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Adding value

greenlander1

Speaking from the owner's rep/ developer side (I also worked for several years in architecture as project designer), if you want to add value, i.e. make more money/ advance your career, forget about getting another degree or new technical certifications.

Know code and be able to squash any plan checker that gets in your way.  So many wet noodles out there who are way too passive and allow projects to increase in cost and time and don't think multiple steps ahead of where additional problems might occur.  It also creates a ton of anxiety for the owner bc they don't know when the revisions will stop.

And design things that are easy to build.  Doesn't mean you have to necessarily have to compromise design, just make it easier for your joe meathead contractor to use some level of standard construction.

Once word gets out that you can design reasonably well but take care of these two things, you will get tons of work and can charge higher fees bc you will have largely helped to derisk the project.  





 

 
Oct 14, 21 6:10 pm
SneakyPete

holy shit it's all so clear now

Oct 14, 21 6:32 pm  · 
10  · 
archanonymous

I've been waiting my entire life for this.

Oct 14, 21 6:40 pm  · 
1  · 
greenlander1

haha ok you guys know this is obvious stuff but there are tons of ppl who completely ignore this part. And many of these are people who wonder why their compensation is an issue.

Oct 14, 21 7:09 pm  · 
1  · 
greenlander1

One could collect 50-100% more fee from a lot of clients if they dont have to worry about these things as much.

Oct 14, 21 7:07 pm  · 
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greenlander1

And there are people who just specialize in this entitlement/ plan check streamlining stuff and they make stupid amounts of money . They don't even draft anything nor have liability. These are fees paid on top of the base design/ engineering fees.

Oct 14, 21 7:19 pm  · 
2  · 
joseffischer

I was a consultant for 4 years doing this for banks... the money isn't dolled out in "stupid amounts". Your contributions to the overall set is quite minimal. You usually get a 90% permit set that's actually more like 50% of what the final bid set will be, and your comments are usually so basic that they would have been picked up anyway. You're given 1-2 weeks to review an entire set from scratch. The clients really do think you add value though, and your pay is about 10k more than the equivalent version of you on the design side. Note you'll never be a part of the design in this role.

Oct 15, 21 8:42 am  · 
1  · 
greenlander1

I know a guy who does BD for a firm that does this for real estate developers. The principals mostly former architects, and they are printing money. To give you an idea of their clientele, he was out recently in Texas on 1 week wild boar hunt with his clients. And periodically has to go on trips with them to kill various animals in wilderness lol. Projects are large enough that paying a six figure fee in the whole scheme of things is really nothing to them. They look at this firm as a soft insurance policy.

Oct 15, 21 11:14 am  · 
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joseffischer

my fee is 6 figures now... my fee doing due diligence was close to that before I was registered. The owners of both the due diligence firm and the design firm I currently work at often go "boar hunting" or similar. I think that's just the perks of being an owner. Your comment is not relevant to a salary person. If you're trying to say "everyone go start your own company"... well yeah, high risk high reward

Oct 19, 21 1:40 pm  · 
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b3tadine[sutures]

"Know code and be able to squash any plan checker that gets in your way."

This is a joke, right? I don't care if you wrote the code, or you're Jesus Christ, unless your client is ready to do battle, and spend money on attorney fees, you will jump.

The plan checker is many times an architect, has zero responsibility, and gives fuck all about your project.



Oct 14, 21 8:31 pm  · 
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wha? Have you personally dealt with plan examiners? Maybe it is different where you are but in NYC I have meetings with the plan examiner along with our expeditor. It is up to us to fight for certain things that are as of right but being questioned by the examiner. This is common. Very common. Yes, examiners often have architecture degrees. They also often end up in these positions because no office would hire them. They sometimes think they know code but make mistakes and sometimes dig in. It happens and requires a conversation to convince them otherwise. In NYC, these meetings are often very time-limited and you're trying to get through a dozen or so objections in 15 minutes. This isn't something a client or their attorney gets involved with unless the examiner doesn't back down and we're certain we have a right to continue.

I've never worked on a project that didn't have objections. Often the objections from examiners are flawed and just need clarification. We don't just do any little thing they say we need to do. They're code enforcers, not code writers. 

Oct 14, 21 11:05 pm  · 
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joseffischer

Atlanta and surrounding areas, plenty of projects go through without objections here. I agree with your description though, that it's more of a negotiation. Still, if they aren't backing down, I have to go to the owner. Disagree hard with Greenlander's take, because if that's what they're hiring you for and you lose, then what? I lost recently with the fire marshal on the sprinkler shops. We've got some starbucks type places going in, which would normally be assembly, but can considered mercantile if small enough (some other jurisdictions have you consider them business). The nice thing about mercantile over assembly? You can use exceptions to have only one exit (the front door). Not my preference, but existing conditions... not sure what they're going to do with trash except wait until off hours and roll it around the block to the back. Anyway, because we're considering them assembly use in mercantile occupancies, the fire marshal is having us put in ordinary hazard lvl 2 everywhere vs ordinary hazard 1 in the kitchens and light hazard in the 'dining' areas. Sure I think I'm right, but it was clear that there was no room to budge in the conversation. Now the owner is like "so, who pays for this $12k add to upsize the sprinkler pipes... not me"...

