What Everyone Should Know About Cowboys and Architects

Gene Autry, King of the Cowboys
Cowboys and Architects

I read an interesting article yesterday, written by a builder. It was about how you must hire your builder before you hire your Architect, ‘cause Architects don’t know nothin’ about building.

Whoa, cowboy. Hold on there, pardner. That ain’t the way the West was won.

Nothin’ against builders, mind you. Lotta good ones out there.

But let’s be clear as a springtime morning in the Rockies: Architects design, builders build.

Now if this builder’s just a bit confused about the roles we all play in the design and building process, I understand. The picture has gotten a little muddy lately and frankly, Architects are partly to blame.

Yessir, us Architects used to wear the chaps and spurs when it came to wrasslin’ with pencil and paper. But then we started forgettin’ our trail manners. Got out there ahead of the herd a little.


Left the barn door open.

And before we knew it, the builders had lassoed some of the Architect’s clients and ridden off into the sunset.

Good for the builder; bad for the Architect.

And bad for the client.

Take Ten Paces…and Draw

The writer of the article I mentioned above was used to working with Architects who did little more for the client than “draw plans”. Not surprisingly, those plans probably didn’t come close to addressing all the needs of the client, leaving the builder to fill in the gaps.

And that’s no one’s fault but the Architect’s, since his job is to find out about all those needs and then design a project that satisfies them in creative ways.

Architectural services are supposed to start way before the drawing begins, with detailed discussions about the project and detailed study of the building site (read more about the design process here.)

A lot of back-and-forth at this early stage helps make sure the client and Architect understand each other before any design work is committed to paper.

It takes time, but it’s time extremely well spent – something much harder to do when you’re focused solely on getting to the construction stage.

Great projects begin and end with unique creation; whether that’s unique Architecture, unique problem-solving, or the requirements of a unique client (aren’t they all?).

And unique creation is what Architects do best.

Yep, we want to see the project built – after all, that’s why we’re all in this business. And yep, we want to see it built on time and on budget – that’s as much a part of “unique creation” as the Architectural design. But it’s in our client’s best interest to work out all the possibilities and problems on paper before we commit to bricks and mortar.

That’s tough, I know, for a guy who wants to build first and ask questions later. So holster that nail gun, pardner, and sit tight…your turn is coming.

The Fastest Way to Move Cattle is Slowly

I reckon you’ve figured out by now that I got me a dog in this fight.

I run a Residential Architecture firm and our clients hire us for much more than just “plans”. We do what an Architectural firm is supposed to do: manage the entire project for the client including site selection, Architectural design, Interior design, and budgeting.

We help our clients choose quality contractors to bid on the project, then thoroughly analyze the bids when they’re submitted. We recommend the bid with the best value to our clients. We help them scrutinize the builder’s contract and proposed schedule.

And then, when every option’s been explored, when every decision’s been made - we let the builder build.

Never Ask a Barber if You Need a Haircut

I’ll give credit to the builder who wrote that article – he’s trying to turn a problem into a business opportunity for himself – he’d prefer not to have to wait on the often time-consuming and sometimes expensive design process before he can get his hands on the project.

If you ask him, he’ll tell you he can design it for you.

But that shortcuts a well-understood and well-regarded process that recognizes the appropriate roles of the Architect and builder, a process that recognizes the strengths of each, and more importantly, allows both to work together to accomplish the client’s goals: getting a well-designed project, built by skilled craftsmen, for a reasonable price.

Sheriff Woody

Son, the Quickest Way to Double your Money is to Fold it Over

So what’s all this talkin’ mean, out there on the range?

For you builders, find better Architects. Find Architects that understand and respect your role, and make sure you understand and respect theirs. Realize that properly delivered Architectural services are much more than “drawing plans”; can save you time and effort; and will let you focus on what you do best.

Architects – offer and deliver all the services you’re trained to. Recognize that designing a home or remodeling is an intensely personal experience for your clients, and that they deserve your full attention throughout the project. Help your clients find the best builders available, and give them great projects to build.

And homeowners – don’t be tempted by what sounds like a shortcut to get your project done faster and cheaper; get the right professional to design your project, and he’ll help you get the right professional to build it.

‘Cause you can put yer boots in the oven, pardner, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.


Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at RTA Studio.