by Rick Jones
“House doctor” is common parlance in our industry, referring to a consultant who is on-call to assist an organization, often under a master or term contract agreement. Projects may be planning or design and construction, simple or complex.
When we begin a new project as a house doc, we’re bringing the experience of every project that has come before it with that university, and often with forethought about those ahead. This context includes an understanding of organizational identity, standards, preferences, goals and ways of working – an accumulation of institutional knowledge that pays multiple dividends, from increased efficiency to better design.
This is true whether you have 70,000sf of real estate or 700,000 – or more. While project volume plays into whether your organization will benefit from a house architect, so does your team capacity. In the last year at Jones, projects completed under term agreements have ranged from planning assessments for Northeastern University, to a new hockey locker room for the UMass Minutemen and a major renovation to MIT lab spaces. The point is not the size or the complexity of a project, but the thinking behind it. Below are seven more to consider:
- Increase bandwidth. Make a small facilities team bigger; make a big facilities team more productive.
- Efficiency and simplicity: Save the time and resources inherent in going to market for every project. Simplify procurement and contracts. Ease communication and reduce “up to speed” time.
- Design always matters (not just for the signature building). Even the smallest projects make a difference in the daily lives of the people who use it. House doctors bring the knowledge of the larger system to design in every corner. With Cape Cod Community College, we led a landscape and civil team to develop broad accessibility solutions that make the college more attractive to potential students, and earned a BSA Design Award.
Sticky stakeholders: Sometimes you can’t afford to spend the time required to handle demanding stakeholders and/or small jobs – the “move two walls, repaint and choose new carpet” projects. Your house doc can get it done while you focus elsewhere.
- Outside perspective: Every team benefits from fresh eyes. We work with MIT on classroom projects that come with robust standards. Still, we challenge assumptions and often pilot ideas along the way based on what we are seeing in other campus learning spaces. We discuss insights at the end of each project and, when appropriate, roll learnings into the standards.
- Responsiveness: On-call means ready to mobilize. It also means trust, born of relationships that strengthen as teams work together project after project. Productivity improves along with quality. As part of our work with Northeastern on their Innovation Campus we had weekly meetings. Frequently we’d get “breaking news” during the meeting regarding the latest venture to commit to the space. Because the companies always had limited time and funding to prove viability, the spaces that support these enterprises had to be up and running at record speed. Success hinged as much on creative delivery as it did on creative design.
- Continuity: There’s no substitute for institutional knowledge. When you know how an organization works, you know how to solve its problems, and how not to. We often pilot new ideas or advance organizational goals with small projects that build cohesive benefits over time.
The work of a house doctor can vary wildly, both in scope and the user group(s) served. It encompasses planning, design and construction, and can be an area of a building, whole buildings, or campus precincts. It may also mean addressing deferred maintenance. Regardless of scope or scale, the projects are all important, often represent an opportunity for transformation, and can fundamentally change the day-to-day life of users. Small projects can lead to big solutions that shape your organization. We’d never want to miss out on that, and neither should any college campus.
Rick Jones, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is director/founder at Jones Architecture.