Graph showing the value of using design technology in architecture. Effort can be shifted to conceptual design and the construction phase, bringing value to the client.

The Architecture Value Proposition

The Architecture Value Proposition

Time is money in architecture. When a client hires an architect, they are hiring a person’s time. That time will be spent on a variety of tasks: in meetings; sketching with a pen; working out window flashing details; observing the construction and approving quality. Which of those tasks are most valuable to a client? Which of those tasks are the most expensive? Where is the value proposition?

Clients benefit when the money spent is commensurate with the value of the task. High-value tasks, such as problem definition and figuring out the design, are worth more. It takes a high level of discipline, creative energy and talent to properly define and then solve a facility need. Working out the details is more or less a commodity task. It takes skill to detail window flashing, but once you have done it, it is easy to repeat.

Commodity tasks in architecture are also the most amenable to automation. If software can do a task, that task has low value. If only a human can do the task, that task is valuable. Software has not automated the entire field of architecture. But, it has seriously reduced the human effort required for a whole range of tasks.

Where is the Value?

The graph at the top shows the effort required in architecture with and without the use of contemporary software.

  • The black line graphs the traditional level of effort by the architect in designing a building. A certain amount of effort goes into creating the design. Significantly more effort goes into producing the drawings that document that design. In fact, a typical architecture fee allots 15 percent to coming up with the design, and 40 percent to drawing the design. The effort then tapers down as the architect helps bid the project, and then perform quality control and administrative tasks during construction.
  • The red line represents where the value lies in an architect’s service. The most value lies in the very beginning, which has traditionally not been where the majority of effort is found. Value also exists during construction, when effort traditionally wanes. With the meaningful use of design technology, effort and value can synchronize. The are both represented by the same red line.

The more time an architect can spend at the beginning of the design process, the better the building will be. Architecture is valuable because it is the thought that precedes the construction. Similarly, the initial project definition and conceptual work is the most important part of the design. Likewise, owners benefit when the architect can spend more time observing the work.

Design Technology

Meaningful use of design technology has solved part of this problem. Mature software such as the parametric modeling programs found in a growing number of offices has produced a “technology bump.” Software can drastically reduce the time it takes to produce documentary drawings. That time can be re-allocated to the valuable portions of an architect’s service. We have spent a great deal of time matching the time-saving features of Building Information Modeling (BIM) software to our architecture work flow. In effect, our office uses the BIM tool to shift our energy toward producing design solutions, away from simply documenting those solutions. See our white paper on BIM here.

In fact, we find ourselves spending more time in project definition and finding the design solution than we do drawing the construction set. This shift in emphasis produces better buildings. We can also spend more time observing the building under construction, which pays dividends to both the owner and contractor.

That is our value proposition.

Follow Mike Sealander, Maine Licensed Architect:


Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.

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