Rants and Wisdom
After enough years in the profession, most architects have a nice little collection of “un-built projects.” It is so common to have projects that never see reality that highly-respected architectural competitions give out awards in this category.
So, what is an un-built project? I put a project in that category once we have moved well past the concept design phase, when the construction document phase is finished and all the design and documentation pieces are complete. The concept design phase is really a study of possibilities and many, many projects do not move beyond this phase. An un-built project is one where the entire team (the owner, architect, engineer and land surveyor) have done their hard work – including pages of drawings and months of effort – and the project just does not move forward to completion, despite the costs that have no doubt added up. The hope is that the un-built status is only temporary. The reality is that even if these projects break ground, they can be un-built for years.
So why do some projects stay un-built?
Perhaps it is because the programmed needs, available budget, and the resulting design just could not meet. While this does happen, it is my experience that this situation can be caught 99 percent of the time in the conceptual design phase. More likely it is because major changes in the economy mean the project budget no longer can be met, or the client has a sudden professional change or move. Sometimes the client might discover an already built home on an amazing and unique site. I have had a client whose home was to begin construction on Monday go to a real estate open house on a Sunday and sheepishly call me to announce: “I just bought another house!”
Even more unfortunate than the un-built house is the half-built project. While this is really unusual, it does happen, especially in the recent challenging economic times. These projects are particularly hard to swallow. Nothing is sadder than an abandoned construction site and beautiful building materials wasting away – a modern ruin.
For me, the architect, I have the consolation of my drawings, models and photographs of the site and my hope that someday the project will be realized. Until then, maybe I’ll enter it into a competition for an award for the best “un-built project.”