Starting up Awesome

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



Jan '13 - Nov '13

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    How to lose a job

    By bigness
    Nov 13, '13 11:08 AM EST

    Just before the summer we were contacted by a local M&E engineer to cooperate on the refurbishment of an 1880's terrace house in the outskirts of town. The commission came from a developer who had bought the house and was looking to renovate and resell for a premium.

    It all started with a phone call, and within a week we already had to have a specs document, based on NO ARCHITECTURAL PROJECT. The finishes were obviously left out of the calculation, or in some cases partially included at an "average" market price. I was away for a small job in France, so my partner handled the situation. He was pressed by the developer, so he came up with a quick layout, the specs, and made arrangements for us to meet with the structural engineer on site to verify the state of the building. 

    This is when stuff started getting hairy. The structural engineer (a colleague of the M&E) did not show up, we ended up digging holes in the floors ourselves and establishing the detail of the existing structure (a part of which was visibly subsiding). At this point our big mistake was to continue working without any clear stating of the precise scope of work. The M&E (who had the direct connection with the client) started asking us for drawings which are generally done by other consultants. On top of this she was asking for them to be laid out, from the onset, in the specific manner which is required for construction permits, which would not have been handed in for another 3 months. In the meantime the undefined-ness of the project resulted in a constantly varying of the total cost and a lot of frustration from the client.

    My partner abided, out of goodwill, to continue producing work that did not pertain to him, and also provided a detailed survey of the structural system of the building: something which would have been included in a anti-seismic report which the structural engineer (who, again, did not draw anything) would have to hand in with the planning application and for which HE would have been legally responsible.

    At this point I stepped in and asked for an email, to be written to all parties involved including the client, in order to re-establish the scope of work of each party involved and the time schedule. This request rapidly resulted in the M&E revolting against us, harshly criticising the work we had done so far and saying that basically she would not continue if we were still on the project. Relationships obviously deteriorated and we decided to pull the plug, losing about two months of work without any compensation. Continuing would have been a nightmare, not to mention the considerable legal risks involved in running a project with consultants that we felt we could not trust.


    The moral? Do things well. Always. Approach projects with the best intentions, design stuff that you are happy, more than happy with, and do the same with all the other aspects of the operation. Determine scope of work, times, money, responsibilities of yourself and all the parties involved. Sign contracts, write emails, ask for written confirmations. There are no friends, there are no relatives. If you've done your work well, and recorded all decisions along the way, you are untouchable. Design with heart, work with brains, manage with balls.

    (the pictures are from the house in question)

    • 1 Comment

    • observant

      Unfortunately, CYA documentation is part and parcel of good practice.  Some will flout it.  It doesn't need to be bureaucratic, just thorough.  For GCs and others on the other side of the fence who aren't very professionally organized, they view this as cumbersome and don't appreciate it.

      Nov 13, 13 8:52 pm  · 

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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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