Monday, November 28, 2005

"Starchitecture Comes Home"

In the Fall 2005 issue of TIME STYLE & DESIGN there is an article "Starchitecture Comes Home" that talks about how developers have started marketing big name architects like Calatrava, Libeskind, Meier and Nouvel in order to "harness that star power in the pursuit of higher prices." (Richard Lacayo, pg. 30)

A funny little story...

While visiting the 2005 AIA Convention I had the opportunity to speak with some practicing architects about our blog topic. I was talking to this one who had done quite a bit of redevelopment projects in residential neighborhoods and I asked him about how his firm kept the local community in the loop...I stood there happily waiting for some spiel about community meetings and such...when the response came back, absolutely not! He said that they tried not to involve the local community at all because they tend to act rather irrationally and the conversations end up focusing on some tangent, like only using red brick...I was really surprised and I wondered if this is the way most architects feel about this issue? Because after all, the people who reside in the neighborhood are gonna have to live with the end you think they deserve a say so in the product?

What we bring to the table "Young Architects in the Profession"


This continuing education program featured the three Architects who won the AIA Minnesota Young Architects award. The speakers raised some interesting issues related to how architects are valued in our society.

Paul Mellblom of MS&R had an interesting issue that he touched on involving the way that architects think. His design methodology is that “We are each morally responsible to make the world a better place for friends, family and especially those in need.” He points out that we (architects) are taught to be broad thinkers, creative problem solvers and resourceful in a manner that can be valued. We possess a different way of thinking and that is why people come to us with design problems. In terms of this blog, this issue is one of many that separates us from a real estate developer, we are interested in looking at a big picture and feel morally responsible to always be a good neighbor which goes beyond just making the most financially beneficial move.

I think that this issue starts to dig into some of the misconceptions that the public holds towards architects and leads to the way that we are valued. Some assumptions include the fact that architects are a luxury expense, or that we only really make pretty facades, and finally that architects make a lot of money. What people don't realize is that developers are taking control of our built environment and we must then live with the results. It seems logical that with an architects training who else would be suited to be in control of the built environment? But with such a tremendous responsibility that effects everybody it seems prudent to ask whose hands do we want this power? In a democracy we vote for the people who control our government and with development the average person does not have a say, the people with the money are making the choices for us. This idea scares me and I think that if the architects expertise was more valued and utilized then our built environment would be a much different place.

The Importance of Communication: "Writing for Design" @ AIA MN Convention

I attended a speech entitled “WritingDesign” by Frank Edgerton Martin. This talk touted the importance of learning to write well as an architect. Often, the general public is incapable of understanding the esoteric language of drawings and designer lingo that architects use to communicate. This indicates the importance of verbal communication, of which good writing is a vital aspect. Writing is a major part of our profession. Proposals, cover letters, resumes, award submittals, press releases, and many other document types are continuously filtered through our offices. We as architects must learn to execute these documents as effectively as possible.

Mr. Martin gave some general rules for writing, including standards to stick with and things to avoid. Knowing your audience and writing in your own voice are of the utmost importance. The use of clichés and insider jargon is a major error. Being clear and concise and being able to demonstrate, not just tell, are tips that will go far in achieving one’s objectives.

This idea of clear communication and the ability of the architect to design written documents as well as graphic ones seems to tie in with our blog’s proposal of architects as developers. Developers are essentially communicators. Even more so than an architect managing a team of consultants, a developer must truly learn to effectively stay in touch with an enormous team of stakeholders. Therefore, if an architect is interested in assuming more control in the design process, that same architect must also accept the fact that this will entail coming in contact with more players on the field, more communication between these players, and consequently, more writing.

In general, we as architects are a graphic bunch. We like the visual. We prefer the visual. Many people do not. Though not directly related to the idea of architects as developers, this talk has some valuable lessons about learning to speak the language of the masses, and learning to speak it well. I think this especially becomes an issue when an architect attempts to break into real estate development. This brings about a whole new list of contacts, many of whom are even less familiar with visual communication than the people we usually come in contact with.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Height, Density, Politics (AIA Convention)

This is a summary of a round table discussion that occurred at the AIA Convention MN entitled "Height, Density, and Politics. The discussion included community organizations, architects and developers. It was relevant in the discussion of architects becoming developers for several reasons. Issues included: communication with the community, stereotypes of the community groups, architects, and developers, development driven by policy or politics, streetscape, and viewing development beyond a project by project basis.

