Value of Knowledge in Virginia Architecture

I have been working our firm booth at the Rockingham County Fair this week. Some people avoid eye contact as to not be pressured into buying anything, some look at me odd (wearing a shirt and tie at a county fair stands out), some want to know how much I cost to build a house (not defined, just a house). I have long known that many people don’t understand what architects do or why they need to be involved in a building project, and many just see an architect as an extra expense. Can I blame them when you can go to any building supply store and purchase plans out of a magazine for next to no money, or hire a builder that offers “design” as part of his package? Our profession has given much of our reputation away to those that can learn a simple drafting program, know a little about how buildings go together, and don’t have any liability or training to get it right, after all, we can figure it out in the field. We have been willing to let specialist take on all the things we used to do that added value to the project, let the general public believe that settling for minimum quality is OK, and let design go, replaced with McDesign, track housing, nondescript corporate buildings. We have watered down our name Architect and given our reputations away to be replaced with being “just designers”.

It is time to take back our role in the process. We need to serve our clients, design functional buildings that are healthy, energy and water efficient, and aesthetically pleasing. We need to answer our clients demands, exceed their expectations, and create vibrant place. It is time to stop being just artists and reclaim our expertise in the building industry as the only person that understands the process from start to finish. You cannot hire a magazine to listen to you and to create a place that is perfect for you. You cannot hire a builder that is an expert at putting the pieces together to understand and create a place that functions for your life patterns. You need to hire an architect to interpret your needs and desires, your daily patterns, perhaps even your unknown needs into a dynamic vibrant design solutions.

AND, most important, we as architects need to do this for everyone. We should not and cannot just serve the elite. Everyone deserves good design, whether they live in a small home, apartment, or a mansion. Architects can be and should be the voice for conservation, design, and comfort in addition to health, safety, and welfare.

But how much does it cost. The answer has to be, it depends. How many changes will you make to the design, how well will you articulate your needs at our first meeting, how many questions will be raised during the design that need to be answered before construction. Do you value a healthy home that is low maintenance, durable, and energy-efficient? How much would you pay for going to the doctor less? How much would you pay not to have to dust every week? How much would you pay for your children not to have asthma? How much would you pay for a house that will last for 100 years? I know that I can reduce the cost of the construction through design, I know that I can help relieve your worry during the process, I know I can add value to your project – how much would you pay for that service? I believe I charge a fair rate for my service. Enough to cover our overhead and make a little profit. I don’t make a tremendous amount of money on any project each year, but I am certainly able to live to a comfortable level doing what I love to do. So I am happy to talk to you about any specific project and come up with a budget for my work, but as for how much do I cost in general – our services are priceless…

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