The Principle of the Architect Builder
“The backbone of the process of production we envisage is a new kind of professional who takes responsibility for the functions which we now attribute to the architect, and also, for the functions which we now attribute to the builder.
He is responsible for the detailed designs of the houses, and for making sure that the actual design is in the hands of the family. The system of construction, which is the key to the possibility of his work, is under his control and is being continuously changed and improved by him. And he is responsible for the process of construction itself.
He is, in a nutshell, a modern equivalent of the traditional master builder”
Christopher Alexander – The Production of Houses 1985
The hugely influential architect and design theorist, Christopher Alexander, described the role of the architect-builder over 30 years ago.
The word ‘architect’ derives from the Greek meaning ‘chief builder’. Today, the split of design and construction has become increasingly pronounced, with ‘architects’ having less understanding than ever before of how buildings actually go together. Designers across many professions from lighting to furniture have become increasingly disassociated from the art of making.
Like Alexander, we believe the divergence of architect and builder roles, and the adversarial environment this creates, is damaging to the quality of buildings, the long term cost of a home, and not in the best interests of the homeowner.
He argues ‘The most fundamental reason for the architect-builder lies in the great complexity of buildings that must be produced in any human building process.’
At Box, we understand this complexity and have worked over the years to create a process where design flair is balanced with building pragmatism and the owner’s wishes. Every member of the team is vested in the outcome of the house, working more intensely with families at each step of the journey and working with other consultants and trades in a collaborative, not adversarial manner: there is only ever one person to point the finger at! It is also why, as Alexander recommends, we limit the number of projects that we can work on in a year.
Unlike a lot of ‘design-build’ companies, neither the design or the construction is sub-contracted outside our close family. Nor are we restricted by a religious adherence to a specific construction method. If the site and the brief warrant pile foundations on a slope, or split level construction then we will do what is in the best interests of the project, not the deals we have with our suppliers or the constraints imposed by ‘Head Office’.
In terms of achieving Alexander’s vision of a truly iterative and creative process during both design and build stages, this is still a work in progress. Finance companies and owners will always prefer a ‘fixed price’ contract and understandably, don’t like the uncertainty of changes during construction!
Nevertheless, our aspirations as an architect builder are founded on the key principles of form, context and fitness, and providing the best design and build journey possible for our customers.