Can’t We All Just Get a House Built?

The relationship between an Architect and a Builder can and should be a harmonious one.  Unfortunately, often it is not.  Although the two disciplines ultimately share the same goal, they have variables, priorities and influencing factors that can align with or oppose each other as the project progresses.


Architects typically will have a folio of builders they like to use, matching the right Builder for, not only the project, but the personality of the client.  The Architect’s endeavor is to get enough detail to the Builder that he can do his or her job efficiently and effectively.

Often Builders lament that the plans are bare bones and lack detail, not knowing that the client was unwilling to pay the Architect for such detail.  It’s a shame, because whether the client is aware of it or not, they will end up paying someone for the details whether its at the beginning of the project, by someone who is qualified, or later into the project by someone who may or may not be.

Designing houses on paper – cost effective.  Designing a house in the field – not so much.


Inevitably the Builder must make hundreds of decisions in the field that go beyond even the most detailed set of drawings.  It is in this capacity that the Builder assumes the role of the representative of the Architect.  All of these decisions must be made with the Architects vision in mind (obviously as well as the clients wishes and budget constraints considered too).  In this regard, a good Builder is an extension of the Architect to all sub-trades and suppliers on site.  Does the decision tie in with details elsewhere on site? Are new unintended design precedents being set that don’t mesh with those existing elsewhere on site?

Le Corbusier said,  “The house is a machine for living”, the singular elements must create a cohesive whole, with attention to sound function and appealing form.

I once had a Junior Architect friend, fresh out of school, state that “There is no room for compromise on the work-site.” There was a long silence after this.  My reply was that he needed to come and work on a job site right away.  Hats off to him, he did.  He had some time and came on as a labourer.  Not only that, he worked very hard and was a great asset.  He saw the rain, the snow, the materials arrive late or damaged, trades arriving late (or damaged), delays with municipalities, engineers and suppliers, as well as clients changing their minds and he realized compromise must happen.  The nice thing is, compromise can sometimes yield superior results when communication is flowing between two parties.  Problems will forever arise; the key is how they are dealt with.

When working with an Architect for the first time, I try to establish working relationship thresholds.  That is, when to involve them and when to leave them alone and make a decision in their, the client’s, and the budget’s best interest.  Early in the relationship, I will err on the side of slight over-communication, tapering off as the thresholds are established and trust increases on both sides.  I try to learn how to make a decision they would have made themselves upon review of all influencing factors.  We review key decisions with the Architect at scheduled site meetings explaining how we came to our conclusion.  The results of these meetings help us fine tune future decision making.

Both parties are irrefutably vital to a successful project, but ultimately it is not about either the Builder or the Architect – It is about the client’s expectations and delight.