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Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

What Is Your Largest Expense?

Scott Kamen, Principal
Kamen Tall Architects

The Lay of the Land

We are primarily preservation architects engaged in the maintenance of both historic and new structures. Two typical problems are deferred maintenance and budgeting for exterior work. Often the architect has been introduced to the building after a very serious problem has already surfaced. By that time, it has usually deeply affected the building.

The result of long-deferred maintenance is more costly repairs – the numbers can be astonishing to the board that may not have even had exterior repairs in its budget in the first place. At this point, it is extremely important that the board trust its professionals and that it has a very direct relationship with them while decisions are being made.

If the board requires multiple professionals to intercede, such as a project manager or financial advisor, it has to be a seasoned person who knows how to work with exterior envelope projects. There has to be a platform of trust and professional coordination, and there has to be constant communication between all the parties.

Dealing with the exterior envelope can become a significant monetary issue for the co-op or condo because of many factors: years of deferred maintenance, or because the city has upgraded its rules on terra cotta, for instance. Those problems are compounded by boards that try to do projects on their own or use inexperienced professionals and then set unrealistic time frames for how fast the work can proceed. Actually, a lot of these projects need to be phased in over the years, depending on the co-op’s budget.

Interference is a huge problem that architects run into. Either the neighbors won’t allow the work to move swiftly, or the board is using a less experienced person to try to keep prices down, which usually ends up inflating costs.

Now What?

Once we’re at the table with the board and there is a substantial amount of work to do, especially if they haven’t done work in a long time, it’s quite common that repair costs are higher than the board was planning on spending.

The best questions for a board to ask the architect are: “How can we do this work? And how can we make this project viable?” That is the essential work of the architect. We rarely have a client who says, “Go ahead, do everything. We have plenty of money in the coffers.” Our job is to phase in the project in such a way that it can meet the requirements of human safety and still meet the co-op’s or condo’s budget. The primary role of the architect is to answer that question and make the project happen.

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