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I must have miscommunicated. I am not talking about estimating the cost of construction. I'm talking about estimating the amount of time required to deliver architectural services...and as an aside, while few lay people think they have expertise regarding iOS applications, most lay people think they have expertise when it comes to construction.

To disabuse anyone of a misunderstanding of architectural practice - people say "Build me something like that" all the time. And "that" is a photograph of a suburban house, and "something" is a 30,000 square foot animal shelter. Their brother Bob hung drywall when he was in college, and thinks it will cost $35 a square foot. Dunning and Kruger have demon spawn:


As for houses...well, $600 plans on the internet set expectations, and anyway, the contractor will provide the plans for free. The solar panels get added to the project during construction and I don't get a chance to hide them, I just show up on the site and there they are and the only reason I'm there is Solar Panel Pete sawzalled through six pre-engineered trusses, DIY homeowner/contractor failed the framing inspection, and she's due next month - they're expecting twins. It's why I charge for those services on an hourly basis.

Web servers use LAMP. iOS apps run Objective C. They have buttons and icons and fields. The parts are all standardized. The difference is that most software developers don't get thrown into the thick of the competitive consulting business right out of school. That's what the practice of architecture is - responding to RFP's (formal or informal). It's digging up and dealing with clients and contractors. 50 employees is a big architectural firm. Median size is probably 3.

Please. I am not dissing architecture. Not by a long-shot. I have been part of very large projects ($15 million dollars?) that involved such things as architectural work on a ten story commercial building as well as the design and installation of the technical infrastructure (server and other stuff). As the director of engineering of such projects I oversaw all of it and, yes, interfaced with architects and all of the trades involved. I have always been a very hands-on guy, so I get this stuff at the elemental level. For example, on one of these projects I jumped at the opportunity to improve my welding skills. A couple of us came in over a weekend and, armed with our MIG welders, welded-up the seismic sub-floor supports for the server racks. Hard work, but very rewarding.

Fundamentally architecture and software engineering can be very similar. The basics of both arts don't really change a whole lot. However, in software engineering, you can't possibly go ten years --maybe not even five these days-- without learning piles and piles of new stuff just to remain viable and competitive. If you've done this a few times you tend to get pretty good at adopting new frameworks and paradigms. That's why I said that, to an experienced software developer, something like iOS is just another platform.

Both arts do suffer from the same problem: naive clients. That will probably never change. I've had discussions with clients about to commit to a ten million dollar facility project who, as you said, expected to be able to do all the TI for $35 per square foot. Right.

The one advantage that you have is that there is no way to outsource huge chunks of your work. A client can't come up and say that they heard they can get the framing done in India for 1/10th. of the money. Yes, they can bring up this or that contractor, cousin, friend who can do it for half the money, but there are limits.

I just got done adding a new room to my house. I took the opportunity to teach my son about home remodeling and construction. Frankly, in the end, it probably cost me more than what a contractor would have charged me. This is particularly true if you consider opportunity cost. Of course, there was the ulterior motive of using it as an opportunity to educate. From that perspective alone it was worth it.

Kids are growing-up without knowing how to make things. Legos are neat, but they present an idealized version of making stuff. I find that whenever I talk to a client who has no experience building anything at all they tend to be the most unreasonable and clueless people. I always ask them what hobbies they have. If they are into woodworking, model airplanes, art or other hobbies where you experience the process of creating something from scratch I usually know I am going to be able to have a reasonable conversation with them.

Here's a true story: I was working on the layout of some racks over a custom computer floor. The investor's wife came into the room and was looking over my shoulder. After several questions she points at the AutoCAD printout and asks me why the holes under the racks were not larger. I explained that given the number of cables that had to enter this rack the holes were fine. We were only going to use 30% of the capacity --a 3x safety margin. The next day I get an irate call from the investor telling me that he was going to sue us if the holes were not large enough in the future. He was a friggin stock broker who'd never built a damn thing in his life.

What did we do? Of course, the holes became as large as the footprint of the racks. And, yes, I made him sign a piece of paper that exonerated us of any responsibility stemming from the lack of structural support due to the way they wanted us to cut-up the floor. Sometimes there are battles you just can't win, particularly when ignorance is involved.


Five years ago LEED was what they did on government buildings on the Left Coast. Ten years ago, people couldn't spell BIM. Fifteen years ago, there was still a debate about whether CAD was a fad. Twenty years ago, ADA was new. Twenty-five years ago Rapidiographs were replacing ruling pens and Kroy machines were replacing Leroy sets.

And that's just tools. The International Building Code changes every three years. So do NFPA standards - there's hundreds of them. Fail to keep up to date and I can get sued. Personally. There's no corporate protection for anything I seal. My ass is on the line. My house is on the line. My bank account is on the line. Please. I have to have a license because people may die if I fuck up. It's not just a fail whale.

Like I said I deal with the demon spawn - an owner using uncertified welders to install seismic components to save a few bucks isn't surprising. They see one little piece of the picture. Maybe he even outsourced the spec to the company doing it for free. Those specs probably didn't require a special inspection.


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