All groups either spoke of or revealed that stereotypes of the community, architect and developer are a big part of the design process. The community is often afraid of change and against large development projects in their neighborhood but architects and developers are often unsympathetic to their needs and desires. The community is often a stepping stone in the path of construction.

All groups also favored the development process being an issue of policy and not politics. This means clearer regulations that make it easier for people to understand what can be developed in each location. This would also help in the design of our cities as a whole rather than focusing on a project by project basis. Clear regulations would begin to influence the design of our city in a concrete, focused direction. We need to be concerned with how development will affect our schools, transportation, urban noise and sprawl rather than being concerned with how tall a building is. Density became an important issue of this discussion and each group felt that density, and streetscape design our vital to the quality of our city.

Land is the Key

Jonathan Segal brough up an interesting opportunity that exists in the struggle for architects to become there own developers. The opportunity to buy and design on land that now one else wants. This includes unbuildable land, strange shaped sites, and sites with existing buildings. These are areas which developers stay away from and are opportunities to get into the process.

Shelter Architects (who visited CALA on Nov. 11th) had success in a similar fashion. There most profitable project was one which they bought and designed a project on land which was deemed "unbuildable." They were able to prove they could build on it and then were able to purchase the property.

Jonathan Segal - Presentation Summary

Jonathan Segal was the keynote speaker at the AIA Convention in Minneapolis on Tuesday Nov. 15th. He is an excellent example of an architect taking on a larger role in the development phase of design. He focuses on housing and residential architecture in downtown San Diego. His firm is called J-man and is comprised of only 5 employees. He currently has designed and owns 7 buildings in downtown San Diego.

Jonathan's goal out of school was to understand the business side of architecture and try to take out the middle man (developer and contractor). He stresses a lifestyle that saves money and bringing these ideas into the design. He talked about living downtown and not having a car has saved him considerable money and time over the years that he can put back into the design. Simplicity in the design and taking sites no one wants has also become a key to his success. For example one site he built on contained a gas station that no one wanted to build on without tearing down. Jonathan bought the property and kept the shell of the building as well as the parking lot in design of an apartment complex. He has also taken on many triangular shaped lots which many developers will not touch.

Jonathan Segal stresses that good design is more valuable than mediocre design. He accomplishes this by doing minimal modern architecture, saving every nickel (he will even help with the construction), and designing smaller spaces. Many of his apartments, row houses, etc were two story spaces (the perception of space). He also had entrances off of the streets no public hallways, elevators, or parking garages as these became uncomfortable spaces. Good design also includes outdoor spaces which are included in each complex, the circulation, and each residence.

Segal makes money by eliminating the developer, contractor, and superintendent, and owning each design. He buys materials without out the contractor's mark-up and is willing to help with construction. He pays himself a superintendent fee and puts money back into the design and future designs to save on taxes. He the key is not spending your own money to get started. He lives in each of his project for two years for tax benefits and gets rent and loans to begin his projects.

In the end he speaks about the Golden Rule: "He who has the Gold makes the Rules." To become your own developer you need to design it, control it, do it cheaply, but good design is always more valuable. Remember that architects make people's lives.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"The New Entrepreneurs"

"The New Entrepreneurs: Architect-developers call their own shots- and make money while they're at it." In Architecture magazine, Sept. 2004, pages 29-34, By: Deborah Dietsch

Our beloved B-141

Here's what aspiring developers are learning about AIA's standard architect-owner contract:

"Because the contract was drafted by AIA, it clearly protects the architect in various ways. Therefore, developers have a strong incentive to negotiate and change the standard AIA contract." (Miles, Berens, Weiss 417)

It's interesting to hear things from the other side. Based on class discussions, I thought that the B-141 was basically God's gift, and that everyone more or less accepted it as is. The book goes on to explain what portions of the contract need to be deleted, and what clauses need to be added. Even something as major as who own's the drawings is disputed. The book claims that developers should change the contract to give them ownership rights to the drawings, not the architect (419). This is huge, right? I mean, are we not setting ourselves up for a seriously dysfunctional relationship when architects believe from the outset that the drawings should be theirs, and developers are reading texts such as this which propose that they should be the rightful owners of the drawings???

