Interview with David Crowell, MD & CEO of rmc International, Europe
In what ways do you feel that architecture, engineering and design firms create the most value for owners and users?
Most people in the building industry assume what they do is about a building. But the building is only a physical tool to accomplish goals, implement change, or attract attention. They often don’t understand what the client is trying to accomplish with the building — what the client’s goals and objectives are.
A couple of examples. If the client is a corporation, they might be trying to attract and retain talent, improve speed to market, or a host of other things. A commercial building is focused on ROI (return on investment) but most architecture and design firms don’t understand what drives that return. Sometimes they don’t understand the difference between the (geographic) markets they work in. There are differences in size of market, overseas regions versus the U.S., and other differences that change economic returns which may affect design solutions. Institutions such as higher education might be trying to attract students, which is very different than if they are than trying to attract research dollars.
It’s important to understand the real objectives of the client.
What are the most important factors that an owner should consider in choosing an architecture or design firm?
The client should consider how the design team will help them achieve their goals and the relationship they will have along the way. Best-of-class design firms position themselves by demonstrating how their work helped prior clients meet goals and objectives. This is something I rarely see but it makes a big difference. Often a client who does not build on a regular basis — like someone who is building a new corporate headquarters — is not an educated buyer and generally can’t put their finger on why one firm is more attractive than another. If a corporate client like this is the object of a pursuit, tell them how you helped other clients attract top talent, improve space utilization, or promote change. In other words, what were your client’s goals and objectives; and how did you help solve them?
In what ways do clients value design?
There’s a broad variety. If the building is meant to attract attention, aesthetics and the building composition may be of higher importance.
In commercial buildings, the client’s idea of value might lean more toward a higher price point. For instance, in Chicago some higher profile buildings like Aqua or Trump Tower are striking enough to command higher revenue which increases profitability.
Some clients place low value on aesthetic design but higher on space utilization. If the space a client wants to build houses a process, sometimes the process is more important than the building.