Taking firm name off project?


We're a small, growing shop, landed a big project in the area, but after four months or so on it I can unequivocally confirm that our client is indeed a green schmuck. Actually group of schmucks.

It's a development project. We are pretty well versed in the development world, but this client takes the cake. They're builders, have done a number of small projects over the years, and they have a formula. The formula is low income, outdated, auto centric, and downright cheap. They're going to destroy a large property and the stuff I've heard behind closed doors makes me want to shower after every meeting.

Each day I think about ways to minimize our role, but the other consultants are really leaning on us and to be honest the pay is good. 

I've pulled out every tool in my kit to try to move them toward a better project, but with public hearing and presentation to the planning board coming in just a couple weeks I'm feeling stuck.

Our plan is bad and there's nothing I can do. We are however la's so our last hope is to focus on the quality of the site and landscape. I'm considering taking our logo off the plans/docs.

What would you do?

Mar 14, 18 12:04 am

Some autocorrect going on there.. tldr; clients a huge schmuck, plan sucks, pays their bills though. Im not sure I want our company associated with the project.

Mar 14, 18 12:07 am

What do you value? Start there. I've had to fire a client, it sucks, but honestly I couldn't do what they were asking, it's not something I value.

Mar 14, 18 12:09 am

Put your reservations in writing. Explain it. I wouldn't present without a rethinking.

Mar 14, 18 12:10 am

I think I have made my concerns pretty clear. They seem un daunted. I've even told them I'm not putting my name on the plans. They threatened to hire someone else to ' draw them up.' 

At the end of the day I want to keep billing our work, especially with a mortgage and baby on the way, but these guys are idiots. 

Mar 14, 18 12:17 am

Other opportunities will arrive.

Mar 14, 18 12:46 am

Can you imagine how our built environment would look and disfunction if nobody ever put their foot down and took responsibility for their actions and only focussed on the quick wins while totally disregarding the bigger picture? Oh wait...

Mar 14, 18 1:40 am

Pick one.  Good pay. Or fire the client.

Mar 14, 18 2:36 am

^ Yup. One of my professors once said that every archttect has streets he doesn't want to drive down. It's a business and ultimately it gets down to how bad you need the money. If it's a choice between your family responsibilities and your professional pride, I think the choice is obvious even if distatseful. If you don't do it, they will get somebody else. We both know that. Remember, you can always just not drive down that street


Well, if this project goes forward, theres going to be a lot of streets I'll be avoiding. It's really sad. What probably irks me more than anything is the squandered opportunity for short-sighted personal gain. Not every developer operates this way in my opinion and I do attribute at least a portion of the attitude to the tenor of socio-political dialogue on the national stage at the moment. Theres a certain '___ you, me first' attitude. Maybe its just always been that way with certain circles like the one these guys run in?


I thought we just got to burn down the ones we didn't like

My old man used to say that you get a choice: you can eat or you can sleep.

I won't work for developers. Been there, done that. I'd rather starve than facilitate greedy, destructive assholes. The well-worn justification is of course that you'll  do a better job than the other guy. But the kind of stink that goes with this work never goes away. You'll always smell it even if nobody else does. 

Mar 14, 18 8:57 am

Thats a good one. Very true, though I'm still optimistic we can find those developers willing to do a little better. We have in the past, but, ironically, a lot of those projects died on the vine for various reasons. This one, I'm afraid, might actually squeak past the small town planning board.


taking your logo off the project doesn't mean anything if you are still going to stamp the plans...sounds like it is too late to get out without the risk of some legal action, I would just complete the project and minimize any publicity or credit to your company during construction or after the sucks, but you are getting paid, just finish it up and treat it as an experience and process to learn from moving forward.  

Mar 14, 18 9:28 am

Probably the way to go in all practicality. We just cant afford to fire clients at this point, though I've gotten pretty close. I guess it's the latter you mention that seems most rational to me--minimizing publicity, which is why my first thought was to simply take our logo off any plans/renderings. We are not the prime, but we are doing 99% of the work right now, the prime presents it (and will render their services later), so theres the possibility of just staying in their shadow.


Who will be responsible for maintaining the landscaping after completion, the individual owners, a homeowners association, or some government housing authority? Maybe you could design the project with an eye to be upgraded later?

Mar 14, 18 10:27 am

Our landscape scope per se is pretty limited at this point. The real design in my eyes is really about the development pattern, which isnt inherently bad, but we're being forced to use some 'off the shelf product' and sticking to their comfort zone with typologies and pattern. We're hoping we can save the plan with landscape, though its not necessarily our design focus from the outset.


Is this client important for you to have more connections/projects in the future, or is it a one time no repeat?

Mar 14, 18 11:09 am

Probably, yes a connection we will come across again or a partner on another project with another client. We need to play nice. I think the ticket is doing the best we can with what we can. I'm trying to see the long game here too--maybe we lost this battle, but they know who they are working with. If they choose to engage us in the future they may do so knowing how we think. All that to say, maybe we earned a little credit/respect in their eyes?


