“Tell us about the object of your dejection — something you made, a masterpiece unfinished, or some sort of project that failed to meet your expectations. What did you learn from the experience? How would you do things differently next time?”

When I first saw this I thought I would write about a project never built, or one that didn’t make it out of schematics, but had great potential. But the more I think back on the projects that I have designed personally, and think about those few disappointments the one that comes to mind is one that is actually built. But, the experience was one of almost complete failure and I learned invaluable lessons during the 15 months it took to go from design to permit. So here is a tale of the damage that can be done when architects do not manage the expectations of their clients and do not hold firm to the value of their time and talent.

First, a little about the project. I was contacted and asked to design a single family residence and separate rental unit on a small residential lot in Venice, California. At the time I was not licensed, and explained this, adding also that a licensed structural engineer would need to be part of the team for permitting and construction. I got a recommendation from another architect in the area (thank you social media), fees were agreed upon, contracts written, signed and work began. The client had already paid another architect for a feasibility study for the site to find out exactly how much house they could build within the zoning and building code for the area. This information turned out to be less helpful than I had originally hoped, but we’ll get into that in a minute.

So, into programming and design, we set out to create the two structures. The main house has 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, formal dining, sitting room, large open eat-in kitchen and living space open to the rear yard, garage, laundry and utility. All in just under 2,600 square feet and 2 stories. The rental unit has 2 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths and a large open kitchen, dining and living space. A total of 756 square feet and 2 stories. Note: I am personally insanely proud of the design of the rental unit. Simultaneously with Schematic Design we also had to design the site and building massing to comply with the local zoning codes, which are……challenging. Through the whole process I continued to stroke the client’s ego, make sure they were calm and comfortable, shielding them from all of the stress and nightmares that I was going through on their behalf. And now, with design and construction documents complete we moved forward with permitting for demolition and construction. This is where things really went wrong.

During the permitting and planning process a number of changes were required. There were also some client changes that came up which involved scope changes and so additional fees were proposed. This back and forth with scope changes and additional services went on for quite some time. And each time the client demanded a lump sum proposal for the changes instead of the hourly rate which was written into the original contract. Not wanting to lose a client for such an important project, I kept agreeing and each time the sum for additional services would get less and less as I continued to perform and meet unreasonable deadlines for even more unreasonable fees.

As the ultimate consequence for not sticking to my contract, not standing up for my own value and the value of my services on the project, eventually I let myself get beaten down and I fired the client. I wrote about this in another blog post. The project is now completed. The owners, I assume, are living in the main house that I designed for less than $1 per hour and the rental unit is listed with a local property management service. And I have no photos of the finished product nor any progress shots of construction. Nothing, nada, zilch. One of my most impressive projects – a true modern home – and I have nothing but my drawings to show for it. All because I didn’t first manage the expectations of the client and second didn’t manage my own expectations and stand firm to the original contract in favor of pleasing the client.

Here are the only images I’ve found for the project via the property management site


View from the street looking south – rental on left and main house to right.



Interior view of rental from entry looking south through dining to living



Lisa Saldivar