Stick with it until the end

The process of writing How to steal like an architect last year, a series of 10 articles based on Austin Kleon’s How to steal like an artist, made me consider other lessons learned over the years. What further lessons would I teach my younger self, given the opportunity?

16. Stick with it until the end

A piece of insight a mentor of mine, Col Bandy, gave me years ago went like this: “I divide my fee into three thirds – design, documentation and administration. I make money on design, break even on documentation and lose on administration.”

What does this mean? Should I look only for projects without administration?

In short, the answer is no. Administration is the most important phase of the entire project. Glenn Murcutt and Tom Kundig both agree that it is in administration that a design is tested, executed and truly proven: the best design continues down to the very last detail, a truth that can only be realised by staying involved until the keys are handed over. Ian Perkins concurs, though for another reason. He told me once that he has never been commissioned for a second project by a client whose first project he didn’t administer. Telling advice for an architect whose whole practice is based on repeat work.

Administration is when design turns into making. It’s when you see how lines on a page erupt into three dimensional space; when you see which details work and which don’t; when you discover which opportunities were missed; and when you learn how serendipity always materialises when you least expect it.

Administration is also the best opportunity to have the successful execution of a project indelibly associated with your own efforts (you might have spent hundreds of hours on documentation, but this connection is far more easily understood once the building actually starts rising from the ground). Administration is a loss-making exercise yes, but it is also a loss-leading exercise. It’s how you will win your next project, and your next, and the next one after that.

Stick with it until the end.

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