Why Architecture Takes So Long to Create is about this architectural firm’s explanation to the world of Clients regarding the time Architects take to produce their designs and documentation for those designs so that Contractors can build them.
Okay, so you’ve hired an Architect and he/she/they seem to be dragging their feet and taking an awful long time to produce first: your design, and second: the CDs (Construction Documents) that illustrate to the Building Department and your Contractor how that design is supposed to be built.
Hey, from your perspective (the Client), you’ve already paid your Architect a ton of money and they already “drew-up” the floor plan you wanted, so doesn’t that mean they are close to being done? The “plan” is drawn, so what’s the big deal?
Nope. Guess again. The floor plan(s) are often less than 5% of the entire architectural effort. There are also Elevations, Building Sections, Wall Sections, blow-up section and plan details, specifications, door information, finish schedule, Roof Plans, Cabinetry, Electrical, 3D imagery and more.
And if you project is a renovation of any existing home or building and you do not have electronica documentation of that home or building, then guess what? You’re going to have to pay your Architect to document (or at least draw) the existing building on a computer program, like AutoCad, Revit, ArchiCad or other architectural computer program. Why? Because no (or very few) Architects these days are willing to risk the inaccuracies involved in drawing things by hand, or the inherent value of just paper drawings. Much faster, better, more accurate and multiple-archival making drawings on computer. So: if your job involves renovations, expect an extra 5% or so OVER the normal architectural fee when starting from scratch. Why? Again, because it’s HARDER to have to check on the hundreds or thousands of conditions that lurk within the existing house/building. And no Architect with any sense of liability will state that they are in fact documenting the “As -Builts.”
Rather, they may indicate that they are preparing Record Drawings that have been based off of paper drawings, which may or may not have any field verification, which often is left to the Builder to verify, mainly because the Client usually doesn’t want to pay the Architect to go out to the project site many times to actually measure existing conditions.
Okay, getting off on a tangent there. So we’ve established that an Architect WILL charge More, not less to do a renovation/addition on a relative percentage basis, even though they may charge by the hour.
So let’s get back to the subject of Architects and why it takes so long to produce the design and documentation for your project (assuming you are a Client of an Architect).
TIME is what an Architect sells, in addition to SKILL and CREATIVITY and SOLUTIONS to both technical building problems and hard to imagine DESIGN solutions to complex Client needs/demands/desires. Architects have prepared their entire lives waiting for you and your project, up to the minute you called them or walked into their office. That’s probably going to be over 50 years. So the Architect have spent often more than half a century honing their craft/ profession in order to serve you, just as your MD (Medical Doctor) or surgeon has spent decades preparing to treat you and make you well. Also, just as your Attorney has spent decades in school, interning and practicing and becoming licensed to serve your needs and help you. Or an Engineer. Or Certified Public Accountant. Catching the drift here? An Architect is a licensed professional, who spent decades educating themselves, including typically 6 to 8 years to often earn a Masters degree in Architecture, spent often a decade in an internship capacity, then had to prepare for, take and pass a State Architectural Board exam,
that often lasts several days and for which there is a high fail rate and then apply for and prove to at least one State that they are worthy to be trusted to design, document and administer architectural design and construction projects involving life and limb of other humans, to whom their well-being is entrusted, then to be thrust into the real world, earning a living for decades, proving themselves over and over again, earning additional certifications and licenses, taking yearly CEUs (Continuing Education Units), solving thousands of problems, honing themselves to be one of the best problem solving people on the planet, all fine-tuned and ready to serve your wishes. Whew. That’s quite a lot of preparation, isn’t it? All so that you can tell them how large you want your new Master Suite. What an enormous amount of horsepower to bring to bear on your needs.
VALUE OF CONSTRUCTION & PERCENTAGES: Once again: this effort ultimately amounts to time. And the Value of the construction. What does the cost of construction have to do with anything if an Architect is mainly selling their expertise and time? Well, it has long been understood in the design and construction world that there is a corresponding amount of design and documentation effort associated with the construction cost of a project. Why? Because a $1million house will ALWAYS be more involved and larger and take more time for an Architect to program, design and document it than a $100,000 house. Roughly 9x more effort on the larger budget house. Makes sense, right? Because that’s real.
So how does that work, then? How to evaluate a proper Architectural fee for either a small, simple house or a large, complex project? Hmmm. Well, it so happens that the Architectural world out there KNOWS what the approximate percentages should be, in terms of rules of thumb. And also, nearly any Architect who has been working for over 10 to 20 years knows these rules of thumb as well. No architectural organization that represents the interests of Architect is allowed (in the USA) to publish such rules of thumb. The Government doesn’t like that. However, no one cares if any company, Architectural or otherwise, or individual, Architect or otherwise Can publish these rules of thumb.
No harm, no foul. One such Architect from another firm (we believe, from Canada) has performed her own personal in-depth research all over the world, including the USA, and has published these rules of thumb. They are mainly based on percentages of the cost of construction. She published her findings in a third-party Public Information website called: ArchitecturalFees.com . Check it out. But that’s really not the purpose of this online article here. Rather, we’re trying to explain why it takes so much time to produce a work of Architecture, for a house, or any other project, for that matter.
