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

Triangles and structural integrity are synonymous; from tripods to geodesic domes; from trusses to the gable ends of houses.  Triangles also describe the collaborative and mutually supportive relationships we enjoy while practicing the business of design.

The Owner, Contractor and Architect relationship represents our first triangular relationship. The triangular organization of the three key players in the design and construction process provides for fundamental checks and balances, similar to our three branches government.  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 is one, and pre-fab and design-build are others.  While efficiencies might 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 excel with regard to two of the three criteria, but not realistically, all three.  If the project needs to be delivered at the highest quality (scope being interchangeable with quality), 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 initial programming sessions, we seek to establish which of the three criteria it would be acceptable to predictably slip for the project still to be termed a success.  In this triangulated relationship, we ask that our clients pick two of three – a very different proposition than our “Owner-Architect-Contractor” diagram.

The third and final triangle – it would be inappropriate if otherwise – 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.  Some may 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 such as real estate development, designing a restaurant or a store, or helping a private client with their corporate needs, our portfolio residences, our STUDIO Program, and our interior design services support each other, each leg stronger due to the support of another.