It’s all About Teamwork: Tony Spann on Design/Build

A few months back, we sat down with architect Tony Spann (pictured) for our Giffin & Crane Questionnaire, if only to learn a little more about the man outside his prolific career. This time, we’re getting more specific, gathering a few of his insights on building in Santa Barbara and the benefits of design/build teamwork.


G&C: What sort of guidance do you provide for new clients?

Spann: Clients always ask, “What’s it going to cost?” And architects can get in trouble when they talk about costs. We’d rather have a general contractor talk about that. They’re much better at it. We can get clients broad brushstrokes, but when it comes down to the specifics — especially when they’re on a tight budget — we really try to get them to bring in a contractor as soon as possible.

How’s it different building a home in Santa Barbara? 

Here’s one example: In L.A., for instance, almost every general contractor we’ve worked with has an estimating department — two or three people, and all they do is estimate. In Santa Barbara there’re only a few contractors with estimating departments, and that’s where we try to steer our new clients.

What are some characteristics of a successful design/build team?

The most successful design/build team includes the owner, so that he or she can learn how the process works. The three major factors in construction are schedule, quality, and price. A reduced price might expedite the schedule but reduce the quality, for example. And once you start having those conversations with the client on board, the project becomes very successful. When you have a client that doesn’t really understand what design/build is and thinks it’s just a way to save money, that’s when things tend to go south.

So you prefer a setting that keeps them face-to-face with the process and with the numbers. 

Yes. Clients ask, “What can I do to the house and how much will it cost?” We can answer the first part of that, and a contractor can answer the second part of that, really quickly. And what we’ve seen is that whenever a client has a really tight budget, as a team we can tell them that their desires and budget are far apart and we can reconnect those concerns through design/build. Once you start educating the client on that, everything usually comes together.

Thanks, Tony. 


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