Re: Using an architect from within the group
From: MWorswick (
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 1998 16:20:46 -0500
In a message dated 98-07-19 15:00:41 EDT, you write:

<< Our group is ready to choose an architect as we are close to buying
 land. One of our members (well, me actually) is an architect who's been
 totally committed to the project from the beginning. The group is unsure
 about the advisability of hiring the architect (or any other
 professional) from within the group and how that would affect power
 dynamics and accountability. Of course if I applied for the job I would
 do so on the same basis as other architects we invited to apply (and
 would not be part of the selection process), so the issue is not about
 the ability to do the job.
 I'd be really interested to hear from other groups who have used or are
 using professionals from within your group: what were the problems and
 the benefits? What would you do differently next time? Any other advice?
 Are there architects on this list who have played that role for their
 I still have to decide how my skills could be most useful to the group
 so I'd appreciate any replies.
 Robin Allison
 Waitakere Eco-Neighbourhood Cohousing Project
 Auckland, New Zealand. >>

Matt Worswick, Synergy Design, responding -

As was mentioned in previous postings, I was one of the survivors of this
challenging role !!  I was a founding member ( read sole surviving original
member ) and designer of Harmony Village in Golden, Colorado.  My professional
roles included the group process, conceptual development and construction
documents for our site design, common house and 5 models of standard units
plus customizations.  It was a very challenging undertaking but I'm a patient
& persistent person.  It was also my third cohousing project, having also
worked with the Highline Crossing and Nyland communities here in Colorado.

There is no good short way to address all the potential issues and
ramifications of taking on the design role from within your own group.
Frankly, I don't have the time to cover it in detail.  But this topic was
covered very well by Mary Kraus (who took on this role for the Pioneer Valley
Coho group in Amherst Massachusetts) in an article published in the winter
1995 CoHousing Journal.  I'll mail a copy to Robin if you send me your
address.  As an overview let me paraphrase some of the critical points that
Mary covers -

1)  Be aware that many architects have failed at this endeavor and the
consequences for you and the group can be painful at the least and disastrous
in a worst case.

2)  Distinct advantages for the group include the fact that you know the
history, personalities and process of the group already.  Your commitment
level is also higher so you'll go the extra mile.

3)  Inherent problems include the difficulty in remaining objective ( not
pushing your own agenda ) and the difficulty in setting limits ( telling
people "no", etc.)

4)  Of course, it is critical for the group to carefully evaluate credentials.
They should hire the best qualified candidate, and not give special
consideration to a group member.

5)  During the evaluation period, openly discuss the fears and expectations of
the group and the member / professional.  Identify conflicts of interest and
potential processes to deal with them.

6)  Also evaluate personal characteristics that are well suited to group
design process such as being a good listener, integrating others ideas,
accepting constructive criticism and separating personal desires from the
professional role.  The group also needs a professional that can be firm and
help set limits when needed.  Big egos,  lack of flexibility and private
agendas are very dangerous.

7)  The less tangible characteristics of personality are also important in
creating trust and confidence. Managing the increased power and authority that
goes with the design role without damaging the interpersonal chemistry is a
big challenge.

8) Remember that you will live with your successes and your mistakes for a
long time.  They will be in your face virtually every day.  Some may even be
discussed in those ongoing meetings that never seem to dissapear from the
cohousing scene.  You will be proud of your accomplishment, but you will also
be painfully aware of all the things that did not get done right or that you
wish you would have done differently ....

In summary, both the group and the member / architect should carefully
evaluate the risks and benefits as well as the alternatives.  And of course
the ultimate decision should be based on the best interests of the whole.

One thing I can say personally is that the old adage applies - there is no way
to please everyone all the time.  If you do a good job, you will have many
"satisfied clients" surrounding you, ( an admirable situation for any
professional ). During the design process most members of your group will
understand if they don't get their way, and move on.  But some may carry an
issue or grudge around for some time.  Oddly enough, even if you succeed
spectacularly and receive numerous accolades, a few members may well  begrudge
you your success.  Human nature is an interesting beast.  So be aware that you
can't win 'em all.  

If someone asked me if I'd do it again, my answer ( and clarification ) would
be " I'd do it once !"

If, after considering all of the above, you Robin, and your group feel that
you have the temperament and talent to do the job then make a committment to
make it work and go for it !!!  I guarantee you that you will learn a lot in
the process !!

This survivor is wishing you well,

Matt Worswick
Synergy Design
Cohousing Design Services and Consulting
(303) 278-1880

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