What to Expect at the First Design Meeting with an Architect

“We aren’t going to build any of these plans.”

Those words are often spoken by me at the start of pretty much every design kick-off meeting. They’re possibly a little surprising to some people, as shouldn’t we feel confident enough in the plans that we drafted up that we think one of them will be built? Isn’t that the point of hiring an architect? Didn’t the clients pay for a plan that was exactly what they wanted?

Nope. Not yet anyway.

Recently, in an interview for a new project we overheard a story about the clients working with an architect many years ago who carefully explained that the way he worked was that the first plan was very well thought through and that he wouldn’t deviate from it. You paid for his design service and what you got was… what you got. No comments, no changes, no input.

That is insane.

I was shocked that other architects work that way, but in several conversations lately that has come up as something very common. Ego is a big issue in architecture, and it while it can often produce beautiful work, it also closes off the client from the design process. Coincidentally, I was having an in-house marketing discussion was asked, “Why the heck are people hiring us?” That sort of question is really a helpful one to ask, as it helps focus on the kinds of work we look for. I’ve been realizing that the answer to that question has a lot to do with our thoughts on how we work with our clients.

What to Expect at the First Design Meeting with an Architect – Early Plans

See this plan? Nope, you're not going to build it.

When you hire us to design your retail space, house, or office, the project is still yours. We work with your program and goals, and come up with a plan that works best for you. It very often isn’t what we would do for our own house or space and, more importantly, isn’t something we design to get great photographs for our marketing efforts. Our job is to make a house or space that is beautiful, meets your goals, and works architecturally. What that means, is that to get there, we need to push and pull with floor plans to get your input. It explains why our projects are modern to traditional, small to large, and absolutely do not look like each other. There isn’t one universal solution to design problems, and that isn’t why you should be looking for an architect (in my humble opinion).

At that first meeting, we’ll present numerous plan options that are meant to provoke opinions, as well as an option which is a version of the plan that was probably in your head. You may find elements that you thought you wanted, but you find out that you actually don’t like. You may find things that you thought you didn’t want, end up actually being great ideas. In the end though, you will find things you like or hate on pretty much all of the plans. That crazy process is the point. If we had presented just one option, there wouldn’t be anything to compare and contrast it to. Aside from possibly benefiting our ego (THIS is the plan!) I don’t see that as a service worth paying for.

So, when I tell you that we won’t build this first plan, it probably is the case, and that is exactly how things should work out. When we see each other for the second design meeting, we’ll have a very good understanding of the plan that you DO want, and our ability to move forward is greatly enhanced (and yes, often you do build the plan from the second meeting).

I’m often asked what Board & Vellum stands for, and the above discussion highlights a bit of how we work. The company name isn’t my name as it isn’t just my vision you’re hiring, but the vision of a great team who wants to help you make your space amazing. The process of architecture started back with a drafting board and some vellum paper, and that process and client involvement is what we love here. We’re committed to getting your project done right, and having all of us be proud of the final solution even if it isn’t what we’d put in our own house.

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