Oct 15, 21 8:49 am  · 
1  · 
joseffischer

to be more succinct, if I had to run my business on the majority take that I'm the code expert and will never get it wrong... I would be costing my clients money because I'd never take any but the strictest interpretations of code.

Oct 15, 21 8:50 am  · 
1  · 
b3tadine[sutures]

I've dealt with many plan examiners, state, local, and third party. Third party are the worst, as they are profit motivated.

My issue is with the idea that one can enter an adversarial relationship with the code official, and that was my reading of the quoted passage.

I'll always ask the code official to cite passages from the code for clarification, and where we disagree I do my best to apply my reading to counter there approach, but at the end of the day they are the deciders. And, we all know that we can get two differing interpretations from people in the same office, sitting across from one another.

I've also had great success in my alternative reading of the code to get past obstreperous officials, but have also pounded my head on tables dealing with loons.

In Minneapolis and Minnesota, many of our code officials are architects.

Oct 15, 21 8:57 am  · 
1  · 
greenlander1

@joseffischer I dont think anyone should in providing guarantees but at least here in SoCal, for certain types of work that are niche type that involve a certain amount of discretion I could see a margin to be had.

Oct 15, 21 10:41 am  · 
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archanonymous

per beta's comment - Do you want to be right, or do you want your project to get a permit? Doesn't matter how well you know the code, it's a dance with the AHJ.

Oct 15, 21 12:00 pm  · 
2  · 
square.

james's description of "working" with plan examiners is what makes architects so fun in this city....

Oct 19, 21 3:24 pm  · 
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jcarch

I second James' take on NYC DOB. Some staff are knowledgeable and professional, but more and more of the front line plan examiners are not great. Now that all plan exam meetings are run via GoTo Meeting, I've had several plan examiners just call me on the phone at the appointed time, saying they  can't get GTM to work, so we'll just do the plan review over the phone.  That works about as well as you'd think.

Oct 22, 21 11:51 am  · 
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greenlander1

Theres a lot of secondary pieces of code that can be referenced to unwind things. Of course most things non negotiable no matter whether you wrote the code yrself. But that few instances where an architect catches something or has a high skill level/ rapport w the respective jurisdiction can make a massive difference in a project in extreme cases with consequences multiples of the architects fee.  Theres a lot of money to be had there bc of potential savings.


Im here in LA and its extremely rare that theres an experienced architect behind the counter.   Lots of engineers or ppl w limited design background.  They do have the advantage of having seen lots of projects but they dont think through projects on as many levels as a very experienced architect.   


So many brainless 'expediting' consultants (especially the political expediters) out there who dont even produce anything yet collect somtimes big fees why shouldnt the architect try and grab it themselves since they are already doing the work?  

Oct 14, 21 10:09 pm  · 
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joseffischer

no owner views these things as potential savings your services provide... they view them as mistakes/costs that should have been avoided in the first place.... eg, they don't see this as value.

Oct 15, 21 8:51 am  · 
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Jay1122

Make constructions follow standard and keep it simple. Totally Agree, But the starchitect wanna be always want to be "Creative".

Be an expert in code and try to beat down code officials in order to make the project absolute code minimum to save some money? Not wrong, but just ewwwwww. Seriously, plan examiners are not there trying to gouge you. Contractors though, that is who you need to watch out.

Oct 15, 21 11:12 am  · 
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Non Sequitur

Curious as to what sort of code issues ya'll are fighting against that require this level of MMA fighting?

We've hired a specific code consultant I think on 2 occasions in the last decade to argue in our favour... and on both of those occasion it was for a single specific clause.  It's not fun or cheap, but other than those 2 cases, every other project gets done in-house by the senior staff (inc yours truly).  

Oct 15, 21 11:18 am  · 
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joseffischer

GSFIC gets a code consultant contractually. Being part of GSFIC they become another AHJ with a weird both/and clause instead of either/or. They've added comments like "make the flashing stainless steel", again, not as standard and not during design. They have access to the real project numbers and balance cost against their views on construction quality.

Other than that, yes, we talk with the AHJ ourselves, PM staff and up.

Oct 19, 21 2:54 pm  · 
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Non Sequitur

Thanks Joe, but that example seems oddly specific. Are you saying that in your case, a financing company gets a say in the design/material choices?

Oct 19, 21 3:00 pm  · 
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joseffischer

sorry for the acronym Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission (the capital improvement arm of my state's Govt work) Extra layers of AHJ got added politically (before my time) at the state level without directly saying who takes priority, but in practice, GSFIC is typically more stringent than code minimum and adds extra belts and suspenders to govt jobs. I guess it is specific in the sense that there are plenty of firms that don't do govt work.

