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Working with a client who has fired another architect

  • 1.  Working with a client who has fired another architect

    Posted 05-18-2018 17:44
    We were asked to provide a proposal to a church that just fired a design-build firm.  The drawings were taken through CD's and permit comments-no permit was issued. The church provided proof that they terminated the previous firm for gross underestimation in their original construction budget. I mades sure they had terminated their previous contract before having a second conversation. (Ethics). The project is modifying existing classroom spaces to accommodate a Montessori school tenant. There are not a lot of different ways to skin this cat from a planning point of view. But I'm concerned that if the original architect has retained the rights to the drawings, that any architect that comes next (maybe me) would be stepping on their IP toes.  I wouldn't want to get into a spitting contest as to whether or not our proposed design is "different enough" from the original design. It seems like the only clean way forward is for the church to 'buy' the rights to the ideas in the previous architects drawings.  The thing is there is really only one way anyeone could create a plan that accommoates the number of classrooms needed anyway. Anyone ever have a similar situation?

    Thomas Ahleman AIA, LEED AP
    Studio Talo Architecture, Inc. 
    1234 Sherman Ave. Suite 202
    Evanston, IL 60202
    c 773.620.7232
    o 847.733.7300
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  • 2.  RE: Working with a client who has fired another architect

    Posted 05-21-2018 17:42
    Hi Thomas, I have run into this from time to time. I am currently working on another project where the previous architect was fired. Part of the answer depends on your state's regulations, so I can only speak from my experience in Florida. Here you can use the same functional layout that the client desires because that is a matter of how the client needs his space to operate.   For a building exterior or features that would be considered unique to the architect's aesthetic, then you would need to re-design. Also in Florida, you must do all your own cannot take the previous architects cad files and re-use them. So eventhough, much of the work may be done, your fee should assume that you are still doing nearly everything with the possible exception of space planning/programming.  Even if the answers are in the previous architect's drawings, it would still be your responsibility to verify the correctness & appropriateness of their work. Odds are you will need to change some things or at least research what was being proposed,  and you will still need to field verify existing conditions.  But check your state's regulations.  I hope that helps.

    Kelly Kleppin AIA
    KLPNstudio, LLC
    Orlando FL

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  • 3.  RE: Working with a client who has fired another architect

    Posted 05-21-2018 18:16
    I just worked on such a project. The owner must inform the Architect that they are no longer employed (and deal with any fees owed up to that point). Then, you may use any of the ideas if you redraw all the drawings. Their drawings are copy-writed. You probably will come up with another way to design it to get the owner a price they want.
    I don’t create budgets. I require the owner to hire a Gen. Contractor to estimate at all stages of drawings. Architects aren’t very good estimators….especially small firms.

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  • 4.  RE: Working with a client who has fired another architect

    Posted 05-21-2018 19:29
    ​My advice would be to not take the job.
    There are problem clients, I have learned this the hard way. You should avoid them at all costs, it is not worth it.
    This sounds like a problem client and you are not saying anything to make me believe that their claims against the original architect are valid or that they won't have the same unreasonable expectation of you.
    If budget is the issue, then the scope would need to be substantially reduced in order to resolve that problem. In which case your drawings would likely be very different from theirs. If they have adjusted their budget to build the full scope then why not continue to work with the original architect? It sounds like they have unreasonable expectations, they don't have the money to build the scope they want. There is nothing you can do to change that, you do not control construction costs. Why would you think the outcome will be any different?
    More and more, I find that clients have unreasonable expectations. I blame HGTV and all of the other DIY/Building project shows. I can't tell you how many times clients have said 'but they did it in 2 days on TV...'. Everyone thinks they can be their own designer, and they have no sense of costs. They want what they want, and they think they should just be able to do it. They do not listen, but will not hesitate to blame you when they have insisted on a bad choice.
    Sadly, architects no longer occupy a position of authority. Too many clients will listen to realtors, contractors, interior decorators, even the shelf stocker at Home Depot before listening to the advice of their architect. It is a serious problem. Architects need to start advocating for our role or we will become completely obsolete. The first step is to not undermine each other when a project goes badly. I had this happen to me last year when an architect was brought in as an owner's rep. late on a project due to serious problems resulting from unauthorized contractor changes. He wanted the work so he drove a wedge between the client and I, telling me that he agreed with me while telling the client that I was wrong. I was forced to walk away due to the resulting life safety issues. He took over the project and in the end the client was forced to correct all of the non-compliant work anyway. It was the most unethical experience I have had.
    Do yourself a favor and walk away. If not, I would at least recommend reaching out to the other architect to hear what they have to say before agreeing to anything.

