Paul is on the building committee of a municipal board, and he will be expected to intelligently discuss all 15 pounds of spiral-bound puffery and fairy dust. The city’s Request for Proposal called for a 20-year master plan, and some big-name architects are lining up for a piece of the action.
I paged through them in about 20 minutes. The proposals were the same-ish, kind of impressive, kind of vague — and in the end it I got the impression that I could read through them completely and still not be able to make a firm judgement. Everyone had solid credentials and a good portfolio, with work we were familiar with. Two of the firms are home-town favorites, however, and the outsiders from Boston or Philadelphia will have to overcome that. Can the committee overcome any bias?
It all reminded me of our painful, painful Mérida architect search in January. We flew down with a definite bias, certain about whom we would hire. We merely were doing “due diligence” by meeting with others. Meeting with our fair-haired favorite, I swallowed my impulse to practically promise him the job on the spot. Good thing, too. Three hours with him left me completely flat. We toured a work in progress, tromped through our own property, and then sat for 45 minutes to discuss his billing and accounting procedure. Art, design and aesthetics were somehow absent from the otherwise amiable conversation, which really bugged me. I know I tried to steer the topic to things like artistic vision, but perhaps they felt they would be giving away something for free. Then, two days later, we ran in to him and he forgot he ever met us. Our bias was overcome.
An aside: Lots of people from NOB probably catch a House Hunters International and start calling people who come up in Google searches, and become a time waster for the poor architect because the next day they decide Ecuador might be better. That’s why I totally understand why my phone calls or emails go unanswered unless I’m right there in Merida, and am free to meet tomorrow. You can tell someone you’ll be down in two weeks, but they don’t seem to believe it. Any self-respecting professional rightly wants a sign of your commitment, an indication that you represent at least the potential for a worthwhile project. Actually being there ups your cred.
I also understand that once a pro finally gets that magazine spread, or a spot on television, their small office can be swamped and they have the challenge of separating the wheat from the chaff when calls come in. If I ask too much or come on too strong/daft, I could be moved into the chaff column pretty quickly, and since I’m not experienced at all in dealing with (1) this culture and (2) architects, I know that I have to accept some blame. And let’s face it. Some people have obviously moved me into the chaff column. My bad. I’d be a hypocrite to complain too loudly because in my line, I only deal with other professionals. Trying to work with general consumers will make you pull your hair out. And in Mérida, I’m one of those general consumers.
Another name-brand architect we spent some time with on a previous trip, and who our real estate agent (who is also an architect) insisted had the best command of air flow, suddenly wouldn’t return our calls or emails. Toward the end of the trip, I mentioned this to our agent, who was able to arrange a meeting that Monday. She had forgotten that we flew home early that day. Were we chaffified (or is the word chaffed?), or was it a busy week? Alas, another architect we once felt destined to work with was not to be.
At the end of the week, we felt like we had been on a speed-dating marathon.
Once home, we collected a small stack of outlines, notes and proposals a very diverse list of four architectural firms. Each in their own ways they had general price schemes and time frames. Still, they were impossible to compare based on price because they each charged differently. Some didn’t reveal how much they were paying themselves out of the fee; another disclosed a markup on his own costs. In the end, we had to go with our guts, and choose the one whose both demeanor and portfolio promised the smoothest sailing. We can’t ever know that we made the best decision, but it was a sound one. And who knows. Once we’re better situated in Mérida, we’ll end up working with one of these people on another project. After all, they all had something that we responded to.