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  • Catherine Holliss

(Im)patience and the (im)perfect project

One of the best moments for both client and architect is right after signing the contract and meeting for the first time to look at the initial designs for a project. Hopes and dreams are starting their journey to reality. It’s incandescent. And phase one, design development, has begun. At our studio, design development is the process of getting client feedback on a design presentation, incorporating that into the drawings and models, adding ideas or details and then presenting the result in the next meeting. It’s an iterative process. Over time (weeks or months, depending on the scale of the project, the detail and the decisiveness of the client) the project becomes clearer and clearer. Eventually, there is something that is concrete enough it can move into the construction drawing phase and go out to bid. My next favorite moment is the beginning of the third phase when actual construction begins. Now those first hopes and dreams are turning into something you can touch. Another moment when a champagne toast would be in keeping with the festive air. What very few clients realize—and even fewer architects articulate—is that construction also brings with it some hard truths and difficult decisions. It’s very easy to get impatient over the amount of time a project is taking because, after all, contractors are the ultimate optimists and perhaps not the best judge of realistic construction timelines. It is also easy to become discouraged as mistakes are made or problems arise and that initial perfect dream of a project vanishes under the burden of shipping hold-ups, sub-contractor drama and other dilemmas and delays. Welcome to the imperfect project. It’s real now. Just like life, or marriage or parenthood. Nothing is perfect—but that can be a difficult dream to relinquish at the best of times.

We do try to raise this idea of the inevitability of the imperfect project before construction begins so that, as tempers rise and patience wears thin, we can remind our clients that this, too, is part of the process. Perhaps it is luck, or perhaps it is inevitable, but we do find that once the project is finished, after a few months or a year has passed, what is left is the joy and satisfaction of having persevered and stuck it out to see the dream come to reality. Client or architect, that accomplishment is no small feat. So let’s raise a glass to the (im)perfect project and the (im)patience that will get us there.

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