    Cheryl Noel AIA
    Wrap Architecture, Inc.
    Chicago IL

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  • 5.  RE: Working with a client who has fired another architect

    Posted 05-21-2018 20:47
    I'm with Cheryl. Unless you just don't have other work, you're stepping into a "Can this project be saved?" situation while there's more satisfying work everywhere you turn. Unless you are sure you are SuperArchitect and there to save the day, you're starting out with several strikes against you. First is the hurt feelings and unrealistic expectations of the non-profit and amateur board who let this project go all the way to permit without a professional estimate. Next is their embarrassment at having selected an incompetent design builder, probably because their kids attended the school and "seemed nice." There's not much room to move either with a program like you describe, so I would say that the board spent way too much time in La La Land and found the return to reality pretty painful. If you are a miracle worker you can save this one, but it will be a bleak design and a tense construction project. Best wishes.

    Philip Kabza AIA
    SpecGuy Specifications Consultants
    Mount Dora FL

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  • 6.  RE: Working with a client who has fired another architect

    Posted 05-22-2018 17:34

    Not sure how the original poster was selected for the task in question, but, be aware that:

    1.  The design-build business for churches and private schools is very lucrative for the Builder if they lead the team.  At times the sales approach is similar to used cars.
    2.  Perhaps the first group is trying to break in to this business, or is busy with other work, and didn't see what was happening with costs.
    3,  Another factor in working with amateur "building committees" is that there can be a few members who are retired contractors.  Others on the committee defer to them, and to their memories of what prices used to be, how every other contractor was out to gouge owners, etc. and have no real idea of "modern" construction concerns, material costs, labor availability, etc.

    On the other hand, one of my first bosses said that working as member of a community organization (for free) was a great way to learn how other people think, what was persuasive, and to show your skills off to other people who might hire you in the future.

    Based on their experience so far, I think you could "sell" them on their need to hire an independent cost estimator with experience in the type of construction at hand.  Clearly they have a need for a lot of hand-holding and guidance.  Don't expect to do more than break-even on a job like this, and keep your eyes open to the group dynamic. 

    Joel Niemi AIA
    Joel Niemi Architect
    Snohomish, WA

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  • 7.  RE: Working with a client who has fired another architect

    Posted 08-16-2018 09:34
    Amazing that a DB firm would underestimate. I mean, isn't that the whole point of hiring a DB firm? LOL.
    I'd try to get a design release from the DB firm. Never hurts to ask. You can negotiate the terms of the release w/them. I've done this several times in an "unlicensed architect" situation. Pretty easy - because the "unlicensed" guy just wants to run once they realize that the could get sent upstairs w/the state. If the design architect won't do a design release, then you'll need to redesign. If you don't think you can, then maybe don't take the project. Honestly though, if it's over budget, and the owner still wants the same scope/design, how are YOU going to make it cheaper? Either you won't, and then you aren't adding value to the owner, or you will, and the design will be completely different anyway.

    David Sisson AIA
    David Sisson
    Providence RI

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  • 8.  RE: Working with a client who has fired another architect

    Posted 08-18-2018 14:17
    A little off topic, but this issue has been referenced in some of the posts.  I have found that many contractors are not very good estimators either, even design-build contractors.  It may be that they start off low to get or keep the project and to stave off any competitors, but I have also experienced projects where the contractor simply is not very good at doing a schematic level estimate.  They apparently rely so heavily on bids/quotes from subs that they are not very good at estimating.

    And, I would like to respond to the post that said that "Architects aren't good estimators . . . especially small firms."  Our firm is small, 4 people (sometimes 6 people when employing some freelance designers).  Our construction cost estimates are usually right at the final low bid amount - usually within 3%.  Maybe we are just naturally good at it, but I suspect that it is more likely that it is a developed skill.  If you think you (or that architects) are not good at it, then you have set your expectations very low and given yourself a ready-made excuse.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Anyway, that's my opinion and experience on it.

    Robert Smith AIA
    Architect, AIA, LEED AP
    Talley & Smith Architecture, Inc.
    Shelby NC

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