Starting up Awesome

A blog about starting up an architectural business in sunny, crisis-ridden Italy



Jan '13 - Nov '13

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    Design and BUILD.

    By bigness
    Jun 26, '13 12:07 PM EST

    So… we did this design for a restaurant (the third of the series, talk about getting pigeon-holed). A few weeks after we handed in the drawings the client called us back complaining that the usual contractor was out of the game and, two weeks from the planned opening, they had no one to do the work.

    We looked each other in the eyes and knew what was up. We asked for a cash surplus to do the work ourselves. The work included painting, furniture making, electrical and plumbing, and some decoration work.
    We both had done stuff like this before, albeit never professionally, and it sounded like a good way of rounding up our revenue before the summer break.
    It was a tough 11 days. We had to schedule the work really carefully, as the restaurant had to be open and usable from 6 am to 11 am in order to be used as breakfast room for the hotel above (part of the reason why the contractor refused to take the job). At the end of every day we had to spend about 2 hours cleaning up everything. We worked late nights, with the clients coming in at any given time to change things around. Stress levels were through the roof. But we managed, and stuff we put up is, fingers crossed, still standing up.

    We did it out of necessity, and I am still pondering over the consequences: we're young and this showed a lot of good will to the clients, but on the other hand I cannot shake the feeling it de-professionalized us a bit.

    Where do you draw the line? Your respectability as an architect obviously runs on what you do and how you do it, but the way clients perceive you is also important. The restaurant is in one of the most exclusive addresses in town, the people you see walking out there certainly do not belong to the 99%. We were drenched in sweat and paint while there… how did that impact the perception that people passing by had of us when they found out that we were the architects?

    My partner is of the "well dressed" type, while I stick to my t-shirts and Vans. He, by his own admission, makes an effort against his own nature to do so. I can easily hold my own in any conversation and social context (I have more years and travels under my old, worn-out belt) but on visual impact he certainly looks more professional.

    Would have any of you taken on the task of transforming themselves into construction workers for two weeks? What's to do? Where is the line?

    An architect, according to Google Images. Look at that beautiful post-post-modern, simmetrical tower.

    a pretty close representation of my partner on an average day at work (Stefano, should you read this: don't get mad, you know I'm right)

    Justin Pearson of Retox/The Locust, one of my personal style icons. Not sure he knows how to use Grasshopper.


    • You could look at this a few ways:

      As architects and designers we are always seen as knowing close to nothing regarding construction and execution and you two took one for the team in proving otherwise. I'm sure you both also learned a lot of valuable lessons which will give you Street Cred down the road when you are in difficult meetings with contractors and engineers. Judging by the photos you chose to represent the two of you, you both are fairly young so maybe getting down and dirty may not be an issue (except for the dust and dirt all over your partner's ferragamo snake skin loafers) and just part of working your way up to more clients and a healthier practice. Many arch firms started this way and ended up opening a sister construction company which in turn made them more profitable.

      The other way you could view it is as a class system of sorts. If you think it makes you appear less professional then perhaps don't bid with that "surplus". What would have happened if you declined to do the construction? Would the company sever ties with you and give you less work? If there's no loss to it then sure, don't "lower" yourself if it results in you feeling slighted and detrimental to your career.

      At the end of the day you were paid for it and maybe increased your net income for the project because of it (who cares about increasing revenue if your income isn't similarly increased).

      Good luck!

      Jun 26, 13 12:28 pm  · 

      Aside from the pain in the ass and break-neck schedule (which sounds grueling), this constitutes an incredible experience --and you've now got a big, fat example of design-build on your CV.  Congratulations, and don't overthink this.  Be glad for the money, the experience, and the resume-builder.

      Oh, and I could've guessed the partner's name is Stefano by the facsimile photo you posted.  Or Anton.  He was almost named Anton, I guarantee it.

      Jun 27, 13 3:19 am  · 

      Lynette: thanks for the words of encouragement. In the end the money we got was in part re-invested in marketing (more of that later) so in any case I am sure we did the right thing, but I am always pondering on the perception the public has of our profession. Artist, technician, expensive and somewhat useless provider of services... The feedback we had was quite positive I have to say, if somewhat "condescending", but that comes with the territory in a country which is old and where very few young people make it big without some kind of financial support from their families.

      Citizen: actually, MY second name is Anthony. But I don't look italian at all, the English half had the better of my DNA I guess. I will ask Stefano about his parent's options for his name :)

      Jun 27, 13 6:53 am  · 

      I would think your credibility would be increased dependent on your craftsmanship.  One of the reasons architects do not build is they really can't.  Often we tend to look at these craftsman as lesser.  They don't command the salary, dress as nice (see above), etc.  I challenge architects to pour that concrete, frame that wall, hang and finish the rock (smooth finish w/ no visible joints), trim, carpet, roof, etc.  These are skills most of us are unable to do well (or efficient).  Any time we get the opportunity to experience the trades and learn a little of what it takes to implement design, take it.  If someone thinks less of you for it, pity them for their ignorance.

      Jul 3, 13 10:03 am  · 

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About this Blog

Starting up your own practice is often something you only dream of... what if one day you woke up and realized that you really had no other option? Young, determined, absolutely pennyless and without much of a clue, these are the chronicles of Richard and Stefano trying to start their dream practice: Osom Architects.

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