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Transition from Commercial to Residential Architect

Lou Con

Hoping for some perspective and advice here.

I've been practicing commercial architecture for various firms my entire career, about 12 years. I'm about to embark on a new path, as a sole practitioner, and am interested in pursuing both commercial AND residential work. Very likely I will have more access to small residential work (additions, renos, etc) as my small practice gets started.

I am excited for this change, and yet a bit apprehensive about plunging into the residential architecture ecosystem, because it seems to have many practical, technical, and cultural differences from commercial.  

Has anyone here experienced a similar shift, or have any advice for a residential newbie? 

 
Feb 27, 21 3:58 pm
Bonesaw

I'm also very interested in this topic...  I've always heard that there are vastly different approaches to documentation (drawings and specs) when you move into the residential world.  But it seems like aren't a lot of resources out there that break down the best practices in a clear way.

For example, do you create a door schedule?  Or do you just tag sizes on the plan and rely on some very loose outline specs?  Do you do full specifications?  Do you make a dedicated ceiling plan, or just show light fixture location on the plan?  I've heard that taking too "commercial" of an approach on a residential project could scare away Contractors, or jack up the price.

Mar 1, 21 2:03 pm  · 
1  · 
Wood Guy

All I do is residential design and I have a small network of architect friends who do the same. There are various approaches, depending on the project size and design budget. The best designs will look a lot like a commercial set.

Most of my projects are relatively modest new homes and renovations, with around twenty 24" x 36" sheets. Yes, there should be window and door schedules and full specifications, but the specs are often for information and not as much for CYA. For very small jobs such as a bathroom renovation I might include light fixtures but on most projects I do a RCP with switching and circuitry.

I don't work with builders who would get scared away by too much detail. They usually tell me that my designs have more detail than most they see, and they would like even more.

Mar 1, 21 6:47 pm  · 
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thisisnotmyname

Unfortunately, when we find ourselves working on really low-end stuff, we encounter many tiny contractors who will either not submit a bid or inflate their prices when the drawing sets are more than 2-3 pages. These guys' (and they are always men) customary mode is to treat the drawings as a kind of minimal suggestion that they can freely interpret.

Mar 3, 21 10:24 am  · 
1  · 
thisisnotmyname

I recommend connecting and building working relationships with 2 or 3 residential contractors you like and try to have them build all of your projects.  The generally reduced documentation you do in residential makes it imperative that you can trust the GC to understand and  execute what is important to you.  A bad residential GC can really mess up your projects.  There are lots of drafting textbooks out there that show what is reasonable and customary for residential drawings.   For the most part, the amount and sophistication of the drawings and specs increases with the price and complexity of the house.

Mar 1, 21 2:26 pm  · 
4  · 
Non Sequitur

Do you wish to also act as marriage counselor? Because, that's all I see with smaller-scale residential.  

Mar 1, 21 2:36 pm  · 
4  ·  1
JLC-1

I prefer relationship mediator, sometimes you have to deal with kids and kid's partners as well.

Mar 1, 21 4:06 pm  · 
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Almosthip

Dream Killer would be another title

Mar 1, 21 4:36 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

For many years, part of my schtick was to tell clients that part of my job was to play the role of marriage counselor. After the third mid-project divorce I now say that I used to tell clients that, and now I find it's important for both partners to communicate well with each other.

Mar 1, 21 6:41 pm  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

One of the very first things I remember from intro to arch class in undergrad was the (then the director of the school) prof state that they could design a house that could break a marriage. I found that statement very powerful and compelling, back then. Today, I see how easy it is and that the opposite is much harder.

Mar 1, 21 6:56 pm  · 
1  · 
tduds

I'll never forget one of my first client meetings, watching the life inside a grown man's eyes die a little as his wife said "...can I ask an annoying question?" to my boss.

Mar 3, 21 3:54 pm  · 
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shellarchitect

I’ve collected a pretty decent library of CDs over the years, $500 million projects to $10,000.


SFRs are pretty sketchy, most are about 10 sheets, site, foundation, floor plans, RCPs, exterior elevations, roof plan, maybe 2 sections, no window or door schedule, minimal millwork.  Front door might be called out by name/model.  Elec and mech are basically design built by the contractor.

Mar 1, 21 10:16 pm  · 
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tduds

Depends on the price level. My first job out of undergrad was working on high end residential and trust me, there were schedules and millwork details galore. When you drop half-a-mil on a kitchen remodel, you're coordinating every last screw on every last drawer pull.

Mar 3, 21 3:53 pm  · 
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JLC-1

hadn't seen this comment, shell, I've spent 3 years in a single house, from concept to occupancy, there's 10GB of files in that folder - more than 3000 man/hours; so yes, it depends on size and price. And I too have a pretty collection of projects in 30 years.

Mar 8, 21 2:42 pm  · 
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Zavala

I agree with the poster talking about vetting contractors. It's way more important than good drawings when doing single family housing. I do very large commercial consulting, I'm an architectural PE. When I do houses it's only for a few guys in town that actually know how to do things the right way. There will always be small details and things that you have to go by experience to pull off, a shit contractor will take these opportunities to fuck up horribly then blame you.

Mar 3, 21 9:16 am  · 
1  · 
x-jla

Or be the contractor. Even better

Mar 3, 21 2:56 pm  · 
1  · 
x-jla

very simple rule: both spouses must be there for every meeting. No exceptions 



Mar 3, 21 2:55 pm  · 
2  · 
Non Sequitur

And plan for extra long meetings.

Mar 3, 21 3:07 pm  · 
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rcz1001

What are you two implying?

Mar 3, 21 3:39 pm  · 
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proto

lol, or rather...purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Mar 3, 21 4:29 pm  · 
1  · 
shellarchitect

Have you googled “advice on transitioning”


Maybe not on the work computer tho...

Mar 3, 21 5:04 pm  · 
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Lou Con

Thanks for the responses, everyone! 

Connecting with contractors is a great idea---especially since they are the ones actually building the work. It makes sense that they are the key to understanding how to tune a set of drawings to be lean enough to be efficiently produce, yet detailed enough to achieve the design intent.

Mar 8, 21 9:41 am  · 
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