Let’s look at this issue from another angle. Our Senior Staff Architect just moved into his new house for his family in North Carolina, USA. By most standards, it is a fairly modest effort, with only 2,188 HSF (Heated Square Feet) and 3,818 GSF (Gross SF including garage and porches). This project had a great deal of Value Engineering to keep things as simple and cost-effective as possible. Most of the interior is drywall, with a few timber posts and beams and wood stair. The outside is 70% metal siding, with some cementitious horizontal lap siding and front and rear timber posts. Some minor amounts of rock inside and outside. Metal roof. Vinyl windows. Comparing with many mountain houses, this is a simpler project.
NUMBER OF LINES AND OBJECTS IN THE DRAWING FILE(s): The Architect just audited the AutoCad drawing file for this project and it indicated that it checked 1,297,851 lines or objects. If that is the entire amount of lines and objects in the main drawing file, then the Architect had to evaluate and think about all of those lines and objects in one way or the other. If you could count to 1,297,851 and your could verbally state 4 numbers each second, it would take you 324,462 seconds just to count to the number of objects the Architect had to deal with during the creation of his design and documentation (at least those within the AutoCad file, which does NOT include his time involved in being on-site, dealing with Contractors and workers, the Building Department, his family, selecting and purchasing decisions for hundreds of items and more). That’s 5,407 minutes. That’s 90.1 hours. Which is more than 2 normal work weeks, just to Count the number of objects involved in the Architect’s work for a single detached custom home. Now, if you had to think, perhaps for a minute, just 60 seconds for each line involved, that would = 77,871,060 seconds. Divided by 60 = 1,297,851 minutes, divided by 60 = 21,630 hours divided by a normal 40 hour week = 540.7 weeks divided by 52= 10.39 years of thinking for this one modest project. Now then, if we say that perhaps half to 2/3 of the lines and objects were imported from other projects and reused and that decisions and reuse of these lines and object was much faster, perhaps applying a 67% factor, about 3.1 years of normal 40 hour a week actual time was involved. And it did in fact take the Architect 4.5 years from the time he bought the land until he built his house. So that may be a valid correlation.
Understanding the vast amount of lines and object involved in ANY architectural project with which the Architect must deal, are you beginning to understand one of the reasons architecture takes so long? Even on relatively simple projects, there are a tremendous amount of lines and objects involved that the Architect must handle in one form or another. And that takes time. Okay, so much for that explanation. Let’s look at another…
NUMBER OF DRAWINGS: How about the number of drawings and specification sheets an Architect needs to produce for a project? Well, for this particular Architect, he created 38 sheets of 24″ x 36″ drawing sheets. This Architect used to work at a firm in downtown Orlando, at a time when drawings were hand-drawn. The Principal Architect in charge of Production there said that each drawing was worth from $2,400 to $4,000 each, in terms of manpower (person-power). 38 sheets x $2,400 = $91,200. 38 x $4,000= $152,000. If you divide by the Architect’s hourly rate of $125/hour, that would = 729.6 to 1,216 hours, which is probably about what the Architect did on this particular project, with all the daily time spent on it, including in person on-site visits for months at a time during the construction.
HOURLY RATE INTO NORMAL RULE OF THUMB %: Let’s look at another method of time/project value. That website for architectural fees indicates roughly 10% for basic services for a new project (like a house) and 15%+/- for a renovation. So, if the cost of this Architect’s house was around $655,000 with the land and the land was $135,000 then the cost of the house and related improvements is around $520,000. Since this is a new house and IF the Architect’s services only included Basic Services (which doesn’t include many, many other things that he actually did do) that might be around 10%. 10% x $520,000 = $52,000. That’s probably a good ballpark for a simple fee and now if the Architect’s hourly rate is $125, let’s divide that into the ballpark fee for an estimate of hours (just of Basic Services) = $52,000/$125 = 416 hours. If the Architect works on this project 40 hours a week, that would involve about 10.4 weeks or about 2-1/2 months. Understand: Basic Services doesn’t involve many services many people take for granted. Like electrical plans, bidding/pricing with Builders, documentation of existing conditions (for renovation), Construction Administration (site visits and many other activities during construction), cabinetry elevations, and many other things, including project management, interior design, etc. Meaning that this would be a very spartan amount of time and fee for this Architect on this project. Most projects would likely be double that amount of time, or perhaps 5 months or more.
So: for even a small, new simple house, expect at least 2.5 to 5 months. That should be fairly normal.
CHANGES: No Client in the world thinks that the time involved with the Architect making their requested changes affects anything, including the amount of time the Architect needs to produce the drawings and specifications for their project. IT DOES. Everything takes time, nothing is as simple as it seems and TIME is the result.
DRAWING SESSIONS: The Architect checked the number drawings sessions on this project file. There were 457. He said he routinely manually saves about every 2 hours or so, meaning there may have been 914 actual drawing hours involved for him on this project.