S. Claire Conroy, editor in chief of Residential Design, moderated a panel of six talented and accomplished architects in a sold-out session of more than 200 attendees at the recent AIA Conference on Architecture in New York City. The panelists included John DeForest, AIA, DeForest Architects, Seattle, Wash.;  Michael Frederick, AIA, Frederick + Frederick Architects, Beaufort, S.C.; Mark Larson, AIA, Rehkamp Larson Architects, Minneapolis, Minn.; Dan Maginn, FAIA, DRAW Architecture, Kansas City, Kan.; Jennifer Mowery Marsh, AIA, Mowery Marsh Architects, Hoboken, N.J.; Viola Rouhani, AIA, Stelle Lamont Rouhani Architects, Bridgehampton, N.Y. (John DeForest and Mark Larson joined remotely.)

 Photos: Erika Nygaard

The wide-ranging discussion touched on many subjects of vital importance to residential architects and small-to-medium-sized firms of diverse practice. Here are a few takeaways from the discussion, which included very active participation from attendees:

  • Nearly everyone is busy, some at a maximum capacity and beyond. The benefits are better opportunities for good-to-great projects; the downside is less time to take a project from good to great.
  • Everyone is struggling with pricing projects, as prices continue to rise for both materials and, especially, bids from busy subcontractors. Jennifer Marsh mentioned having to price projects multiple times before construction begins.
  • Despite the increase in business inquiries, firms still wrestle with staying profitable and communicating the value they bring to projects. Social media channels, such as Pinterest, can contribute to unreasonable expectations on the part of clients.
  • Firms are seeing more competition from out-of-state practitioners, but are also finding more opportunities out of town as well.
  • Architects feel increased pressure to make good use of their time and to keep their clients on track and on point during meetings. Some suggestions from the audience and panelists: Set a meeting length prior to convening with clients. Inquire of the clients if they have time constraints and then mention you have an hour in your schedule cleared for them.
  • First meetings with potential clients were subject of some debate. Several architects mentioned they prefer to conduct meetings in their office to control the length and structure of the discussion, and to convey a professional demeanor. Some insist it’s important to charge for this initial meeting to set the expectation of compensation. Others prefer to meet at the clients’ homes as a means of determining their taste and lifestyles. Some architects offer the service of a very basic feasibility discussion and rudimentary “napkin sketch” that they charge for at an hourly rate.
  • Many architects mention they send a questionnaire to potential clients prior to the first meeting to help determine the scope and viability of the project and to shape any further discussions.
  • Presenting designs to clients was also discussed. Some architects mentioned limiting the number of different design options, others discussed the importance of virtually reality presentations to help clients understand the design. Reading clients’ reactions to these meetings is very important as well, to circumvent unhappiness or expensive changes later. Dan Maginn mentioned that he will call clients after the meeting if they have been quiet during the presentationto gauge if there were unspoken problems or concerns.

The forum also introduced a new CRAN peer network where architects from non-competing regions can share business information. CRAN Advocacy Leader Luis Jauregui, FAIA, and John DeForest, AIA, are spearheading this effort. Find out more about this program and others on the group’s AIA website.