Newsletter | May/Jun 2012

OWA April Program Report: Tips from a Client's Point of VIew

by Eliza Hart
On Thursday April 12, OWA hosted a panel discussion "Tips from a Clients Point of View" at the AIA East Bay Chapter offices in Oakland, CA.

The panel consisted of the following OWA members:

Judy L. Rowe, FAIA, has four decades of experience currently as a Team Manager with Kaiser Permanente and previously as a firm owner.

Alicia Rosenthal AIA, LEED AP is a currently a Senior Project Manager at UC Berkeley Capital Projects.

Kathleen Cruise, with GSA for over six years, is a Senior Asset Manager in the Pacific Rim Region in San Francisco. She is a LEED AP, a licensed architect and general contractor, and an MBA. Kathleen is a recognized leader in sustainable development. While at PG&E, she developed the award winning Pacific Energy Center which displays and demonstrates energy efficient technology and design techniques.

Margaret Sheehan, Architect, principal of Sheehan Architects. She has served as Project Management Consultant and Owner's Rep to individuals and corporations, since 1991.

Suzan Swabacker, Architect and Construction Manager. She has worked for 3 large architecture firms and 2 major general contractors. As the Owner's Rep/construction manager she coordinates with all players on a job site including the architect, engineers, general contractor, public utilities, and the owner's staff. Projects include hotels, a shopping center, and senior retirement centers.

Joanne Winship, architect and former client's representative for the City and County of San Francisco's Juvenile Hall Replacement Project, and former Director of Cultural Affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission which performs civic design review for approval of City funded projects.

The moderator was Cameron White, Architect and Senior Project Manager for Kaiser Permanente. Cameron has 34 years of experience, including 12 as an Owner's Rep.

Judy Rowe was the first speaker and she had five specific topics to discuss. The first was about questions to ask before an interview. One should get to know the owner's representative because you'll be in a working relationship with them for 3 or 4 years. You should know their business, the client's business and know how their businesses are organized. You should check references and get to know them on a personal level and you should know if the owner's rep is saying good things to the client about you.

Second, she discussed common design mistakes. First, architects should remember to document everything. They should include action items, people who are accountable and should be the ones to distribute the information. The architect should anticipate what the clients needs vs. what the client wants and should know what the difference is. Also, architects should not over look spaces between buildings and the context around a building. Too often the architect is absorbed in the building and does not leave time to design areas around the building project.

Third she discussed a common construction mistake which is lack of documentation. Too often schedules are overly ambitious and costs are too low. Schedules and costs should be maintained and kept up to date, RFI's should be answered in a timely manner and the architect should be realistic about changes if the project is under construction.

Finally, Ms. Rowe discussed project follow ups. Post Occupancy Evaluations and interviews should be held and they should be proactively initiated by the architect. Always be sure to discuss commissioning, operational costs and maintenance of the building that has been designed.

The second panelist was Alicia Rosenthal. The first bit of advice for architects in a large project is that the architect read the RFQ very carefully. She should know the client, know what the budget is and understand the project fully. The architect should be respectful of the client and project culture and if the client is wearing a suit, the architect should dress appropriately.

The architect should be mindful of the interviewer's time and be quick to articulate how their skills apply to the project. Keep in mind the job is a marketing tool for getting the next job. A twenty first century architect understands the risk a client is taking and should do a good job of planning, scheduling and managing the project and therefore be a careful agent of the owner. Value added is more important than fees gained.

Maragret Sheehan was next and offered tips on how to keep a client happy. The first way is to have a realistic schedule and for the milestones to be clearly communicated. One example would be that the architect pay careful attention to the subject line in emails. Rather than writing many emails back and forth, the architect should be clear with email subject matter. Emails should be no more than a few paragraphs and they should be written clearly, concisely and hopefully with bullet points.

There should be follow through if the architect has mentioned milestones in meetings and emails, the architect should follow up and explain that these have been met or not. Consistent, regular communication will allow a client to know where they are in the process.

The architect should write the meeting minutes. It gives them control and an ability to frame the questions and answers and provide a clear follow up path. The tasks should be assigned to names so that it is easier to follow up. Whenever the client has to make a decision, they should be given adequate time. Scheduling, budgeting, project management-- these are the tasks that owner sees and needs to run well. The architect should not be only concerned with the design. Proper project management is an integral part of good design.

Suzan Swabacker spoke about Construction Administration, the phase of architects' service that occurs when construction is underway. She mentioned it is an important phase, requires a good relationship with the contractor and demonstrates to a client the value the architect adds in the project. Because of this, it is important to have adequate staff on the project and not to put young staff without experience on the project in this phase. If a firm requires mentoring of younger architects, then they should have good supervision.

Joanne Winship spoke more specifically about getting public projects in the City of San Francisco. She sat on committees that selected architects and had the following pieces of advice: a small firm should leverage their expertise with a larger firm. Larger firms and San Francisco agencies have quotas for women owned smaller firms. Smaller firms can network with larger firms at volunteer organizations.

Another way for a small firm to be on a project is for the firm to call project managers at public agencies directly, talk about the firm and see if there is a project that would be a good match. She mentioned every month attending workshops on doing business with San Francisco agencies.

Kathleen Cruise was the last speaker and her topic was how architects can provide quality service from a common sense perspective. Some of the discussion points were: to not compromise one client for another, to be respectful and knowledgable, to respect others and the competition, to pay attention to the history and culture of the client, to target projects with intent and not waste a client's time, to be strategic. To be a good listener and hear what a client needs. If you do not get the job, consider it an honor that you were considered at all.

After a discussion with questions and answers, the panel adjourned.

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