"Thoughts and Observations on Architecture and You"

Topics of importance for people about to build or renovate

Funston Avenue residential facade in San Francisco

Trust and Care

When we face the selection of architects, engineers, and building contractors to assist us in our building and renovation projects, we request and evaluate a variety of background information about them. This information usually includes:

  • the type and amount of formal education and / or training that they have had
  • the kind of projects on which they have worked
  • the size of their organization
  • the management structure by which they operate their companies and plan to handle our project work
  • a list of a few past clients or customers we might contact about them

Most of this information is neatly compiled on professional resumes and in company brochures. Comparing data about one individual or company with that of another is relatively easy. This type of objective information is appealing to use because we rely less on having to make subjective judgments. This, in turn, decreases the likelihood of making a judgment error and minimizes the second-guessing of family members or business colleagues.

The creative nature of building work, and its growing technical, legal, and environmental complexity, suggests that project success increasingly relies on our assessment of two subjective factors when selecting design consultants and builders: (1) the level of trust that exists between the parties, or that each senses can be developed over the course of the work and (2) the amount of care that will actually be given to our project work by those most responsible for its development and completion.

Trust in the judgment of our consultants and contractors is imperative since, no matter how extensive our building experience is, it usually cannot match that of the individuals who work in the industry on a daily basis. Because we see buildings and renovations being completed all around us, or because we may have “laid out” a rough floor plan or two in the past, we often underestimate the skill and experience needed to handle basic design and construction problems with intelligence, efficiency, and finesse, while overestimating our own ability. Limited design and construction knowledge places us in a tenuous position when having to make decisions involving thousands of dollars, and it is comforting to rely on the advice of people we trust to act with our best interest in mind.

In most cases, full trust is not given quickly to people with whom we have not had a personal or a business relationship. In our society, we seem to grant trust more easily to members of the educated professions whose deliberate, balanced counsel about matters of which we may know little is needed to protect our health, safety, and / or welfare. We can, however, provide an opportunity to trust to anyone offering us assistance in our building project, and should try to do so if we sense that they possess certain values and attitudes that tend to foster the growth of trust. Among these are:

  • a desire to listen to us
  • a certain reserve when offering initial judgments about things
  • an easy willingness to admit to lacking knowledge on a particular subject
  • the ability to say “no” to one of our requests if experience suggests that this is the best response to give
  • a healthy respect for the difficulty of the design and construction processes
  • clear adherence to high personal standards of workmanship and service
  • an obvious enthusiasm and confidence when taking on challenging work

The second subjective factor to consider in consultant and contractor selection is our assessment of the level of care that each individual can and will give to our project work. Because design and construction tasks extend over many months with hundreds of decisions about different, but interconnected parts of the work, the loss of work focus at any point by the individuals responsible for the project’s development leads to omissions and mistakes. In turn, this adversely affects a project’s budget, schedule, and quality.

Achieving a high level of care involves deliberate action and a personal belief that the high quality of one’s work will prove to be of foremost, long-term value to a client or customer. Care manifests itself in several ways:

  • continuing attention to detail in every phase of the project work
  • thoroughness in the analysis of alternative courses of action before choosing one
  • alert coordination of the work of consultants and contractors
  • a commitment to learning about new products and techniques
  • a sensitivity about the implications of what is not being said by a client or customer, as well as his or her apprehension about the chances for project success

More overt evidence of care may be found by:

  • observing the level of thoroughness and detail in a consultant’s construction drawings and specifications
  • looking at construction details and seldom-viewed areas of a contractor’s building work
  • viewing the organization and appearance of a consultant’s or contractor’s workplace
  • sensing the refinement in content and appearance of the various work products that represent a person or an organization to us, such as brochures, correspondence, professional articles, and project photographs and drawings

Our intuition about people and the standards by which they live their lives and deal with others has been developed over many years. We should rely on it when making decisions about the people with whom we wish to work, particularly when faced with mounds of “data” about them and their work that may not be relevant to us once our project begins. What will be important throughout the work is the level of trust that we have in these individuals, and the level of care that they feel obligated to take to do our work well. For these consultants and contractors, the pride that comes from a job well done, and the satisfaction of developing a rewarding relationship with us, are the goals most cherished and worthwhile.

John McLean, Architect
San Francisco
(415) 777-9767