Clients, Budgets and the Joy of Design

Posted by on Mar 23, 2015 in Uncategorized Tagged:


Architecture and it’s creation is an ongoing process. I truly feel like it isn’t done until it’s built. I once knew of an architect who was a good business man but the designs that emanated from his office where mediocre at best. He felt that the process of creating a design, then figuring out the details, then drawing it, then building it was a rigid law of nature that could not be altered. Once the initial design was done, then, design was done. You put down your creative brain and pick the technical one.

My brain is incapable of following this rule, every decision and every meeting and turn of events is an opportunity to make the project better. Never ever let the design slip or become compromised no matter how much money needs to be taken out. Even cheaper can be better. Frank Gehry got his start and initial recognition by doing great and innovative design on a budget. He realized it was about concept, form and light, not about money. Although now he is known for designing some of the most expensive buildings in the world. Look at his own house, all 2×4, site glazed glass, chain link fence and corrugated metal. Great forms, cheap materials.


Frank Gehry’s current home, a Santa Monica bungalow he famously renovated in 1978.

Every decision that is made is a design decision and the work never stops. I recently finished the drawings for a Fitness center that is moving to town. Impact Fitness will occupy a building I designed as a rehab for a couple of years ago. The owners really want a cool hip club feel. Something gritty and strong. He was looking at buying an antique bar for his bar/check in counter when I suggested having a metal one fabricated. Metal man enters stage right, we meet, and begin talking about a distressed metal look with rivets. Way cool. Then we start looking around the space, there is a curved wall I was going to have covered in corrugated metal, pretty conventional these days but inexpensive. We then start talking about covering it in steel distressed plates, very cool. but I really felt like it needed color but painting and distressing the whole thing was to much money. So to limit the paint I suggested stencil their name and logo on it then distressing that , They loved the idea and then thought of using there mission statement Impact life, impact health, impact fitness. way cool. This is the sort of synergy and openness that allows really great design to happen. I don’t remember who thought of what but we worked together as a team and came up with a great design and it was tons of fun. All of this was done after the drawings were complete. People love being creative and they love being a part of the creative process. We are all creative beings.

I recently completed a house that went through a pretty serious cost cutting exercise. One part that was getting a lot of scrutiny was the pool pavilion. It was stone and timber and was pushed right up to the edge of the pool to use it as a reflecting pond. I had this grand structure with an arched dormer, double step back facade facing the pool, multiple stone columns, there was a bath, a kitchen a solid back wall, all of the bells and whistles.


I was very proud of it but money had to be cut. So we started whittling. We found another place for the out side bath, the kitchen wasn’t necessary the arch and step backs over complicated things the height was more than the owners wanted. We spent two hours reworking this thing. At one point I desperately wanted to escape to the seclusion of my drafting board and do my own thing without any one watching. This was my baby we were taking apart. But we persisted and it actually ended up better than what I had started with. It’s simple, strong, and well proportioned.


Architects can go to far and sometimes the wisdom of his client needs to be heeded. Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to cover the concrete surfaces of fallingwater with gold leaf. Thankfully his client didn’t want to, and Wright uncharacteristically listened. For this reason an architect needs to pick his clients as carefully as his clients pick him. There has to be mutual respect.

Ok enough rambling. I’ve made several points here but I guess if I have to whittle it down I can go with two. Design never stops and clients are smart too. These things may seem obvious but isn’t that the way it always turns out. Some of our best lessons in life are the things we already knew.

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