How To Avoid Second-hand Designs

In this article, I’ll be talking about recycled and custom-made designs in architecture. I’ll also be discussing the causes of this practice and whether architects should engage in them. Furthermore, I will examine its consequences for both architects and clients.

My experience

I was with a client who insisted I undertake a design for a particular fee. He even mentioned that established architects do this all the time and only request a fraction of what I was asking for.

That in fact, the project he was discussing with me was a typical example of such. Other architects have looked at it and made submissions of the full construction documents from architectural to engineering drawings.

I then asked why he wasn’t using the architect instead and why I am being called to redo the work.

His response was that he was unable to make personal inputs to the design. Therefore, decided that a new architect may just be what he needs.

This experience got me thinking.

Could it be that the architect agreed because he probably had done a similar job before and had all the necessary drawings. Thus wanted to trade off his old designs for whatever fees he could get as he wouldn’t be spending his time and resources.

The consequences of recycling designs

When architects give recycled designs, there are consequences, especially for clients.

As you know, what the architect trades is their skill, experience and time for a fee.

Therefore, when you request cheap or free designs from architects,  you may be saying to that architect.

Give me a professional design but don’t spend so much of your skill, experience and time doing so. Because I will not be able to pay for it.

Wanting your patronage the architect commences the work even though your request is unprofitable to him.

What does the architect do?

  1. He presents to you an old project of his that is very similar to your brief without informing you. Often, they may make minor alterations to customize the design to fit your request.
  2. He often doesn’t stop there, he hopes that because you won’t adequately pay for his services, you won’t also burden him with multiple amendments after his presentations.

He may therefore not be readily available to make such amendments.

The issue with this is that the client’s input in his design will be minimal. If for any reason, the client isn’t satisfied with what he gets, he will have to make do with what is available or commission a new architect.

That brings me to the topic of today, Mass produced and custom-made architectural designs.

My categorization of designs.

  1. Mass-produced/Recycled designs. These are standard architectural designs that can be repeatedly resold to any client. They are usually withdrawn from the architects’ archive and given little or no adjustment to fit the new brief. This can often happen when the brief is simple.
  2. Customized designs. These are tailor-made designs. They are mostly made from scratch by the architect to suitably satisfy the design briefs. For designs like this, the architect is often available to review and make corrections with the clients where necessary.

Causes of recycled designs

Both architects and clients can be responsible for this, for example:

  1. It could be because of the architect’s schedule. For example, he is always busy and doesn’t have enough staff to carry out the architectural designs in his absence. Therefore when his project count exceeds what he can handle he resorts to recycling old designs to meet deadlines. It may also occur when architects aren’t given enough time for design.
  2. Sheer laziness on the part of architects can also cause this. He just can’t start designing from scratch when he already has similar projects done.
  3. Poor fees could be a reason. However, not a good reason because once an architect has agreed to do a job at a price, he should give it his best.
  4. Lastly, some clients can specifically request old designs usually of an existing building of yours they are familiar with and like. In cases like this, you may give them what they want.

How to know when an architect is selling recycled designs

Firstly, knowing depends on how detailed your brief and design requirements are. When you give an architect a detailed brief you would expect his design to satisfy your requirements considerably. It’s often difficult to come across 2 similar detailed briefs, so he would have to design from scratch. But if at the presentation you notice a design that appears fully resolved and detailed but a far cry from your requirements, then there is a chance that it is recycled.

Secondly, Knowing depends on your nature, how busy the client is at the moment of design and his level of involvement and input in the design. When you are having difficulties making inputs in your design because the architect is unavailable, then one can assume that the architect is not ready to do the work of customizing his design to suit your brief.

Lastly, once the pay the client is offering the architect is poor then there is a chance that the architect won’t be committed to spending so much time and may resort to digging up old designs for you.

Should architects engage in recycled designs?

Recycled designs in themselves aren’t bad altogether. The focus of architectural services is to satisfy clients’ requests while being safe, usable and pleasing. Thus, when a recycled design meets these requirements, it’s ok to reuse them, however, rarely do they meet these requirements.

Hardly have I had the opportunity to recycle designs for new clients because my old designs never appropriately fit new briefs. I usually discover while rejigging old designs, that they are hard to convert into a satisfactory fit for the new brief. In the end, I take the longer but easier way of starting afresh

If the recycled design adequately satisfies the client’s brief and you have full copyright over that design, then you can re-use them. You may make any minor alterations to improve it.

However, If the recycled design doesn’t or partially satisfies the brief then you should consider redesigning.

From experience, it is better to commence a new design early enough than try to integrate parts of several old designs into a new whole.

Advice to clients who request recycled design.

If you are requesting an old design because you don’t want to pay the architect adequately, then note that

  1. The architect may not be very available to handle your request for amendments.
  2. Your personal input in your design will be minimal or nonexistent.
  3. You may be forced to settle for what is available as against what is best and most suitable.
  4. Lastly, you will have to commission a new architect to undertake your design and pay double.

Consult professionals today and be willing to pay an agreed fee rather than impose your non-negotiable prices. Even when architects agree, there are downsides to this arrangement. With the client being the most hit.

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