"How to be Your Own Developer"

A Metropolis article by Brian Libby from December 2004 provides a set of lessons and examples of architects who have the split personality of "architect/developer."
(Pages 116-119)

The intro states:
"So you're an architect who has grown frustrated at having brilliant plans turn into mediocre buildings. Maybe you've worked with developers who think contemporary design doesn't move enough product. Perhaps a few too many contractors have dumbed down your inspired palette of materials under the pretense of "value engineering." Or maybe you're just tired of always building buildings for somebody else. Have you ever considered becoming the developer of your own architectural projects?"

Lesson 1: "It's never too late to start, or don't be afraid to empty your own dumpster" (i.e. Kevin Cavenaugh)
Lesson 2: "Modern design sells- just don't go crazy" (i.e. Oppenheim Architecture + Design)
Lesson 3: "Know thy materials" (i.e. Jonathan Segal)
Lesson4: "No hable Archispeak" (i.e. SHoP Architects)
Lesson 5: "Real estate for dummies" (i.e. Nilus de Matran/ Stan Teng)
Lesson 6: "You'll be a better architect"

Terms to Know...Pop Quiz Style

In the world of developing, a capture rate can be defined as:

A. Rate at which one captures something.

B. Forecasted rate of absorption within a targeted market segment for a proposed project, based on an analysis of supply and demand.

C. How many bad guys the cops can catch in a day.

If you went with your gut and chose the answer that contains vocabulary above the 2nd grade level (B.) you are correct!

(source of correct answer: Miles, Berens, Weiss 548)
(source of incorrect answers: my pathetic mind)

Fun Fact #2

With 662 million acres, or about 29%, of all land in the country, the largest single landowner in the United States is...

(drumroll, please)


That's right, the federal government is livin' large. Good ol' Uncle Sam (and I don't mean that creepy guy at family functions who used to play 'got your nose' with you) owns at least 60% of five different states. Who among you can name these five states? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

Alright, they are, in no particular order (besides alphabetical):

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah

Dang! Those are some big states, too! Four red states, one blue... what does it mean?

(source of stats: Miles, Berens, Weiss 18)

Knowledge of Architects services and abilities

Another issue in the project development process is considering if the general community and developers are knowledgeable about what architects can bring to the table in terms of services and abilities. Getting involved in land development could have other possibilities beyond becoming the developer ourselves and taking on the financial responsibility. Architects may have to find other ways of promoting our skills. I think the general public does not fully understand the architects education and abilities as designers and thinkers. How can we make the abilities and services of the architect known to the public and to those who are the initial planners and developers of projects? I think we first need to understand the architect stereotype. How can we get beyond being designers of "buildings."

Developers point of View- architects make aesthetic decisions that are not always feasible based on cost and functionality.

Communities point of View- lack of general knowlege about an architects role in the community, putting us on a pedestal with doctors and lawyers. People with goofy glasses dressed in black

The Otherside...

Are Architects as Developers even appropriate?

Architecture is generally refered to as the only form of art where we have to wait for someone to come along and ask us to produce. It is a service oriented profession, we are entrusted to solve a problem or fulfill an aspiration and we are then compensated for our work.

The architects job is not to impose their personal agenda, but to listen effectively and offer professional advice and solutions that meet with a particular client's needs.

Developers generate an idea for consumers to purchase. In this model, there is no specified is basically marketing design to the faceless masses. The combination of business and architecture turns design into a product and therefore, a profit driven profession.

