premise, the widely held belief that architects sell out and are incented to assist general contractors in an effort to increase costs and inflate fees is absurd.  No architect could operate an ongoing business within a community or ever have a repeat client if this assignation were true.

Projects don’t always go perfectly.  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 particularly naked and slanderous.  While I have no insight as to whether the project’s architect performed well or poorly, or if unusual circumstances contributed to delays, I find the broad character assassination of our shared profession truly sobering.  My DFA family and many of my colleagues have spent a career confronting such sentiments 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 more endemic than I might ever have realized.