The Value of Design

Understandably, clients want to know very early on, sometimes even before we begin work, “What’s this building going to cost?”

To that we like to use car analogies. If we go to a local car dealership and ask, “What’s this vehicle going to cost?” they’re going to have some questions before they can answer. Do you need to pull anything? Are you going off-road? Is fuel economy important? How important are luxury accessories and technology?

In other words, “What kind of car do you want to drive?” or for purpose of this article, “What kind of building do you want and need?”

An architect’s first job is to listen. To understand the Owner’s space needs, their quality expectations, and the features they find important.

Just like cars come in a wide variety of sizes, colors, features and prices – so do buildings.

As famous philosopher, Warren Buffet, once said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

At the beginning of a project, people are usually either shocked or disappointed at what we estimate their project may cost. Sometimes Owners are willing to sacrifice durability and quality for economy. Few are willing to pay for the Mercedes, but still want the similarly-equipped Chevy. Benjamin Franklin said, “The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of a low price has faded from memory.”

Like buildings, there is a difference between price and value in architectural services too. Don’t just know what their price is, but what they are going to do for that price. What is their reputation? Are they qualified? You might get a great deal on your bypass surgery from your podiatrist, but would you even consider it?

When it comes to buildings, please remember your architect does not set the price, they just report it. They try to report what the costs would be for a building that meets your needs and quality expectations. The builders and the market ultimately dictate the price. To quote the 19th Century Art and Architecture critic, John Ruskin, on value:

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money, that is all. When you pay too little, you lose everything because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do…paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done…”