Two Burned Projects

Last spring I put out proposals to two prospective clients who needed an architect because of fire damage. One was a detached accessory dwelling unit (backyard cottage) that was replacing a garage that burned down (if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you know how that turned out). The other was a interior remodel that resulted from a fire that destroyed the roof and main living space of a house—but left the exterior and bedrooms on both ends of the house unharmed.

Within twenty four hours of putting out both proposals, I got a NO from the interior remodel prospect. The clients realized that they didn’t have the funds to do anything but rebuild. Or maybe they realized that paying for an architect would eat up what little extra funds they thought they had. Construction is expensive and many prospects don’t realize this until they start talking to professionals. They don’t realize that building (or rebuilding) also means permit fees, architect fees, engineering fees, other consultant fees, landscaping, contractor fees, taxes, and much else. Often the first conversation with an architect is the wake up call on how pricy even the smallest project can be. That’s okay. That’s part of our job: education.

When I meet a client and write a proposal I usually don’t have a strong sense of the design solution. Instead, it’s all possibilities and dreams. I don’t want to show up pretending to know the answers. Answers take time to find and need to be a reaction to the context. Often clients already have good, half-formed ideas that I want to hear about. I don’t want my preconceived notions to make me judgemental. Their ideas and the existing conditions help us (it’s always us, not me) come up with tons ideas—some end up being great, others are garbage. Some will work; others will be ruined by reality. In the end, we’ll pick the right solution based on the various limiting factors (zoning, codes, cost, personal preferences, etc.). But the beginning of the project is about listening and data collection, not championing pure genius that I plucked from the heavens…usually.

As I was reading their e-mail—which basically went, “thanks, but no thanks. We appreciated talking with you and will tell all our friends about you, but we can’t afford to do anything creative. We’re just going to let the contractor rebuilt what was destroyed”—the solution to their remodel popped into my head. Fully formed. There it was. The most economical, and probably best, solution to their problem. I lost the prospect because they couldn’t afford even a low fee, and there was the solution like a phoenix rising from the ashes. They shouldn’t move the kitchen. They shouldn’t move the fireplace. They shouldn’t move or expand the master bath. They should just rebuild those in the exact location, but build nothing else. Don’t add back in the walls. Don’t enlarge any of the windows. Since the defining criteria of their remodel was budget and working with rebuilding what was, the solution was to rebuild some but not all of what they had. And do that in the best way possible.

Because the project was lost and I might as well turn this into a marketing exercise, I did a five minute sketch on the computer and set it over to them with an e-mail outlining the idea (I fortunately had an ugly but serviceable CAD background). The solution didn’t make me any money but I was happy to give them advice on how to rebuild their home in a wiser manner. And I’m sure that kindness will pay dividends in the future at some point.

They never responded to me, so I have no idea if they listened or not. But I tried. I gave them the basic tools necessary to make their home a little better than it otherwise could be.

BTW, in the image above: I brought the AUTOCAD file into my Shoegnome Open template for ARCHICAD, exploded the DWG into linework, changed the Renovation Status of some lines to Demolition to get them to read properly as red dashed lines, added some Leaders and Text, and then quickly placed a Wall with a Door (both Favorites). If I were doing this in ARCHICAD 20, I would also set up/switch to a Graphic Override Filter that would make everything black and white. Or I suppose I could just change the Renovation Filter, if I didn’t mind losing the poché everywhere. I probably could use my default Graphic Overrides and just quickly change the Layers of the various elements—by deleting the Layers and moving the content to the Layers I wanted. For instance, moving the bed to the furniture Layer would make it automatically show up gray. I suppose I could have done that manually, but I was trying to be as quick as possible. Funny, writing this all out reminds me how easy graphic changes now are. Next time I’ll slow my thinking down just a little and make sure that even the simplest free sketch I send out of my office is still as pretty as can be.

Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. If you want to read about more rejections, check out my friend’s blog Rejectomancy. It’s about writing, but the pain and triumph is the same as for architecture, or really any profession.


  1. Phil Allsopp January 18, 2017
    • Jared Banks January 18, 2017
  2. Steve Nickel January 18, 2017
  3. Paul Setti January 19, 2017
  4. Robert Swinburne January 19, 2017
    • Jared Banks January 19, 2017
    • Phil Allsopp January 19, 2017
      • Jared Banks January 19, 2017
      • Phil Allsopp January 20, 2017
  5. Skip January 19, 2017
    • Jared Banks January 19, 2017
  6. Steve Nickel January 19, 2017
  7. BUZZ BRYAN January 19, 2017
  8. Steve Nickel January 21, 2017
    • Jared Banks January 21, 2017
  9. Jared Banks January 21, 2017
  10. Daniel L. Pelzl January 23, 2017
  11. Daniel March 9, 2017
    • Jared Banks March 9, 2017
  12. Steve Nickel March 9, 2017
    • Daniel March 10, 2017
  13. Daniel March 10, 2017
  14. Steve Nickel March 10, 2017
  15. Buzz Bryan March 24, 2017
  16. Daniel March 24, 2017

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