Architectural Story Books

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

(aka Construction Docs)

Every architect has a story; and probably at least a dozen good really great ones. I have a few from my career that make me smile when I think about them and some even make me gush with pride when I tell them to others. Some involve excellence in construction problem solving, others about great design solutions, or about interesting clients and many about conversations with other architects. We tend to espouse greatness when we all gather over beverages.

There are lots of stories to create.

There are lots of stories to create as an architect. Some of my childhood favorites.

But my favorite architectural story is one that evolves constantly over the life of a project. This is the story told by the Project-Construction Documents. This is a story that, as an architect, I am often the only one who gets to fully see, develop, write and rewrite as the project progress. I may be a strange breed of architect, but I like to change drawings. Now, I will also be honest, it is all about timing when it comes to those changes. (i.e. great when I want, terrible when I don’t) Yet it remains as a chance to rewrite the story. Many times this is an occurrence that is not shared across the project team as a whole. Not that it is a secretive story, but that not all chapters need reading by all members at all times. But as the architect, I am the author. And that has its privileges. I get to read every last word of the book. Some chapters I am the sole author, while others I am merely a co-author. But still I get my name on the dust jacket. That is fulfilling.

In the beginning, everything idea is perfect.

In the beginning, everything and every idea is perfect.

The documents for a project are in a continual state of evolution. Not everyone knows that about the profession of architecture and the process of design and construction. But it is always changing. I would argue with anyone that no built project ever ends the way it started. It just does not work that way. We all (architects, contractors, and clients) try to achieve that goal, but realistically it is unattainable. Period. I do not get to return to projects as much as I would like once they are fully completed to see the evolution and reread the book, but when I do, it provides a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment of the story.  Some may look back at project documents covered in revision clouds, updates, and changes as a terrible story, but I am usually not that type. Now I can read parts of the story and wish they had happened differently, but so can everyone on almost every story. Over the course of a process that usually lasts for years, change is inevitable. No way around that. As I have aged in my career, I have gained a new understanding of this phenomena. In my office, I take great pride in creating well conceived and thorough construction documents. I know that this is a better product for my client and for the team that will be constructing it. Many architects tend to rely on the “intent” of their documents to convey ideas. I strive to implicitly show those ideas. The less ambiguity on construction documents, the less guess work there is during bidding and construction. This is good for everyone involved. Not just my company, but the construction team and the client as well.

The real story is always in editing mode.

The real story of architecture is constantly in editing mode.

Many architects will argue that contractors try to do the job of designing on projects and this, as such, is a great source of frustration for many architects. In my experience, the contractors do not want to do this, but sometimes they are forced to simply due to lack of useful information presented in the construction documents. And that is where projects can go terribly wrong. This equates to leaving out chapters in the story and expecting everyone to still keep up since you as the author knew what was happening, but neglected to share. This does happen. To some extent on almost every project, this is an unavoidable occurrence. The goal should always be to keep the missing pieces to paragraphs or words, not chapters. But sometimes a missing word can change an entire chapter. And as the architect, I get to go back and rewrite; for better or for worse. But still, for me, I would rather get to rewrite a better ending if possible. Many may view this rewrite as something due to mistakes by one party or another. The architect screwed up, the contractor can’t read, the client can’t decide. But this is the imperfect reality of the process. There is a saying that goes something like . . . “The only perfect project is the unbuilt project.” , I would agree to a certain extent, but that does not mean the imperfections of a built project are negative attributes. They are the realities of people doing work.  So the construction documents of a project tell a story that is continually written until the last workman leaves the job and the first user inhabits a space. This is the story that I enjoy as an architect.

Every project is an adventure! You are the author.

Every project is an adventure! You are the author. Choose wisely . . .

So when a set of documents is done, and I mean really done, there is a story to be revealed from all of those modifications, additions and deletions. And my hope is that the story is always one of coordination, understanding and success. Because at the end of it all, that is the best outcome for everyone involved.

–Andrew G Hawkins, AIA

Author Line


This is part of a Series created by Bob Borson (Life of an Architect) and consisting of a group of great Architectural Thinkers. We are using the hashtag #ArchiTalks to hopefully gain some momentum and help others understand what we do as Architects. It should be a great dialog and one that I hope will continue for some time into the future. As several of the other responses are being posted around the internet, the links below are those that have already posted. This list will be populated and updated as others continue to contribute today. *Also is should go without saying all opinions expressed by those in the links below are their own and are not reflective of Hawkins Architecture, Inc.  (* legal stuff)

Today’s open topic: Architectural Storytelling


Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture ( @businessofarch )

The Secret Ingredient To Convincing Anyone To Do (Almost) Anything

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect ( @bobborson )

Architectural Storytelling – It’s My Thing

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture ( @FiELD9arch )
Stories in Architecture

Marica McKeel – Studio MM ( @ArchitectMM )
Take the Time to Tell Your Story.

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet ( @Jeff_Echols )
Architects can Improve their Marketing by Incorporating Storytelling

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect ( @LeeCalisti )
architecture as storytelling

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect )
AE048: Success Through Storytelling with Bob Fisher of DesignIntelligence

Evan Troxel – TRXL ( @etroxel )
It’s Their Story

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC ( @L2DesignLLC 0
Architectural Storytelling: The Legacy of Design

Collier Ward – Thousand Story Studio ( @collier1960 )
Architecture and Storytelling are Forever Linked

Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen ( @archy_type )

Nicholas Renard – Cote Renard Architecture ( @coterenard )
The Story of a Listener