Architects Leaving Money on the Table?

The always provocative Joe Lstiburek says in an interview with Inhabitat on building science and the architectural profession- "I think they feel it’s beneath their dignity to worry about these little, minor problems, like how to keep the rain out of the building, how to keep the air in and the air out. Let somebody else worry about that. 

There should be no reason that we have all of these outside (building) consultants that are sucking bits of the architectural key out of the process. The architects should grab that for themselves and deliver the whole building the right way, to be the boss of the job, to be the master builders again."

Are architects losing money because they cannot design good wall systems?



May 17, 12 8:00 pm

We do it all at my office: *also* a good way to lose money. There's no magic bullet.

May 17, 12 8:27 pm  · 

I LOVE JOE....but like all science it is geographical.  What works on the Coast of Connecticut doesn't work inland.  I love to read his articles and quick wit on his web site. The problem is when I start gathering his information under one roof....I think "Doctor Wizzards Wonder Oil"   Come On Joe tell me it isn't so.

May 17, 12 9:13 pm  · 

Whether we're directly losing money by letting consultants have it or not, we're losing respect and thus lowering our attractiveness as a sound business choice if we can't figure out how to meet basic constructability and maintenance issues in our products.  That said, it's very, very hard to get everything done right and mistakes are very easily made in our industry.

May 18, 12 12:00 am  · 
a mouse

I think this oversimplifies the issue by conflating specialization of disciplines with good architectural practice. I don’t know if you were being trite, but I don’t have a consultant t keep the rain out, or the air in. And we take responsibility for basic construction issues, and maintenance. That’s our job.
However I do have a consultant telling me the U, R and VLT of the glass I need to achieve the maximum watts/square cm of facade I’m allowed under code. This is something we could easily take responsibility for, but why bother? The knowledge is so specialist that we’d only end up hiring the guy who’s telling me anyway. Then the client would wrap our fees into one package and call it a saving. In the end is suspect that we’d end up with less money/hr billed. You can’t assume that the architects would get the other consultants fees.
In the end we’re the lead consultant. Its our job to get the best design/built outcome for the client, which in my mind includes acting as an editor for the other consultants.

May 18, 12 3:38 am  · 

"Architects leaving money on the table?"

Like duh, how else you gonna pay the prostit..., er, umm...I mean tip the maid.


May 18, 12 9:56 am  · 

I have a couple friends who work for a building envelope specialist - they tell me that most of the problems they encounter are usually with buildings put up in the late 60s through early 80s (for example - old wall ties with brick veneer weren't very corrosion-resistant).  The newer buildings that have trouble typically aren't flashed properly (it's almost always the GC didn't install flashing correctly - or at all), the cladding system doesn't breathe properly (usually poorly designed product/system - not usually architect's fault), or someone didn't pay close enough attention to what materials they put next to other materials (something the subs usually pick up).


IMO - It's not as huge of a problem that he's making it out to be (most practicing architects who have been around for a while tend not to make the same mistakes twice) - however I do agree that not enough recent grads really understand how building systems work and how various materials behave  - and that LEED needs to focus more on envelope performance.  Oh -  and that all glass skyscrapers aren't really "sustainable."


I also really don't like that Joe seems to think that vinyl siding is ok.

May 18, 12 10:07 am  · 

that creating the best building envelope performance/effectiveness often killing the architectural aesthetic - required the minimum of protrusions/ bays, glass storefronts or skylights (not to mention skywalls)

it's already typical to neglect aesthetic building's quality for medium/low budget projects

and with urging architects to be more technical they loosing their design function

May 18, 12 11:11 am  · 
Hyperlocal Workshop

Yurily, You may have been right about the formula that high performing facades are less interesting 10 year ago but that is certainly a fallacy now. In fact their are so many high performing and knock-your-socks off buildings that it keeping me busy writing a book on the subject. 

Message is buck up, great buildings don't have to be energy basket cases.

May 18, 12 11:32 am  · 

a mouse - i am just wondering, is that consultant another architect? i agree with needing a consultant because projects are so complex now. but i think we are relinquishing something that should be ours if it is not another architect who has specialized in building science. r values, vlt's and code issues related to energy use are something best understood by an architect (in my opinion), so letting a physicist or engineer, (or even lawyer/real estate developer) make those decisions is harmful to everyone. i personally agree with him, and think if we took back the technical expertise, we'd be worth more. i think as a whole though, we do not have the aptitude for it. too many people going into architecture think it is just the art of building now, not the art AND science of building.

i TOTALLY disgaree with you though Yuriy - that is what a great architect is SUPPOSED to do. he or she is suppoed to make something perform AND be visually/aesthetically pleasing. building performance is just one more thing to roll into program, code, safety performance side. if we can't do both, we don't deserve to have a license to practice architecture in my opinion. the point is not to pump up our (or our client's ego) with a monument, but to think about a building's TOTAL impact on the earth and society. perhaps this is all too idealistic, but that's my HOPE anyway.  

