The podcast Overcoming Challenges as Architect Developer with Drew Lang is produced by an online resource for architectural firm owners known as Business of Architecture. The innovative venture, established by architect Enoch Bartlett Sears, was created with the idea of providing a kickstart to fellow architects who want to start their own practice but have no clue about where to begin. By consulting various industry experts and successful firm owners, the founder collated the information with his personal experience to develop a ‘Smart Practice’ Method as a resource for architects seeking information and to become more efficient and profitable. It also consists of a podcast segment where successful and notable architects are interviewed about their insights and the strategies they applied to make their practice a success.
The brain behind the enriching podcast is the insightful architect, Drew Lang, a strong proponent in support of community collaboration and getting more readily to a place of joy in our work within the industry. He believes that instead of running an architectural firm in a similar fashion to that of a corporate office where employees just do their jobs from 9-5 and leave, the attention should be focused more on making the work environment a more joyful place where employees can be themselves and let their minds get inspired naturally rather than falling in a rut due to the lack of a creative environment. Being a competitive and proficient architect, his experience, skillset, and design sensibility continue to enhance the visual appeal of the structures in upstate New York.
As the founding principal of the prestigious LANG Studio situated in New York, Drew works in close knits with the department of design and clients, collaborating with them to produce structures with enduring presence and a sense of purpose in urban areas across natural landscapes. With the help of this podcast, he sheds light on the pertaining challenges of being an architect developer in the industry and how an innovative approach to his award-winning piece of work in the Catskills, Hudson Woods helped in overcoming a bunch of these obstacles along with the future of architectural business and strategies that are involved in creating a long-lasting design-led firm.
The podcast also discusses how the power of collaboration and community helped in overcoming many of the challenges through the Hudson Woods project and why networking is the backbone of this business. To supplement his philosophy of positive collaboration within the community, he founded an online social-media platform ‘Brick & Wonder’, that provides a centerstage dedicated to connecting and supporting real estate and design professionals by networking with each other.
Challenges of being an Architect Developer
One of the foremost challenges of being an architect developer in today’s world would be that the majority of the professionals get entrenched in the history of architecture which instigates a communication gap or a void between the clients and the developers. This form of a lost connection between the collaborators and the clients is an integral part of what makes an architectural business successful.
As discussed in the podcast, starting as an independent architect developer or starting your own architectural practice can be challenging due to several circumstances. From managing everything i.e., getting potential clients and offering design consultation to getting the work done on-site, it is accompanied by its fair share of risks and issues. The sheer amplitude of the work with its highs and lows can be difficult to deal with, but Drew’s perspective on considering the low points as “multiple deaths” and the subsequent high points as the act of being born again or “reborn” is certainly an interesting way of looking at these moments which can be career-defining in the long run.
Changing your perception towards these issues can be transformational. A failed attempt could be the wake-up call that urges you to take a sort of leap or it could be a blessing in disguise. Drew shares his own story in the podcast, what urged him to take a leap during tough times and how it was a pivotal moment for his career as it gave birth to the idea of the firm’s largest self-initiated development project – Hudson Woods Project. Though the project turned out to be a success later, he takes us through the journey of how it compelled him to take that sort of risk at a time when business was struggling to survive and just barely trying to make ends meet.
Forming a connection between an architect’s vision and the client’s desires and needs is an essential component of a well-designed project. The Hudson Woods project faced many challenges as unlike a standard project, it was a completely self-initiated decision with an abundance of risks. It took away a potential client’s whole tedious process of looking for & getting a piece of land, hiring a team of professionals like architects, and contractors for the job, taking on the risk of construction work, etc. They packaged it all into a single product which made the process easier for the consumers and was the highlight of the project.
The opacity and complexity of building something like this requires a huge amount of time, effort, and extra cost, an issue faced by both consumers, and developers. This is one of the reasons why architects find it difficult, and like a mundane task, to work with people and vice versa, but Drew took this challenge as an opportunity rather than a setback, to build something meaningful and offered it to the consumers who were longing or clamoring for such a thing.
The various aspects of obtaining or purchasing a property turn it into a long and tedious process i.e., from obtaining financial resources, legal help, and insurance for buying the property to furnishing it, etc. Implementing Drew’s philosophy into his architectural practice, the project was a whole package with combined resources where it would lead consumers toward banks, attorneys, insurance brokers, and whatnot, to put together a local community for making the process easier. Through this positive collaborative effort, the consumers also had fun tending to the whole process.
One of the biggest challenges faced by Drew in the project was being the contractor. Dealing with a large site area and not knowing the fundamentals of the construction can take a toll on the developer. It also leaves the developer more prone to being taken advantage of. The LANG Studio Founding Principal states that the only way to overcome this hurdle for him was to learn through the entire process in a more agile manner by making mistakes and learning from them. The success of the project not only comes from a well-thought design but is also integrally reliant on the strength of the people, partners, and collaborators involved.
The discussed approach not only deals with challenges with respect to resources but also addresses the locational aspects. Choosing the right location plays a pivotal role in the design of the structure, access to nearby places, its harmony with nature, the area’s history and culture which help in developing the project with a rich background story. Another important aspect is to identify the potential opportunities that could arise in this fast-paced world because the success of an architectural business often comes out of a place of adversity. Be it an issue of a housing shortage due to an economic recession or be it a worldwide pandemic, such adverse circumstances come with a lot of opportunities that could potentially help the communities and people as well as businesses.
Building a structure from scratch to the finished product is not just a simple process, it’s more like an entire life cycle involving various phases like site selection, design phase, construction, possession, operation & maintenance, etc. It is a never-ending cycle that carries a lot of ups and downs with it. This interesting & informative podcast provides insight into the number of challenges that can be faced by an architect developer from the beginning till the end. This unusual but innovative approach of using the power of collaboration and community by Drew Lang to overcome these challenges helps make the entire process easier and more efficient and also brings the communities and the residents closer together along with the professionals who helped in developing the project and deal with shortcomings more proactively.
It is an effective way of bridging the communication gap between architects/developers and the clients, realigning the architectural practice from the industry standards, and making the whole thing more inclusive.
- Lang Architecture (2018). Drew Lang | Principal. [online]. Available at: https://langarchitecture.com/member/drew-lang/ [Accessed 05 October 2022]
- Lang Architecture (2021). Lang Architecture – Innovative & Luxury New York Architectural Design. [online]. Available at: https://langarchitecture.com/ [Accessed 06 October 2022]
- Business of Architecture | Nicole Ballantyne (2022). Episode 425: Overcoming Challenges as Architect Developer with Drew Lang. [online]. Available at: https://www.businessofarchitecture.com/podcast/425-overcoming-challenges-as-architect-developer-with-drew-lang/ [Accessed 08 October 2022]
- Brick and Wonder (2020). Drew Lang | Architect | Lang Architecture | New York | Brick & Wonder. [online]. Available at: https://brickandwonder.com/collective/drew-lang/ [Accessed 07 October 2022]
- Business of Architecture (2020). The SMART Practice Method [online]. Available at: https://www.businessofarchitecture.com/smart-practice-method/ [Accessed 14 October 2022]