So you want to receive the cash but don't want to be linked to the work you did? It's your work and you are responsible for it, I'd say own up to your design or don't accept the money. It's too easy to produce shitty work and take the money and try to hide in obscurity, don't you feel any responsibility as an architect to the world you're ruining like this?

Mar 14, 18 12:20 pm

Thats probably just about what I would have said 10 or 12 years ago as a student or recent grad, but things change when you run a studio with people depending on you for their own livelihood and you have bills to pay. You try to find the daylight and minimize exposure to all the ugly stuff. Being in the drivers seat also means being the lightning rod so the rest of the studio can stay positive and functional. They way you put it makes it sound like we run on ideals. We have a set of core principles. We push as hard as we can. We absorb overhead and cost overruns to show our clients 'better' alternatives and new ideas. We push really hard. At the end of the day though it comes down to responsibilities beyond yourself.


And that's how we are destroying this planet, everybody only thinking about their own short term agenda. Also, by absorbing cost overruns and overhead you devalue the profession, not letting clients understand the true value of our services, thereby contributing to creating horrible clients by lowering the bar for all of us.


You've got the wrong person. I think we get a lot further as a species if we try to seek out common ground rather than drawing lines in the sand. I want to save the planet and design great neighborhoods and public spaces. My client, in this case, doesnt care about the planet and wants to line their pocket. I could quit the project and someone would inevitably do it OR I could push back just enough to move the needle and stay involved. I say the latter is more constructive. They have money and resources to develop, I have my principles. We are destroying this planet because those with ideals are running off sobbing in their parents basement and those plowing ground are digging in. I think we need more ambitious designers in the trenches.

Thats not a 'short term agenda' as you put it, it's playing the long game. I want to remain in business so I can fight another day with the same or another client and learn from this experience. 

I value your comment, but I think you're barking up the wrong tree here.


Well, at least own up to your moving of the needle and keep your name and logo on the docs...I guess.


^ the smug tone of your comments really makes me think you have just the attitude that is a large part of the reason clients like ours avoid working with architects at all costs. Its unfortunate for all..

Clients like yours avoid architects because they are just another cost that reduces profit. You're not adding value, you're simply providing a required service.


Sort of. They're not shy about hiring lots of other expensive consultants, so not sure its that--the point is we can sit on our hands and complain about destruction of the environment or we can try to find a way to help guide a better pattern. Ironically, a lot of the flashier projects are likely much less sustainable than the one in question. We work on both, and just about everything in between.


Problem is, we have to eat. It’s impossible to make a living doing good projects only, especially when young. It’s a tough juggling act.


thank you for saying that. Young or not, we have to eat. I might also challenge the definition of 'good project,' though I certainly understand what you mean.

Some projects are good because they photograph well. Some might be good because you helped make a neighborhood for lower income folks, etc. I might hate the way this project is going but that doesnt necessarily mean its a bad project, right?


Right. It’s about the small battles. Not every project will be a complete
success. Sometimes a client insists on something that looks goofy, or a crap material, but maybe you convince them to use some native plants, xeriscape, good space planning that people will enjoy...


Think of it this way, the project will be built with or without you...if you can at least make it a little better then the next designer (who couldn’t care less) then you have added some value to the community. I know we all want to be doing super interesting projects with awesome open minded clients, but not every project will be like that...small battles.


What smug tone? If you can't stand behind your own work, don't do the work. We all need to eat, sure, but you also have a moral responsibility as a human being. Hiding behind the fact that someone else might do it otherwise will not change a bloody thing either and horrible clients will remain horrible clients and create horrible projects by not so horrible architects without backbones. Would you e.g. work on Trump's border wall too? Stand up for what you believe in.


The conundrum is acknowledged; paraphrasing FLW: “Doctors bury their mistakes, architects live with theirs…”


Mar 14, 18 3:30 pm

Truth. but isn't it actually, "The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines."?

If thats the case, then we have our LA work cut out for us.


Thus the ‘paraphrase’… MDWed


At this point all you can do is the best you can with the resources you are allocated. As long as the whole project doesn't slide down a mountain when you start site preparation you will be ahead of a lot of developments around Asheville, NC, and other places.  

Mar 14, 18 4:48 pm

Pardon my possibly naive comment, but I've begun to think that the issue has less and less to do with architects and architecture than it is to do with the state of the world. The committees and boards are only tight enough so as to keep the economy afloat which in turn is controlled by global affairs. 

I doubt any country is willing to back down a little and compare themselves as lesser against other countries, and the pattern follows down to the level of the developers too. Us as architects can't do much as consultants and designers. But perhaps as advisers and activists.... though that scope is every humans.

Mar 15, 18 3:16 am

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