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design thinkers

Architect to CM. . .Going to the Dark Side

The thought of working on the contractor side of the industry wasn’t something new to me.  Earlier on in my career, I had investigated other opportunities where I could use my architectural knowledge and experience, outside of design, in roles such as owner’s rep, Construction Management (CM), facilities, but couldn’t make that jump.  

The gnawing question I continued to ask myself as an architect was, ‘would going to the dark side take the design aspect out me? What was it that made me want to make that change’?  It’s hard to pinpoint. It wasn’t that I was unhappy on the design side.  I was working on great projects and was involved in all aspects, from conceptual planning to construction administration.  It wasn’t a lack of opportunities to learn new things or be challenged either.  Working on healthcare projects always presented new learning experiences and opportunities to acquire a new acronym. I think it was simply a side of our industry that I was curious about, thought I would enjoy, and SLAM’s unique structure gave me that opportunity.

Still unsure, I chose to continue working as an architect at SLAM.

SLAM is unique for an architectural firm, as it also has a Construction Management division, and at one point, I was asked to help Construction Services on a small project.  What a great opportunity! This was something I had thought about doing and now I would get the chance to try it with no real commitment to change professions.  That project was then followed up by two more over the next few years.

Because of those projects and the flexibility that SLAM offered, I was able to work as both a CM and architect. I found I enjoyed working on the construction side, but I really liked the collaboration and integration with design that happens with SLAM design-build projects.  All in all, I was still able to have the connection with the design process that I worried would be lost.

Then in 2015, I was given the opportunity to work full-time on the CM side of the firm.  Like before, I was still hesitant on making such a big move, but I now had some experience and evidence that it was still a low risk move.  I was fortunate enough to know that if I made the change, the door would still be open on the design side, if things didn’t work out.

How could I not accept the offer?  I already knew a little about construction management and I figured at a minimum, it would be a great learning experience.  So, after working for 20 years as an architect on the design side of construction, I accepted the opportunity and officially became a construction manager. 

Will I ever return completely to the design side?  I’m not sure.  Right now, I’m enjoying the opportunities, challenges, and learning experiences presented to me as a construction manager. I’m liking the flexibility and opportunities that have come up on recent design-build projects that enable me to be integrated and part of the design team, but then take it and build it.

The one thing I do know, if I were to ever make that switch back, I would return as a better architect having had this experience.

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