There comes a point in every commercial real estate career where those in the adviser position—I’m talking to you fellow architects, construction managers, attorneys and brokers—need to be the voice of dissent. While we’d all love to say “yes,” to find that “Kumbaya” and compromise whenever possible, it’s important to know when to speak up to ensure the success of a project and, perhaps, even to protect your client.
Those on the design end of the business are often passionate about their vision, but value engineering should hold weight as well. Wishes and wants are one thing, but budgets and reality are another! Sometimes sacrifices need to be made in order for the entire team to take the next step forward, particularly if a single large ticket item is getting in the way of progress.
In other instances, the consultant needs to step up and explain the situation to preserve the integrity of the project and educate the client. Not long ago, I witnessed such a scenario. The client’s plan was for a transparent, open office environment. As such, we advised using a low-iron, clear glass, but that added to the bottom line. Substituting a greener, more typical style of glass would save lots of expenses, so the client’s knee-jerk reaction, particularly for those on the number crunching side of the table, was to change the specification and simply move on. That’s where good counsel came in. I watched a member of my team present his case and articulate, in a friendly, collaborative manner, that it might be best to make a budget cut elsewhere, as this one choice could change the entire look and feel of the finished space … and it wasn’t an easy decision to undo. In the end, the client found another way to realize savings. My team member’s ability to share his perspective and substantiate the reasons behind it, led to a successful outcome: an office space all of us were pleased with.
Each decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. You have to assess the lay of the land and the needs of the landlord or tenant you’re working for in that moment. No matter what your opinion, you are one of many members on a team and each party has many things to take into consideration. You need to decide what battles are worth fighting versus when it’s better to bend and flex.
While we can’t say yes to every idea, we should always strive for consensus and to come up with ways to creatively push the envelope, while offering up real-world solutions with timeless appeal. In the end, it’s still the client’s final call—and we have seen the opposite version of the story above, where a tenant or landlord chose not to heed advice about a material that has not historically performed well or a design that may not work well for a space—but if we do our job well as advisers, they’ll always feel informed before they cast their deciding vote.
Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 1,500 projects.