Architects are often held responsible for managing developers, clients, contractors, and sub-contractors but aren’t paid enough for it, even though all of that work comes with great responsibility.
However, you may consider becoming a project developer once you get better at managing teams, balancing interests, and understanding how construction works.
We have been working with architects for decades. It is not uncommon to see the most organized ones step into real estate development and become developers, converting their design firms into design-build firms.
Architects As Developers – The Model Overview
There used to be a misconception that architects could only create designs and do not know the financial, economic, and investment sides of the business. However, more and more architects are proving this wrong.
Creating great designs is impossible without thorough knowledge and expertise in the spatial and functional organization of the building, town planning standards, technical compliance, specifications, quality control, and much more. When experienced architects join a developer team, they bring their prior expertise from the “leadership team” and client side.
Founding Fathers – Prominent Representatives Of The Model
Several professionals are considered the founding fathers of the architects-as-developers model.
The Hudson Yards megaproject and the post-9/11 redevelopment of lower Manhattan were directed by architect Michael Samuelian, who has spent most of his career working with developers. Samuelian thinks that both architects and developers can learn from one another.
Samuelian, recently named to head the Trust for Governors Island, focuses on design when conserving and repurposing the historic location in New York Harbor. Additionally, he will instruct an advanced design studio at the Yale School of Architecture this fall on developing Governors Island.
Jonathan Segal from San Diego is a creative architect-developer who believes they can do whatever they want and are only answerable to some. Unlike most architects, Jonathan Segal, FAIA, operates in a unique reality. He constructs the world around him. Segal has propelled an alternative practice paradigm for architects since his first building, 7 on Kettner, debuted in downtown San Diego in 1991.
Segal plans designs, and constructs his own projects. Before starting his own business, Segal was an architect who worked for two different businesses. He created a row-house development for his thesis, his first solo endeavour. He built row homes on cheap property, making a profit that was more than he had anticipated. His company is the only point of contact for a project, which speeds up development and gives him greater clout when negotiating costs.
Additionally, Segal has productive working relationships with subcontractors, facilitating quicker construction and giving it more negotiating power over costs. In the last three decades, he has only faced three lawsuits, a low number for the construction sector.
…and many others
After years of practice and mistakes, David Baker Architects has figured out how to be a good development partner. Because of his interest in zoning and insurance laws, Jonathan Tate discovered construction chances that most architects and developers would have passed on, enabling him to complete his infill projects.
Pros Of Being An Architect-As-Developer
Architects as developers have an immense advantage over their competition, which allows them to charge premium prices and enjoy an unlimited flow of work.
1. Architects Understand the Building Process
Good architects are proficient in all architectural project phases. Budget management, site analysis, construction techniques, acquiring permissions, and managing contractors. They can monitor and manage procedures, plan and negotiate with clients and contractors, handle construction contracts, direct the project team, and specialize in certain typologies. They can guarantee that work is completed on time and within budget – which matters more than anything.
2. Architects Know How Cities Work
Architects are taught to comprehend urbanization and think strategically with placemaking in mind. Sustainable design strategies also play a role in creating a better space for everyone. As a result, projects created by architects as developers enjoy high demand with end customers.
3. Great Design Increases Market Value
Architects provide knowledge to those having discussions that might have a big financial impact on a project. Sustainable design components and green design certification programs like LEED and BREEAM will both raise a property’s value and selling price. Additionally, architects are adept at striking a balance between earning a profit and a strategy for fostering social change and enhancing the quality of life.
The Cons Of Being An Architect-Developer
1. Not Being Familiar with Market Trends
The most lucrative properties to construct depend on changes in market demand. To optimize profits, developers must understand and choose the correct target market. Accurately predicting whether the asset will appreciate or depreciate over time is essential in choosing the sort of building to develop. This may be challenging for architects without previous expertise in real estate development.
2. Lack of Business Experience
Many architects need to gain the skills to analyze a project from a commercial standpoint, comprehend real estate financing, and create workable cash flow models. When learning the specifics of the business, they are restricted to the drawing board and receive minimal on-the-job training. As crucial as knowing construction laws, zoning restrictions, and programs are real estate finance, the metrics used to compute and grade a development, and the significance of overhead considerations.
3. Getting Caught Up in Design
Architects frequently ignore the business aspect of project development in favour of their complete concentration on design. They frequently carry this attitude into their careers when they are forced to be more adaptable and let technical, logistical, and financial considerations guide their design decisions.
4. The Challenge Of Funding
Architects as developers usually need the most help with funding. Developers sometimes have to assume too much risk when dealing with investors and when they put their own money – and that’s a totally new dimension of work for them.
Start Slow and With the Right Foundation
Whether you want to try the architect as developer role or not, you need to be extra mindful of your project management practices and processes. Delegate early, use the right tools, and work with assistants. With time you will see if managing work and people at scale is right for you.
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