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Architects are creating their client’s dream

Jason Agostinelli

By JULIA MILLER

Sharing an artistic vision in its early stages can be an obstacle for many creative people. For architects, living in a visual world means they must cultivate tips and tricks to walk their client from concept to completion.

Jeff Seabold, founder of Seabold Studio Architectural Studio in Jackson, said the first job with a new project is to manage expectations.

“Everyone has an idea when they come in,” he said. “They’ve found a few images they love, but those images are three to four times their budget.”

Instead of replicating that exact image, they begin to explore what details the client likes. Pictures are an easy way to identify exactly what they want, especially when their words may not be the most clear.

“They may say they love Italianate design. OK, so what does that mean?” Seabold said. “Here’s what quantifies Italianate design, but it may boil down to one particular aspect of the design. Sometimes words aren’t the best thing.”

Jeff Seabold

Jason Agostinelli, partner at Dale Partners Architects in Jackson and Biloxi, said he encourages new clients to bring in images of things they like, whether it’s other buildings or even photos from nature. They look through photos of previous projects.

“The first time we meet is just kind of gathering info,” he said.

Creating the clients dream building can sometimes be more complicated than it first appears. Agostinelli says he sees a lot of clients come in with a floorplan for the Internet and think you can knock out this wall or move that around easily in the planning stages.

“They’re not thinking three-dimensionally,” he said. “The larger part for an architect is coordination; how certain changes affect other things down the road. If it’s not possible, we need to clearly communicate that.”

Another obstacle is that clients tend to not think of the structure as a system. Seabold compared building options to buying furniture. When a customer goes into a store to buy a chair they have a base cost. If there are different fabric choices, it might be an extra $100 for Option A or $200 for Option B. Customers can easily figure out which options are within their budget. When creating building plans, whether residential or commercial, it is never that straightforward.

“It is almost impossible to define what something is going to cost realistically,” he said. “In architecture, it’s never the price of slate roof versus shingle. It affects the entire design structure — walls, foundation. It’s not just an add-on cost.”

And every decision is like that, Seabold said. On the surface, two window options may be $500 or $700, but framing may cost more or may effect the energy system.

“A conversation about a $500, a $5,000 and a $50,000 price can all occur about the same thing,” he said.

Architects also have to remind their clients to spend money on the not-so-fun things. Agostinelli said architects have a commitment to meet building codes and ensure building safety.

“It’s a running joke in our office that the majority of what we do is size stairs and toilet counts,” he said. “Safety is first and foremost. That’s what you’re paying an architect for.”

Seabold said architects try to encourage extra spending on things above the minimum to meet code.

“People love to spend money on how pretty the kitchen is,” Seabold said. “They don’t like to spend the money on the insulation, the walls, what we call the envelope of the building. It’s the part of the project that has the biggest impact of how that building operates.”

The greatest tool at the architect’s disposal when it comes to communicating their ideas to a client are computer-generated renderings. The ability show a client in 3-D helps convey how a space feels.

“If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a model is worth a thousand drawings,” Agostinelli said.

The industry is moving to programs that generate the full range of renderings as well as technical drawings. This means in the future, they won’t have to make separate construction plans. When contracted for the Millsaps Christian Center, Agostinelli said they actually gave the builder the 3-D model.

“It’s a truly-integrated delivery,” he said. “[Clients] have a great idea as to what they’re getting.”

In fact, Dale Partners tries to take a photograph from the same vantage point as the rendering, and most people can’t tell the difference between the rendering and the real thing.

“The technology has really come along the way,” he said.

As technology progresses, the obstacles architects once faced in communicating with clients are easily resolved. From beginning to end, clients are able to have a clear idea of their architect’s vision.

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