August 2013

Yellow Brick Road Or Is It Stained Concrete? 

Our guest author this month is Eric Roberts, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Vice President, SH Architecture, President, AIA Las Vegas.  Eric takes us back to basics using the simple straightforward value proposition about professional architecture services in the prairie heartland. 
During a reoccurring fit of angst, I again pose the following question:  What is the value of an architect? 

Here are three scenarios to consider: 

Farmer John owns a farm in the middle of, say, Kansas and a tornado blew one of his hay barns down last summer.  He wants to construct  a similar structure in its place.  It is a simple wood structure that he has experience building.  When he is done constructing his barn it will be a two story structure over 2000 square feet in size.  He can't afford to pay for architectural services on a building that he has experience building since he was young enough to swing a hammer.  His problem is further compounded by the fact that there are no architects within 100 miles of his farm.  Still, state statute requires that he have an architect stamp his drawings.

Most likely no people or animals will be injured if he turns out to be a poor builder.  Further, this isn't a very big building anyway, it is just a 2000 square foot "shed". 

To continue, Farmer John's house also was destroyed in the tornado.  He wants to rebuild his house as well.  It is a simple two bedroom affair that is miles from any of his neighbors.  He only needs 1300 square feet to serve his family's needs.  He actually built the original house with his father when he was much younger.  He is confident he can reconstruct the same building today.  He doesn't need building plans because he knows the building like the back of his hand.  The State says he needs to have an architect stamp his plans.  With all the destruction from last summer's twister, he really can't afford that extra expense.  Is it fair or justifiable to require that he pay for the services of an architect that will come to his property from over 100 miles away to tell him what his house should look like and how it should be built? 

Since we are already walking this path, let's take it a step further:  the small town closest to Farmer John had a number of buildings destroyed in the same storm.  The first is a small mercantile shop that is a 4000 square foot wood-framed building.  It serves as the town grocer and hardware store.  The owner would like to "just rebuild it" as it was before the storm.  His concerns are the same as Farmer John's concerns:  why do I need an architect to draw my plans?  I just want to hire a contractor to rebuild the building on the same site. 

Should he be required to procure architecture services?

Further down the town's main street sits the city basketball arena.  It is, in fact a "temporary" structure that has become a permanent fixture in the town.  It is a fabric tent structure with plywood walls that houses all the indoor youth sports.  As you can imagine, this building was also destroyed by the tornado.  The owner says he can get a manufacturer from Kansas City to come out and replace the tent structure.  He'll get a contractor to build the foundations and slab and then build the walls around the base. 

Should he be required to procure architectural services? 

These were the questions that were rolling around in my head one night a couple years ago as I tried to make sense of a profession that seemed to be dwindling by the hour.  We are just starting to see the green shoots of growth in our profession.  Still, I think I have evolved in my thinking about the value of an architect.  I think my questions that night should have been less about the "product" we help produce and more about the "value" that we bring to our clients, friends, and the farmer down the road. 

As long as our profession and our services are viewed as a commodity we will never be valued as we should be valued.  Our role as "trusted advisors" to our clients, our ability to solve complex problems, and our ability to make order out of chaos are not a commodity!  I believe that one of the main roles of the AIA as an organization is to educate the public on the role and value of an architect not only as a "creator of plans" but also as a problem solver that will make things easier.  To that end, I am looking for input from our valuable and wise professional built environment community to help structure a plan or program to achieve this goal.  Do you have ideas?

View Eric's  blog and share your thoughts at  www.ericmroberts.com.

Central to an architect's value is his/her credentials.  If you view the care and maintenance of your professional credentials as just another task or chore to complete with status quo methods of spreadsheets or color coded 3 ring binders or "an audit will never happen to me" attitude then no wonder the public is confused about an architect's value.  A good way to help achieve a "trusted advisor" status is to explore the advantages of a comprehensive technology solution for secure credentials maintenance and management at  www.AECredentialing.com  

License Renewal Dates

Jurisdiction License Renewal Due Date - 08/2013


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Fun, Facts, Quizzes and


Architects have made

architecture too complex. We

need to simplify it and use a

language that everyone can


Toyo Ito

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