Hey, Spec, What is an Executive Architect?

It’s my favorite time of the year: college football season!

As an architect, I can relate to the intensity some of the players feel. How so? Much like the strongest linebacker on a football team, an executive architect coordinates all of the players on defense—or, in this case, on a project team—and makes sure all goes smoothly.

Tasked with the heavy-lifting, executive architects are hired based upon their technical experience and ability to coordinate a large team of consultants. They are not merely an “architect of record” but are responsible for specific tasks including checking the existing building for any architectural issues, working with city agencies to achieve zoning and code compliance, creating and implementing the filing strategy, informing all parties including developers and financial backers of progress and delays during the build-out, and creating all of the construction documents. This special job cannot be done by just any architect. In fact, an interior designer is often not experienced in doing this type of work.

There are three main ways an executive architect is brought onto a job. The first is to partner with an interior designer. My firm served in this role recently, working alongside a California-based interior designer to complete an office space for a prominent social media firm here in New York. Our partner firm handles much of the company’s design concept internationally, so they were engaged to make sure the New York City location had that same unified branding. We were pleased to assist them in successfully carrying out the design concept locally and in coordinating contractors here on the East Coast, ensuring their vision became a reality.

And vice versa. After designing a U.S. headquarters for Pernod Ricard USA, a producer, importer and marketer of some of the nation’s most prestigious spirits and wine brands, here in New York, we were hired as the design architect for its new Irvine, Calif., location. Pernod engaged a local California architectural firm to carry out our concept and to prepare construction documents, and we were, again, happy to pair up with them to assist the client.

Another instance where an executive architect is brought into a project is to work alongside a “building design architect.” A quintessential example of this is Brookfield Place at World Financial Center. We were hired as the executive architect, whereas Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects was the design architect. Working in combination with a variety of different parties, including several architects involved in the retail redevelopment, we complimented the efforts of the building owner, in-house development and the design and operations team. It was our job to make sure the construction detailing was documented and coordinated and that all codes were complied with, while Pelli Clarke Pelli was responsible for the schematic design and development of the design details and finishes.

Then there is a situation where the architectural firm is charged with both jobs, an all-in-one role also known as prime architect. This is the position we took on for the Man Investment Group, a financial services firm looking to consolidate several companies into one office space at 452 Fifth Avenue. As the prime architect and interior designer, we did it all, providing continuity for the client and ensuring the space met the firm’s international standards here in New York.

No matter what role an executive architect takes, the most important way to make any construction project a success is to leave one’s ego at the door and embrace the collaboration. After all, much like the college football players that form bonds during playing season, each partnership is a chance to make more friends and build long-term relationships with other professionals out in the field.

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