Saturday, April 12, 2008

"All In," Part 2

I learned something critical at my last fulltime architecture job. You never, ever, ever give a client a set of estimated costs at the beginning of the job and say they are "all in." Not unless you and your gimcrack attorney define very, very precisely what the "all in" includes.

In my previous post I described how I was taken off a design job for which I was project manager and subsequently laid off altogether because my boss Egbert* had grossly underestimated the fee. And the clients, a nonprofit organization, insisted that "all in" meant "anything we ask you to do connected with this job, and we don't have to pay you any more than you originally mentioned for it, either."

You may be wondering why I'm harping on this a year later. It's dead history, get over it!

Well, I take up my harp (Welsh, triple, if I could play it!) to lament partly for the same reason that my ex-boss could never say No to any of the client's demands.

Why? Because the educational facility cum meeting space cum museum project involved is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a jewel of a job that will be known far beyond the folded hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, a project of national and even international interest. It's the sort of gloria famaque project you want yourself and your firm to be identified with. It's a project to make your resume and reputation shine.

And definitely not a project where you want to piss off the client and have them badmouthing you or taking their business elsewhere.

The other reason I can't escape is because I am, as stated in the previous post, on the client organization's governing board, and so for me it is not dead history.

In fact, this past year it's been a present and painful reality.

First in the early days, when Reginald* the fundraising lawyer continued to take donations but refused to let them go towards allowing for the horrendous inflation in materials and labor costs that's accrued since 2002 when my ex-boss Egbert* submitted his initial estimate. Nope, said Reginald*, it was all going to go towards exhibits and programming. So after I was gone the firm had to "value engineer" again, making equally horrendous and shameful cuts in the scope and quality of the design.

Then when I'd hear about these things, when Devin*, the former colleague now managing the job, would call or email me for help on matters only I knew about. He told me the butchery of what they'd had to settle for was so awful that Egbert* didn't want to go near the job site.

Then again when Reginald* would sit in board meetings making his building progress reports. Money. It was always about money. Oh, woe, we have less in our account this month, because we had to pay the contractor! It was never about the design, or the facility they'd be getting.

And did Egbert* and I and the rest of the architecture firm sweat blood and money because we thought that project would bring us such fame? Ha! Reginald* would sit there insulting and belittling the architects who gave them so much, one of whom was sitting right in front of him. Talking as if I'd never been involved in the project, talking as if I weren't even there. Writing articles for the national organ of the nonprofit organization's parent group, mentioning the contractor and the contractor's foreman, but never one word about there officially having been an architect involved.

And now the project is almost completed. And this month's board meeting is to be in the facility itself, because we have the say over the exhibits and artifacts to be displayed at the opening in June. I had not set foot on the job site since I was laid off. As a member of the client group's board, I had permission to. As the former project architect, I didn't dare.

But now, there I was, having to show up in a couple of weeks, to be confronted with-- what? Could I keep my blasted mouth shut? Could I control my irritation over the parsimony and downright bloodyminded cheapness that so unnecessarily had kept this facility from being all it should have been? Would I be grossly ashamed of ever having been involved with it at all?

Then the other day, our board publicity chairman emailed me. She is charged with writing up the official guidebook description of the facility, its architecture, and its historic significance. She knew my discharge from the project had been irregular and uncomfortable; she apologized for any awkwardness she might be causing me. But Egbert* couldn't be reached. Devin* knew how it was built but not all the design rationale behind it. So if I would . . . ?

It was up to me. We arranged to meet at the job site yesterday morning. And I'm damn glad we did.

Overall, the final product isn't as bad as I thought it might be. The contractors mostly did a good job with what they were allowed to do and what they had to work with. The elements I had the most involvement with were fairly faithfully executed. I cannot say that overall it comes up to the standard set by other facilities of its type, but if I can only close the book on what might have been, what ought to have been, I can smile at the opening and let the dedication ceremony visitors think everything's just as it should have been all along.

Well, maybe. Because there were several very unclerical "Oh, shit!!"s that emerged from my mouth when I laid eyes on certain things. Things that compromise the integrity and historic value of the work. Things I would have drawn the contractor's attention to if I had been the construction manager. Things that were done more expensively than they should have been, given the nature of the project.

And one or two things that I really may talk to Devin* about on Monday and see if something can be done about them before the opening.

But I'm glad I got my first, frustrated reaction out in front of the one person it was safe to do it with, versus popping my gut in front of the whole board. I have to become reconciled to this project as built, because again, I can't just walk away.

Not when I as a board member will be using it frequently. And not when I'm responsible for part of the dedication ceremony. I'm to give the invocation-- in my capacity as a clergywoman, not in my former role as project designer and architect.

So unless I refuse to appear, unless want I convince everyone involved that I deserved to lose my role in the project, I have to be there, present and involved with my most inglorious former project. I'm all in.


Sandy said...

Oh, St. B I can't imagine what this must be like for you. You have class and integrity, so I know you will do perfectly. I pray for you to have strength.

St. Blogwen said...

Thank you.

One thing that really helps is remembering that while what we build for ourselves lasts for a little time, the city Jesus builds for us will last forever.