How to marry design and development to bring out the best in both worlds
Real estate developers are known for keeping their eye on the bottom line. It’s all about how a property can make money.
Architects, meanwhile, focus on design. They rarely have control of a project once it’s passed on to the construction phase.
But there is incredible value in collaboration between the design and development worlds.
That’s how it works at Alloy Development, a hybrid architecture-development firm. Director of Construction Alexandra Militano explained how they’re changing things up by having both trades under one roof, allowing them to focus equally on design impact and property value.
Here’s an inside look at how Alloy is bridging the gap.
Balance design and construction knowledge to cut back on adjustments
When you combine experience in architecture and construction in one place, you end up with a more streamlined process.
Alexandra, who was formerly an architect, is able to make sure both sides are balanced in a build.
She works with the in-house architects to help them understand the impact of their design.
“I will mention things to them as they're designing things,” Alexandra said. “I'm like, did you consider this? Or when we go to buy this out, it's going to be a little bit difficult. That takes three trades that you're thinking is just one.”
It works the other way, too.
“When we do go to buy it out and are scoping out trades, I make sure that they understand the details so they know what they're buying and they know what they're supposed to be building,” she said.
Having that open dialogue all the way through helps them to spot issues earlier so they don’t have to make as many adjustments.
“If they see an issue with it, I want to make sure that we address it upfront,” she said. “Even before we get to the point that we're in the field doing it.”
Bring out the best in a location
Because Alloy is a developer that also takes care of the design, their approach to real estate is slightly different.
Most developers would say location is everything, but Alexandra said it’s not as important as pulling out a location’s hidden value.
“The key is realizing the potential in a location that other people might overlook,” Alexandra said. “That's where having that innate creativity of designers comes into play.”
Having that creative vision in-house allows Alloy to spot the hidden potential in places and capitalize on sites that others miss.
“You can't just be like, well, that's the most obvious lot on the street,” she said. “You can't always have that. It's going to cost you. So how can you be more creative about it and make that location something more than what it seems on paper to people?”
Add to the five phases of architecture
Alloy still goes through the five phases of architecture like any other firm, but as developers they add to that process.
“Earlier in the process, I'll call it a feasibility phase. That involves the site selection, due diligence, underwriting, the feasibility study,” Alexandra said.
Because they do things differently, their architects are part of that process instead of being brought in later after decisions have already been made.
“Our architects will actually do some quick sketches on it and give it a little more taste and what's around that neighborhood,” she said. “We definitely look into a little bit more of the design than I think most developers would at that stage.”
Then they move into the program development phase, which also includes the architects.
When that is completed, they move into the typical five phases.
Develop sympathy for client frustrations
When you have your hands on the whole process from design and development to construction, you begin to understand how time delays increase costs.
Alexandra said as long as clients aren’t unrealistic with their expectations, she sympathizes with those frustrations much more now.
“I do have a much more heightened awareness of that now,” Alexandra said. “And I remember when I was just in construction previously and I was like it’s just going to take a few more weeks. What’s the big deal?”
She understands why someone doesn’t want to take more time to get something right.
To bring that into balance, it’s up to the project team to set the right expectations and for them to hold themselves to it as much as possible.
Find subcontractors who appreciate design
The hybrid model of Alloy hasn’t limited the subcontractors and trades who want to work with them.
If anything, they’ve found people who are also excited about design.
“We find subcontractors and trades and construction managers who are excited about it. They feel it's refreshing,” Alexandra said.
It’s been more beneficial because they have formed partnerships with people who care almost as much as they do about the design element.
Alexandra said that on many bidding calls people have expressed why they want to be a part of their projects.
“I think it's the same for everyone,” she said. “You don't want to keep building the same things over and over. And if they have the capability and the capacity to do something different and they're excited about it, why not change things up a little bit?”
Bring a hybrid element into your firm
Any firms or architects who want to bring that same sharing of knowledge into their firm have a few options.
First, Alexandra strongly recommends that architects spend time at their project sites.
“One of the most important things that I would do if I was still an architect is go to your project sites as much as possible,” Alexandra said.
Don’t go and just walk around, but forge relationships.
“Talk to the construction manager and form a relationship with them. You will both learn from each other and benefit greatly from that,” she said.
There are things you’ll never learn unless you spend time on site, but it’s possible to bring that type of education inside the walls of your firm.
Consider bringing in a construction manager or director role, which can help to bridge that gap between the two sides by acting as a liaison.
Creating an in-house role like this could also free up architects to focus on design by delegating construction-related tasks.
“It could be the person who is intimately familiar with the design and is on site more frequently,” Alexandra said. “So there's a ton of ways that can be integrated. There could also just be sessions that the team has for constructability review and just helps the designers look at things in a different way.”
It’s a solution that would bring a fresh perspective to your company without having to make huge changes.
You’d be able to benefit from having construction insight all the way through your design process and build stronger relationships so your design is fully realized.
Join us on Thursday, April 29th for Best Practice, a virtual fireside chat series dedicated to practice operations at architecture firms and beyond. From pain points to potential, hear how leaders in the architecture and engineering industry are innovating through new business models and managerial techniques.
We’re chatting with Alexandra Militano. Ali directs the construction of projects at Alloy Development where she oversees on-site execution and construction administration. Ali is currently working on a mixed used project in Downtown Brooklyn.
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Ali about how to expand the scope of architecture.
- How Alloy challenges the architecture and real estate disciplines
- What happens when you control the construction budget
- Lessons from managing construction for architect-led development
- and more!
About Alloy Development
As architects and developers, Alloy Development sees opportunity in the diversity and complexity of our urban context. Alloy uses great architecture and thoughtful development to positively impact our built environment. The fundamental promise of their business has always been driven by the belief that rigorous analysis and quality design can create enduring and recognizable value. With over $1.6b in work since 2006, Alloy Development has established themselves as stewards of the communities in which they live and work. Through their unique organizational culture, Alloy Development challenges the architecture and real estate disciplines by questioning existing practices and proposing new ways to benefit the social and built environment. Learn more at alloyllc.com