YouTube advocacy

Emoji; Emoticon; Dislike; Red

Late on Wednesday night, a colleague alerted me to a perturbing YouTube video uploaded by the Association of Professional Builders.

Despite its official-sounding name, APB is in fact a marketing agency that “specialises in helping building companies to increase their leads, sales, profits and professionalism.” Its goal is to assist builders to stay in business, which it facilitates through online training, blog articles, sales tools and video content.

Most of the videos focus on the owner / builder relationship, and leave architects out of the discussion entirely. The most recent offering breaks this mould however, and is entitled Why you shouldn’t use an architect to design your new home.

With an opening like that, you can see why I was unsettled.

The video has so far amassed just over 200 views, and has earned two thumbs up and nine thumbs down. These statistics are hardly evidence of an earth-shattering audience, but on principle I felt compelled to respond to the false claims made by the presenter and APB co-founder, Sky Stephens.

So instead of going to bed I wrote a characteristically lengthy rebuttal, which I hope will give some much needed perspective to any future viewers that happen to stop by. I consider this an act of minor advocacy on behalf of the architecture profession, and have decided to reproduce my comments here on the off chance APB decides to delete the video.

Dear Sky,

I am an architect and I’d like to challenge three misleading and unsubstantiated claims made in your video:

  1. That “80% of all architectural plans never come to fruition”
  2. That architects only focus “on what a home will look like”
  3. That architects “rarely factor in the cost” of construction

Let me unpack these claims in order:

  1. How do you know that 80% of architect-designed houses don’t get built? I strongly doubt that you can provide the research paper that supports this claim. Even if it were true, how can you possibly assert that the only reason projects fail is because of cost? Common sense and my own experience suggest that there are many causes for a stopped project: the owner might receive a job offer overseas, she might decide to move closer to her children’s school, she might use her savings to open up a business instead, her parents might get sick, she might not receive town planning approval, she might want a large four bedroom house but can only afford a small two bedroom one. The design and construction of a house is a complex undertaking, with many factors influencing a successful outcome.
  2. You infer that the definition of design is restricted to what a house looks like. This misses the much broader reality of architecture, and unhelpfully diminishes the rich and complex truth of the design process. Architects are indeed lovers of beauty, but this is in no way the only driving force behind good design. Design includes working out how a house functions, how it suits her client’s lifestyle, how it performs thermally in summer and winter, how it addresses town planning and building code requirements, how durable it is, how well it will adapt to the changing needs of her client’s family, how it addresses the history and culture of its place, how sustainably it sources materials, how well it opens up to the back garden, how soundproof it is, how watertight it is… The list is endless, and an architect addresses each and every item in the pursuit of good design.
  3. An essential part of the architectural process is the management of an owner’s budget. An architect is trained to understand what it costs to build, and provide reliable financial advice to her client. This regularly involves seeking input from either a quantity surveyor or a friendly builder, and designing in accordance both with what her client can afford and what the construction industry charges. This approach is not only ethically non-negotiable, it makes good business sense: an architect cares deeply about her client and about the house she designs for her, why would she jeopardise this by ignoring the budget? She is also invested in the future success of her architectural business, which she can best safeguard by helping her client build a house she loves and can afford.

I’d like to challenge you about the motive behind this video. Advocating for the value of builders is a wonderful thing, and worthy of doing. I have worked with many good builders, and would happily recommend the experience. Surely you can find a way of promoting builders without having to defame an entire profession of intelligent, hard-working, creative and valuable individuals?

Your advice sounds counter-intuitive because it is. Let me ask you this: would you choose your medical specialist before you know which illness needs curing? Would you head straight to the cardiovascular surgeon before confirming that you actually have a problem with your heart? Going to an architect first is the best decision an owner can make, because it’s the architect who will interpret her unique brief and transform it into a place to call home.

I offer these comments in the spirit of constructive criticism. Everyone deserves to get out there and advocate for the things they believe in, and I have no interest in preventing you from doing this. I’d welcome the chance to discuss any of my comments further with you, and hopefully help you offer more thoroughly researched content to your audience.

Let me finish on a more positive note, and mention a piece of your advice I support wholeheartedly. I agree that an architect can achieve the best design outcome for her client only when she collaborates with a great builder. A successful collaboration between architect and builder from early on in the design process is an essential ingredient to an excellent outcome. Yes, the primary goal of the architect is to provide creative vision, but this job is actually shared by the builder. Likewise, both builder and architect have important roles to play in ensuring a house is practical to build.

My philosophy is this: design doesn’t stop at sketch design, it continues all the way up until the moment the builder hands the keys back to the owner. I regularly find myself sketching details on timber stud offcuts, and watching on while builders do the same. An open and inclusive mind is the secret to this success, and why I love being an architect.

Regards,
Warwick.

I invite all my readers to head over to the video and add your own thoughts in the comments section, or just voice your disquiet via a cheeky click on the thumbs down button.

One last thing. When I woke up this morning, I thought of a better analogy than my cardiovascular surgeon reference. I’d hate for it to sink without a trace, so here it is:

Game of Thrones; King's Road; Northern Ireland; Ireland; Forest; Road; Analogy; Movie; Film; Television

The analogy of the forest

A team of builders are laying a new road through a forest. The tradies are the people pulling up trees, flattening earth and pouring asphalt. The builder is the person coordinating the tradies and making sure the road is straight. The architect is the person who arrives on site a week into construction and says, “You’re building in the wrong forest.”


Image sources:

  1. Thumbs down, author’s own image.
  2. Game of Thrones King’s Road, sourced from Tourism Northern Ireland.