​​Do certain project types have generous budgets?


Do certain project types have generous budgets where you can afford your A-level engineering partners, have time to produce quality drawings, and don't get in contentious negotiations with the client over money? 

Pharma? Biotech? Manufacturing? Federal?

I did a career change to CM a few years ago doing mostly K-12 and sports work. I'm burnt out doing back-to-back-to-back jobs with terrible drawings and bottom-barrel subcontractors. I'm convinced it's a function of budget. The worst jobs I've been on have inadequate budgets for the design team and the build team. Unsophisticated low bid subcontractors win and the CM spends an unbelievable amount of unpaid OT holding their hand/holding them accountable. 

Is this just my market section/region or is this commonplace everywhere?

Jul 12, 20 5:18 pm

I have been told in interviews that laboratories are a recession-proof sector. Aviation too. In my experience, the quality of public sector projects can range from firm to firm. At strictly commercial places, the quality of people (architectural team, consultants) will be towards the lower end. On the other hand, there are some more design-led corporate firms doing education and these provide better project experiences. Overall, I have noticed that the quality of project teams is usually associated with the architectural quality of projects. I can't advise in regards to fees/budget, but I have the impression that it is generally difficult to get both high quality and a lot of money.

Jul 12, 20 6:04 pm  · 
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In terms of budget and schedule, Federal and military have been the most pleasant projects I have been associated with.   Some (but not all) rich colleges and universities with well-run facilities departments also seem to understand the time and money it takes to do a good project.  

You are not alone in your troubles with low-bidder k-12 stuff.  Where I practice, our local government and university clients are complete sh*tshows.  We struggle daily with inexperienced client executives and project managers who are clueless about construction costs and scheduling.  The good contractors around here only do negotiated private jobs, bid jobs are the province of mostly incompetent and unscrupulous contractors.

Jul 12, 20 8:01 pm  · 
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I'll second this. We do federal work, and it has really helped us get through the rough patches. We really like them, even if the jobs themselves aren't always portfolio-worthy, because they always pay us. Almost everyone I've worked with at the federal level has been fairly knowledgable, kind, and very fair - very good clients in other words. The federal work helps us offset the costs of doing smaller jobs with local non-profits often run by volunteers who often don't understand the commitment required when undertaking a construction project, and is almost always low-bidder. The owner of the firm sees non-profit work as a positive contribution for our local community so we do it even though it's not the biggest moneymaker. The big university work pays well and we often get really good portfolio-worthy work, but they can't always provide jobs during rough times.


I did ultra-luxury custom homes for about 8 years at one point in my career. The budgets on many of those projects are large to the point of even being undefined (I had one client who literally said "I don't care what it costs, just make it insanely cool" and had the personal wealth to back that up). But that is a very specialized and highly demanding sub-market. The expectations and level of service demanded are extremely high, far beyond what you'd normally associate with being an architect on a more conventional project.

Jul 13, 20 11:43 am  · 
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I've been working on this "niche" for 12 years, while it's great to have some clients with that attitude, sometimes it's hard to gauge where they want to spend their money, so you have to learn how to read them. And the money for us is good but not exorbitant.

And you are absolutely right on the demands, there is a lot of babysitting involved, but you build personal relations that would hopefully endure and get passed to the next generation of wealthy clients. 

Still, I enjoy it most of the time; it's hard to keep the flame shining when you are in your 4th year working on a house.

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4th year and the third time recycling that one element that they love, then hate, then love, then hate...

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fireplace moved 3 times, re-designed 7 times.

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I was happy to give them wish fulfillment and redesign things as many times as they wanted me to, so long as they kept paying for it. And I was good at it. But I drew the line at being psychotherapist and marriage counselor.

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Nope.  It is about relationship more than project type.  Once you find that client relationship, the business repeats and they don’t shop around.  The budgets, because they’ve done this a lot, are realistic.  And if your relationship is good, they trust you, your advice, and the teams you’ve put together.  Expectations are known.  So they do their thing and let you do yours. 

Obviously that narrows the list: They build often.  These aren’t ‘hump and dump’ one-off clients.  Those can be a wildcard.  Consistent pays bills and keeps your hair from going prematurely grey.

Jul 13, 20 3:34 pm  · 
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atelier nobody

I hear Guggenheim and Getty museums have pretty generous budgets.

Jul 15, 20 3:14 pm  · 

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