May 18, 12 11:41 am  · 

isn't this a product, though, of what can be accomplished in-house, vs. what's not? meaning, i think the largest firms can do a lot of this type of work in-house, but for a firm of 7 (speaking for myself), we can do quite a bit, but not everything a p+w can. so, if we're both competing for a 20M gallery, we're simply going to have to outsource portions of that scope. 


that said, yes, we've given away huge chunks of territory over the past 30 years. mostly, this can be blamed less on consultants proliferating than on an inability of most architecture firms to have the size/mass to invest in and develop the skills internally. meaning, how many firms will pay a b.e.c. consultant to be on staff? and, more importantly, would the client pay more for said service or would it simply be expected as most people seem to indicate above? 


part of our issue, as well, is that we've allowed just about everyone else define our fee structure - it really hasn't changed since 1950 (%of construction) but we've also failed to articulate what it is we do enough for clients to understand that the level of specialization being desired (or necessitated) will need to see a corresponding increase in fee. 


so, the fact that there's little animals nipping at our heels isn't the problem. it's that we're too big, dumb and incapable of evolving fast enough.

May 18, 12 1:06 pm  · 
led signal light

Oh no! Illegal alien consultants are taking our money!

May 18, 12 1:36 pm  · 
won and done williams

I tend to agree most with a mouse. Architects are primarily coordinators of work, but responsible for the end product. To me, it doesn't so much matter to me the cadres of consultants I need to hire to complete a project as long as the project turns out well for the client, and I am able to make a profit. Buildings are too complicated these days to be done in house unless you have a massive office, and frankly I don't have the resources or the interest to layout the security cameras or spec the AV equipment - I'll hire someone to do that.

May 18, 12 1:39 pm  · 
Hyperlocal Workshop

Sorry about the bad link to the interview- here you go:

May 18, 12 1:41 pm  · 

i just don't think buildings are all that much more complex than they were 50 years ago. sure, some are BIG enough that more people need to be on the team. but i think we have just forgotten how to put on the various hats we used to. or maybe we as a group are less WILLING to take on the responsibility (and therefore we lose the input) of making many of the decisions we might have in the past. but i guess that's just the path the field has taken, and that's a big reason i am on the way out, myself. but hopefully it rights itself somehow, someday. or at least the type of people who want more out of the profession find their paths away from it. in any case, it is bigger than you or me, or any of us as individuals, and i personally don't think there's much we can do about it any more. this path was chosen years ago.  

May 18, 12 2:36 pm  · 


you may be right if cohesively with green efficiency principles are modern "green" minimalistic style applied

but in reality most of East coast clients don't encourage that minimalism

and buildings with energy-efficient envelopes looks like dull striped boxes with traditional ornamentation


May 18, 12 3:12 pm  · 

@CMNDCTRL: we are "less WILLING to take on the responsibility"  today for certain decisions for some very good reasons. The world of architecture is SIGNIFICANTLY more litigious today than it was even 30 years ago.  For that reason, the expectations of our documents has risen to the level where we, as architects, simply cannot possess enough direct knowledge within our firms to properly document every component that will go into a complex building.

It's always fun to look back at CD sets prepared in the 50s and 60s. Compared to the highly detailed tomes we [are forced to] produce today, the drawing sets from those days look like cartoon sets. Back then, details that weren't defined on the drawings were worked out during the shop drawing process and in the field with the [knowledgeable and cooperative] contractor.

May 18, 12 3:16 pm  · 
wurdan freo

Construction Costs $1,000,000

AE - Fee - $60,000   AE profit - $8,000

     50% or more to consultants

General Contractors Fee $150,000 -   General Contractor Profit - $20,000

Actual Cost of Work - $850,000 - Subcontractor Profit - $120,000

Total Cost to developer - +/-$1,300,000 - Developer Profit - $60,000 annually plus equity.

yes architects leave money on the table.

May 18, 12 3:40 pm  · 

quizzical, i looked over a sverre fehn construction set at one point, and was shocked at how sparse it was given the size of the project.

lstiburek's a bit of a clown. he loves to pan other building scientists because it makes him sound like he's the only real one on the continent. sound familiar?

May 19, 12 1:26 am  · 

"Architects leaving money on the table?"


Yeah, of course, it's for all of those unpaid interns to pick up.

Seriously, yo!

May 19, 12 10:47 am  · 

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