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Precedents Day

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Feb 21, 2012 01:03 AM
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by bubba of the bubbles ( last modified Feb 20, 2012



We’veyapped about precedents in various blog posts, so it seems appropriate topresent our precedents on Presidents’ Day. A precedent is “an act or instancethat may be used as an example in dealing with subsequent similar instances.”So in architecture, a precedent is a building, a finish, or a solution thatcame before that can be used to guide a solution in the here and now or in thefuture. In our case, we used precedents to define our stylistic preferences.It’s unclear to me whether or not architects like to see client-providedprecedents or not. Michael Malone, in “The Architect’s Guide to ResidentialDesign”, suggests the answer is “No”:

“Duringyour initial interviews [potential clients] will usually tell you up front whatthey are looking for; some may even have books or magazines with specifichouses or, even worse, various elements of houses they fully expect to seeincorporated into their new home.”

I’mfixated a wee bit on that “even worse” bit, which suggests architects don’twant you lugging your books and magazines into their offices, thank you verymuch. Ultimately, I think every architect’s preference is to have a (book-less,magazine-less) client walk in their office, slap a pile of cash on their desk,and yelp, in a Zsa Zsa Gabor voice, “Design me a house!”

Weassembled and distributed our list of precedents to potential architects forour project before we read Malone’s book. But truth be told, we still wouldhave done it after reading Malone’s book. The Zsa Zsa Gabor approach would makeme nervous unless I knew that I would love whatever the architect came up with.And even then, that’s a risk. What if Mr. Cubist Architect was having amid-life crisis and decided all his projects would now be Beaux Arts, and youwere the first “beneficiary” of this revelation? On the other hand, what if youwere courting International Style architects with what you were expecting wouldbe a gothic castle with a Minnie Mouse themed landscape design? It seems to me getting the broad style questions andexpectations settled early, before contracts are signed, is important.

WhatMalone may be concerned about is the potential specificity of a client’srequest. If you go into an architect’s office with a photo of a house and state“I want my house to look exactly like this house”, that’s a problem. That housemay not fit your program, your site, your orientation, or your budget and maytrample on the creativity of the architect you’re talking to as well as thearchitect who designed the house you like (not to mention the folks who built ahouse they thought was unique).

We provided a herd of precedents (14) with somecarefully calibrated additions (one with a curve and one with a shed roof) toindicate what we were open to. We also included a few notes of what we likedand didn’t like about each house. If you do this, I strongly suggest you use“weasel words” (‘We “prefer” a side entry.’ versus: ‘We require a side entry.’)unless you truly have a deal-breaker in your design vision. Speaking of sideentries, we have a preference for them (but didn’t demand one); however, notethat our current design doesn’t have one. This was a case where the architectshad the flexibility to present a non-side entrance solution as part of abroader plan, a plan we ultimately adopted.




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