“You’ll learn more from Contractors than you ever will in Architecture School”

Hiring the right architect for your dealership project

Hiring the right architect for your dealership project, is a vital part of a successful construction project
Currently under construction in Virginia, the new headquarters for the Exclusive Automotive Group was designed by the Penney Design Group, an architectural firm with experience on a broad range of building types and a team focused on the Automotive Industry.

If I had written on this topic 25 years ago, you would have said I was biased.

Back then, I was working for a large architectural firm in Boston and later in Chicago. I drafted up construction drawings, built models, and ultimately oversaw construction projects. The drawings the firm sent out were without comparison, I thought.

It wasn’t until I started working in the field, that I fully understood how critical clear and accurate construction drawings were. I was still going to Architecture school at nights while working full time for Perry Dean Rogers in Boston. I would fly out weekly to Newark to walk a project site. Always trying help the general contractor make sense of what someone in our office back in Boston drew.

One thing has stuck with me since those earliest days of my career. Mr. Dean, one of the founding partners of the firm, (83 at the time), told me this. “You’ll learn more from Contractors than you ever will in Architecture school.” He was correct. Architecture School gave me the principles, it made me “book smart”.  The second phase of my schooling was the real world. It still teaches me lessons today, as I’m sure it does you.

Fast forwarding to today I am on the other side of the table from fellow architects. Helping dealership owners plan their projects, establish budgets, prepare timelines. Turning the design intent books they were handed from the car manufacturer into a buildable set up drawings.  Sitting here now, I cannot express enough how critical a good, thorough set of drawings are.

Without exception, every dealership owner has one question as they embark on a construction project, and that’s “how much?”.  How much will it cost to renovate or to build new from the ground up. We do put together initial cost estimates based on what has been learned from both previous and current projects. The reality is, until you get the drawings out into the subcontractor market, it is still pretty much anyone’s best guess. 

So far, I’ve been involved with 250 or so dealership projects. I can say with certainty that an architecture firm which has experience in, and a good understanding of, retail automotive dealership operations should always be considered over a local firm with little or no similar experience. Now..I am not saying that a small local firm can’t do a great job. We have had some projects go very well with a local  architect. This though, is the exception not the rule. 

The better the drawings, the more accurate the numbers during the bid process. Once construction is underway, missed brand requirements or poorly detailed drawings can turn into expensive change orders. This is why hiring the right architect for your dealership project, one that has designed modern dealerships and understands the wants and needs of the various departments within the facility is truly of paramount importance.

In short, saving money on your construction drawings will cost you money during construction. The question is, just how much.  That’s a risk we don’t recommend to any client. A well thought out building on paper is always the foundation of a successful project.