ARCHIVED  December 1, 1997

Form follows frugality for area architects

In order to remain a viable part of the region˜s thriving design and construction industry, an architect must be more modest, more frugal and more flexible than ever before.Budget wins out over ego in an era in which the bottom line is paramount. These days, economics prompts architects to emphasize utility and efficiency in their designs, provide a greater range of services and gravitate toward partnerships with general contractors.
Noel Griffith, a Cheyenne-based architect who˜s been in the business for more than 30 years, suggests that the single-most pervasive trend in architecture regionally and in the nation is the pressure to reduce costs and increase utility.
"We want the maximum square footage, maximum utility and maximum cost effectiveness we can get," Griffith said. "Our clients are asking us to be smarter — more frugal and more efficient."
Never before has a society been restrained by cost as much as it is today, Griffith noted.
"When I was a young designer in the ˜60s, money was free," he said. "Since then, things have gotten tighter and tighter. Anything I can do to lower my overhead gives me an edge."
Alan Hauser, co-owner of Architecture One, P.C. in Loveland, agrees.
"Economically, we still fight to hold our costs to $80 to $90 a square foot," Hauser said, "but city development fees take an increasingly large portion of the budget. Five to 10 years ago, those fees accounted for 3 percent to 4 percent of the budget. Now they make up 8 to 10 percent of the cost."
Hauser said that not only have costs gone up, but it also takes more time to get a plan approved. Design guidelines such as those imposed by Fort Collins City Plan and fear of unmanaged growth mean that as much as 35 percent of the time allotted to prepare a project is now spent sending it through the approval process, he said.
Another trend Hauser identified is an increasing demand for more-flexible designs. Clients want office space with easy access to space above the ceiling and below the floor to accommodate the latest computer and communications technology and all its attendant wiring. Also, partitions are generally favored over fixed interior walls to allow for multiple configurations of the space.
Griffith, who designed the much-praised Laramie County Building in Cheyenne, said he tries to build as much multiplicity into a building as he can — especially into one such as the county building, which will be around for a century or more.
"My job should be to give you the avenue to make changes for the next 100 years," he said.
In terms of design, Griffith says the region˜s architects are right in stead with the rest of the nation. Manufacturers of the latest architectural technologies shoot word of their products across the Internet and fax lines, and designers in the middle of the country find out about advancements as quickly as east and west coast architects, he said.
But even with all the newfangled design options, Griffith said, he doesn˜t know that anything really new will be built.
"In school, they make us study the history of architecture for a reason. The Greeks told us the perfect module for a room, and if we stray from that, it would be for good reason," he said. "The basics of good design remain the same."
The traditional triad of client, architect and builder also remains intact. However, in many cases, the relationship between the architect and the contractor has mutated into something more cohesive.
Design build, or construction management, as it is also called, is a growing trend that enables the client or owner to hire a general contractor and architect as a team.
Griffith is a firm believer in the idea, which he says is more economical and should ultimately bring a better product.
One of the biggest design-build projects on tap for the region is the recently approved Larimer County Courthouse project awarded to the team of Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Greeley and C.W. Fentress J.H. Bradburn and Associates, an architectural firm out of Denver.
The 141,000-square-foot project is the first design-build project contracted by the county, said Larimer County manager Frank Lancaster.
"We were concerned about cost and we were concerned with how the building would look to the community — what it would say about justice," Lancaster said. "For awhile, in the ˜60s and ˜70s, we got away from buildings that were representative of their function. The thought was to build it as cheaply as you can, and, unfortunately, we ended up with some buildings that don˜t look very good."
To avoid that pitfall, the project went out as a design-build in order to generate the general ideas for construction and cost-effectiveness and the more esoteric ideas of what a courthouse means in terms of design, Lancaster said.
Responsibility for the project falls on Hensel Phelps, a company very familiar with the design-build concept.
A design-build coalition provides the owner with a more-favorable solution than the standard bid process, said Jerry Trammer, director of project planning and development for Hensel Phelps.
"For one thing the owner is better able to control costs because the contractor is in a far better position to know what something will cost to build than the architect," he said. "And another benefit is that the owner can say, ÔI have X number of dollars and no more.˜ Then our challenge is to come up with the building they want, at that price. We can guarantee no cost overruns unless the owner makes changes. That˜s why you˜re starting to see more of it."
It was particularly important for the county to know in advance exactly what they were getting because they could then show voters what the finished courthouse-jail project would look like and tell them what it would cost.
Lancaster is enthusiastic about the project but said one downside of the design-build concept is the potential loss of checks and balances for the owner.
"Pricewise, I˜ve heard it both ways," he said. "Some say that with a team, you don˜t have duplication of services, and some say that when you get an architect and contractor in cahoots, they˜re not going to try to save you money. We have a fine team on the courthouse project, but oversight is important, especially when there are tax dollars at stake."
The design-build trend has proved beneficial to contractors and architects alike.
Hauser attributes Architecture One˜s success in part to the firm˜s emphasis on design-build partnerships.
"We recognized that general contractors can be an asset," he said. "We˜ve worked to form closer relationships with Sinnett, Heath, Alliance and others, and as a result, business is growing."
In general, business for architects around the region is good. Most architects in the region work on residential, commercial and public projects, although they might focus on one area more than another. And many also take on interior design work right down to procurement of furnishings.
Hauser described his firm˜s business as comfortable to very busy — a steady increase over the last 10 years.
"It seems like there was more competition and secrecy in the mid-˜80s," he noted. "Now it feels more comfortable to talk about the projects you˜re working on, since there˜s more to go around."
Cost-constraints, partnerships and a better-educated clientele keep competition stiff, however, and keep architects˜ egos in check. Architects can no longer afford to play God and dictate to the client what should be, Griffith said.
"In this area, the clients are generally well-informed and more conservative. They may not be as adaptive as we would like," he said. "We˜ develop a program according to the client˜s specifications and make suggestions, but the owner has the final say."
"We try to bring a good sense of design to the table," Hauser added. "Some clients will resist our input because they figure it will cost more. Others think they˜ve already thought of everything, but we think that the projects that turn out best are the ones where we˜ve had some creative input."

In order to remain a viable part of the region˜s thriving design and construction industry, an architect must be more modest, more frugal and more flexible than ever before.Budget wins out over ego in an era in which the bottom line is paramount. These days, economics prompts architects to emphasize utility and efficiency in their designs, provide a greater range of services and gravitate toward partnerships with general contractors.
Noel Griffith, a Cheyenne-based architect who˜s been in the business for more than 30 years, suggests that the single-most pervasive trend in architecture regionally and in the nation is the pressure…

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