  • Isn't design better suited for a known client, rather than asking architects to play god and decide what is best for everyone?
  • Should we (the public) be satisfied by a one-size-fits-all attitude towards our built environment?
  • Is it better to force a cheap standardized solution rather than spend the time and money to create a customized solution?
  • Is it appropriate for architects to turn design into a product that could be found on the shelf of your local big box mart?
  • Should architects then wait for work to come in or go out and get it?

Developers and Their Partners

These are the major players in the development process:
  • private sector developer
  • public sector developer
  • architect
  • engineer
  • land planner
  • landscape architect
  • contractors
  • environmental consultant
  • transportation consultant
  • appraiser
  • attorneys and accountants
  • real estate brokers/leasing agents
  • financial players
  • property manager
  • market researcher
  • marketing and public relations consultant
  • regulators
  • final users

(Miles, Berens, Weiss 35)

I have highlighted in red the people that architects are used to working with on a daily basis (final users is a maybe). Looks like we'll have to make some new friends if we want to try our hand at developing...

Terms to Know: Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

TIF: A type of special district financing in which tax revenues raised only from new development, as assessed by the net increase over the existing property tax base, are earmarked to fund capital improvements

(Miles, Berens, Weiss 556)

Barbour/LaDouceur did not use city funds in their development of The Nicollet. TIF, in which existing tenants are taxed in speculation of increased land values, was not exercised.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Architect/Developer @ AIA MN Convention

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2005
3:30 - 5:00 pm

"Architecture and Control: The Architect as Masterbuilder in the Urban Environment"

Jonathan Segal, FAIA

(see page 5 of PDF document)

Terms to Know: "Option"

Option - the right given by the owner of property (the optionor) to another (the optionee) to purchase or lease the property at a specific price within a set time

(Miles, Berens, Weiss 553)

Barbour/LaDouceur, while visiting our class on 10.07.05, informed us of their use of an option for The Nicollet. With a down payment of 1% of the land value, they were able to secure the site and begin the development process.

Fun Fact #1

"The present land-to-people ratio in the United States is about 8.5 acres per person (75 persons per square mile)"

(Miles, Berens, Weiss 17)

The Eight-Stage Model of Real Estate Development

According to the book "Real Estate Development: Principles and Process"

(by Mike E. Miles, Gayle Berens and Marc A. Weiss, Third Edition. Washington D.C.: ULI-the Urban Land Institute, 2000.),

developers undergo an eight-step process in developing a piece of real estate (pages 5-7):

1. Inception of an Idea
2. Refinement of an Idea
3. Feasibility
4. Contract Negotiation
5. Formal Commitment
6. Construction
7. Completion and Formal Opening
8. Property, Asset, and Portfolio Management

Architects are typically only involved in a few of these steps, usually parts of 2, 3 and 6.

Friday, September 30, 2005


Week One...
What is the Current Process in a development project?
We plan to gain an understanding of the process of a development project by considering aspects relating to...
Financial backing
Land acquisition
Bureaucratic regulations
City and state contacts
Program concerns

Week Two and Three...
Interview a Developer and an Architect that works with a Developer.
Gain the point of views of the people currently working in this field and the opinions of each side on our subject. Interview an Architect who has done their own developing.

Week Four...
Compile information.


Professional Issues...Project and Firm Oriented Positions and Challenges...
1. Architect's role in a project...superficial???
2. Quality of design.
3. Considerations beyond profit.
4. Collaboration needed for desgining and business tasks.
5. Financial support.
6. Taking on new responsibilities, and relinquishing others.
7. Modifying architectural education.

Philisophical and Ethical Considerations...
1. Who has the best interest of the user/public in mind?
2. Should developments be mainly profit driven?
3. Church & State...Design & Money.
4. Position of environmental concerns.

1. Architects
2. Developers
3. Financial Institutions
4. Public
5. Environment
6. Contractors
7. Economy

Thursday, September 22, 2005

We are interested in how architects can take on a more defining role in the development process in order to have greater influence on the shaping of our built environment, economically, socially and physically. Does this imply a more business-related role for the architect or a greater degree of collaboration with the business world? We hope to start a dialogue on this issue between architects and the world-wide community.