Why aren’t architect-designed plans readily available?
There is no simple answer to why architects are reluctant to sell plans, but here are the components as I see it. First, many architects are reluctant to sell off-the-shelf plans because they worry that the value of the architects’ services will be undermined. Architects are trained to develop designs directly from the qualities and characteristics of the site. It is every architect’s deep fear, including mine, that someone will buy a house design that has been carefully developed for a south-facing hill and place it on a flat piece of property facing north.
My suggested solution is that when we sell plans, we simply need to give information about the site characteristics best suited to each house. Although some people will ignore this information, the house they build will still, in all likelihood, be better designed than what they might otherwise have picked.
Architects want to have some control over modifications to their designs. Their designs are akin to their offspring, and architects want to approve the day-care arrangement. In the house-plans market, they have to let go of this desire for control and understand that their role is more analogous to sperm donor than parent.
Architects worry that by offering plans for sale, potential clients will buy plans rather than hire an architect for their own custom design. In my experience, this situation does not happen. My former firm offered plans for sale for the last ten years I was there, and we found that the audience for the two markets was different. Those who purchased our plans would not have considered an architect as an option. What did sometimes happen, though, was that people who initially bought architecturally designed plans gradually came to realize the benefit of having an architect design a custom house for them. As a result, we obtained quite a few clients who initially had bought plans. These folks would never have gone to an architect originally. They just didn’t understand the benefits until they had an architecturally designed set of plans in hand.
Client relations are another touchy issue. When clients commission a custom house, they get a one-of-a-kind home. But the architect still owns the copyright to the plans for that house and can sell them again. To do so without the full knowledge and permission of the client, however, runs the risk of generating significant ill will.
If you have commissioned a custom house and it is important that your house be one of a kind, never to be repeated, then making the plans available is clearly not something you’d want to support. But if you are willing to share the pleasure that your home brings to you with others interested in a similar look and feel, perhaps you’d consider it.
Over the past decade, many of my clients have allowed their plans to be made available for sale. It is surprisingly rare for a house to be built exactly as shown in the plans purchased. Many people use plans as points of departure, tailoring them to make their new homes better places to live than they would otherwise have been.
The last reason that such plans aren’t readily available is the catch-22 clause. People aren’t used to searching out such plans because there aren’t many available.
Architects have a responsibility to offer their skills to a marketplace desperately struggling to find a solution to a problem that we are trained to solve. The same skills we bring to the service of an individual family can be offered to the culture at large. Making good design available to a larger market is the best way to turn the tide away from ever larger and increasingly boring megahouses and toward homes with more style, character, integrity and soul.