You might think that the process of building a custom home goes something like this:
Step 1: Hire architect to design dream home and produce set of construction plans
Step 2: Hire contractor to build dream home according to construction plans
Step 3: Dream home built according to construction plans.
However, despite having spent a lot of money to pay an architect to design your home, chances are you won’t get the architect’s version of your dream home, but the builder’s interpretation of the architect’s version of your dream home.
I don’t believe that general contractors intentionally try not to build the architect’s version of a house. In an industry where speed is often valued over accuracy, managing subcontractors is not easy. It’s a job akin to herding cats, and the builder is often at the mercy of their subcontractors, the effects of which can be mitigated by active project management by not only the general contractor, but also the architect and the homeowner. The real rate of return of an investment in an architect begins during the construction phase when the architect can be your indispensable ally in making sure that the house that you’ve paid him to design is actually what gets built.
For example, one hurdle that had to be overcome early in the process of construction was that the house was framed a foot taller than originally intended. Unfortunately, a negative consequence of this was that the builder had to replace all the upper windows in the living area which had been fabricated prior to framing according to the dimensions provided in the door and window schedule of the plans. Two of those windows on the south side of the living area lost their functionality because they were now too tall to be manufactured as awning style windows.
In general, we all could agree that if a mistake was to be made in the height at which the house had been framed, it was better that the house had been framed taller rather than shorter. What I would consider to be one positive consequence of this error is illustrated by the following pictures that I took earlier this week at a site meeting while standing in the living area looking toward the hill in the distance to the west. You can see below that the roof of the west wing of the house is now at the same height as the hill and slopes downward with the hill.
If you are familiar with site-specific or holistic architecture, you can appreciate the significance of this feature. Houses which are responsive to and reflective of their surroundings are inherently more sustainable. While not a new concept in architecture (think Frank Lloyd Wright), personal experience proves that it’s a design style that generally remains under-appreciated and under-valued in today’s residential building and real estate climate.
While this is probably not the first thing people will notice when they walk into the house, I was very encouraged by this observation. Despite the detours and design dilemmas that have occurred along the way, things appear to be working out for the good of both the design and the land, even if it’s not exactly what was originally intended. Or, as my architect likes to say, “Trust the process. If you take care of it, it will take care of you.” Truer words were never spoken.