Oct 22, 21 9:56 am  · 
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joseffischer

if you do too well on a govt job you definitely have a high chance of becoming a GSFIC architect, since we do so much work for them. Being in Georgia, there are good-ol-boy relations and measuring contests/egos to contend with as well.

Oct 22, 21 9:58 am  · 
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mightyaa

@NS; This was sort of specialty I had. Some examples. Fire Stations; as a ‘commercial use’ they’d often try to force the kitchens to meet commercial standards like a restaurant. Large old buildings with big remodels; tons of code issues that end up getting bartered around because you can’t meet code without super major changes (like stair towers, elevators, lateral earthquake, etc.). Funky stuff; like a marquee sign over the property line and into the ROW. And tons of inter-jurisdictional fights; utilities, fire, building, and zoning all wanting conflicting things. Even tiny things like a deluge system so you can use a glass wall or exposed steel and be rated. Not so much MMA as knowing how to walk around the code intent and getting the CBO to use some common sense or assemblies they aren’t used to dealing with.

Oct 22, 21 11:07 am  · 
2  · 
greenlander1

yeh this sort of weaving around oddball situations has been life savers. I know knowing code is implicit part of the architect scope but people who are really good at connecting the dots btw often seemingly disparate items to streamline things provide huge value. It really can be an art unwinding something that looks like a big roadblock.

I was working on one project that wouldve normally triggered a whole new mechanical system and structural review (maybe increase the cost of project by 50%) but instead the architect was able to find some code on occupancy that negated the requirement.

Oct 22, 21 2:27 pm  · 
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greenlander1 

The AHJ always has the final say.  

Your can ask for ICC to issue and option however the AHJ can choose to ignore it and use their interpretation of the code.  Even if you escalate things and ask for the ICC to issue a ruling the AHJ still can choose it ignore it.  

You knowing the code and being able to "squash any plan checker that gets in your way" doesn't accomplish anything on it's own.  Being able to collaborate with the AHJ in a diplomatic manor is a more useful skill that adds much more value.  

Oct 22, 21 10:39 am  · 
1  · 
mightyaa

Exactly, but it works both ways. If the AHJ recognizes your technical code violation simply works better and is not a health, safety issue... they can wave the code requirement. And if that doesn't play, you can push through to the Board of Adjustments. I've shat on chief zoning officials and taken stuff to the planning commissions without staff support. Seriously; had one zoning head get fired because he decided to scream at the planning commission (and city council representative) for overriding him. Fun times...

Oct 22, 21 11:36 am  · 
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mightyaa

Oh yea… I know you’ve done public work Chad. You can often play some serious hardball with those kinds of clientele. “Elected body officials” like your school districts, water districts, fire/police, are chartered bodies under the State. So….. they have as much legal rights as the City/County (also elected bodies). That means zoning, permits, etc. are a courtesy; not a requirement. Your client’s board can overrule, particularly zoning. I cut my teeth fighting planning and zoning departments; Fire Stations, water tanks & pumps, schools, etc. need to be built where they are needed to be able to function… these uses usually doesn’t correspond to a planning department’s zoning, minimum landscape, setbacks, etc. like residential areas. So, you break the rules and go through the planning commission. Nimbies, don’t want it; but the public needs it.

Oct 22, 21 11:48 am  · 
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True. I'm not saying you shouldn't know building and zoning codes. You should. Just having code knowledge won't get you far. You have to have some interpersonal skills. This is especially true if you're dealing the building codes and not local zoning. Then the AHJ always has the final say. Even an ICC ruling doesn't have to listened to. In this instance no Board of Adjustments has any say in it.

Oct 22, 21 11:50 am  · 
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archanonymous

I love working for big public institutional clients. Last one required 1) no permit (other than the one they "Issued" themselves 2) all fire code stuff was negotiable as the fire marshall was internal to the institution and had clearly received direction that they needed to help make the project happen 3) Plan review was informal and conversational

Oct 22, 21 1:51 pm  · 
1  · 
greenlander1

totally agree. best to convince them before getting pushy and having anyone losing face.

Oct 22, 21 2:23 pm  · 
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joseffischer

oh, another example, the Atlanta AHJ specifically put out some code interpretations going along with 2012 IBC in 2016 (see link)

https://www.atlantaga.gov/gove...

since then, the head person who decided that retired, the new person didn't like some of the interpretations, but left them in place until the update to 2018 IBC.  As you can see, the interpretations are still on the website, BUT, some (not all) code officials are now disregarding the interpretations on the (correct in my opinion) technicality that those were interpretations on now-defunct code. 

The result is usually all about bathrooms (having to put in more, oh noes, some money) where we have to tell the clients that we've changed our way to count occupants.  Some savvy and cheap clients flag that it should still be possible to do it the old way.  We warn them that it's now all up to the reviewer you get.  They pay a code expeditor to navigate our set to the "right desk" and cross their fingers.  They then still get upset if we lose the coin toss, and demand revised drawings adding the bathroom as basic services in 24 hours after receiving the bad news from AHJ.  

Realizing this comment should have been in the rant section.

Oct 22, 21 10:47 am  · 
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