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Design for offsite: new business models for architects

25 November 2018

‘Services model is evil!’ declared an architect. We were discussing ways of productizing architectural design. Many of his practicing peers would probably agree. Running one’s own office is a never-ending cycle of delivery and search for new projects. All this often happens on the verge of breaking the fragile revenue stream. No rest between projects; not much time to sit back and relax once a project is completed.

Some may argue that this is a necessary evil. Bespoke design services is currently the major model of architects and the market need for it is not going to vanish. But this is not the only possible model. Many architects are actively exploring new ways to get out of the service-led approach and invent new and more flexible business models. Let’s have a closer look of how this is happening in housing.

Mass-customized housing)

The likely way to productize design is to develop one’s own house type. By house type I mean a range of solutions from a simple family of houses of different size to highly complex design patterns. In order to sell a house, the architect usually shakes hands with a manufacturer or contractor who is willing to take the burden of delivery. Such deals come in various forms. Sometimes the architect deals with the customer, sometimes it is the manufacturer.

Perhaps more common are cases where the manufacturer handles communication and transaction with the customer. Any alterations to the design are also often done by the manufactuer’s in-house design or engineering team. For architects it means that more effort can be expended upfront for developing more flexible and manufacturable design patterns.

No doubt, many house manufacturers are willing to share profits once the home has been delivered and paid for by the customer. Unfortunately, this is not a viable model for architects as they don’t have any control over the delivery. This is not a problem if the architect chooses to handle delivery themselves. The latter will possibly lead to scalability issues of the product, and is probably not the majority of architects should aim for.

What I would argue here is that there are two critical requirements that need to be addressed in order to make it worthwhile for architects to develop their own house types. Firstly, they need to be able to sell their designs to several manufacturers and not rely on any single ones ability to deliver. Secondly, the latest reasonable payment trigger for the architect is the moment when the customer has settled with the design - this should be the moment when the manufacturer takes the responsibility of handling the customer.

Design for offsite: new business models for architects Mass-customized house type for Scandinavian market by Creatomus, Welement and Pluss Architects.