I once had a client who was an official with a local government agency that had jurisdiction over matters of real estate development. At the same time, in the community where he lived, he had volunteered to head up the effort to build a new neighborhood nonprofit recreational facility.
When the project finally was completed, he told me that his attitude toward developers had been changed forever. Having been a seeker rather than a giver of approval, he had experienced most of the unforgettable trials and tribulations associated with all building development.
Much of the built environment is made up of buildings that were not built as investments by profit-motivated companies or entrepreneurs. Governments and other societal, nonbusiness institutions -- church organizations, schools, community groups, cultural organizations -- sponsor them.
Their financial life is not directly dependent on specific economic markets. Instead, they depend on Except for marketing and financing, investment building and not-for-profit building are similar. the desire and will of constituents who support their development and who, in some way, will benefit from them.
Washington is a city amply supplied with such buildings, many belonging to the federal government. When Uncle Sam needs to build something, usually at the request of some specific executive agency, Congress and the president must approve it and appropriate money for it. Thus, while the private developer must make a convincing case with investors and bankers, federal agencies must convince the Office of Management and Budget plus the House and the Senate.
While the private developer often must negotiate for and acquire title to property on the open market, the government already may have usable sites. Or it may acquire them through condemnation, paying the former property owner the hypothetical fair market value based on independent appraisals.
Local government agencies frequently acquire sites for public facilities -- parks, schools, plazas, pedestrian and vehicular rights of way -- from developers who convey such public-purpose sites for little or no money. These concessions usually are granted in return for zoning benefits or other needed approvals and sanctions that may result in increased densities or more intensive development rights.
Like their private-sector counterparts, public-sector and non-profit developers must justify the need for projects they contemplate building. Churches, school boards, museums, foreign ministries, trade associations and government agencies must prepare and defend specific programs and projections supporting their arguments for funds to build. The research and documentation involved may well be comparable to the marketing efforts required of a commercial developer.
Except for marketing and financing, investment building and not-for-profit building are similar. An architect must be hired to design the project in accordance with program and budgetary criteria. The budget must reflect anticipated construction costs, plus other expenses: professional fees for architectural, engineering and other design services; land acquisition costs; construction loan interest and points (if any); furnishings and special equipment; insurance; and project management.
Construction contract bids must be sought and, with architect and sponsor whispering prayers at the bid opening, fall within budget allocations. Otherwise, the sponsor either must obtain supplementary funds or appropriations (never an easy task), or reduce the scope of the project through redesign or program shrinkage. The latter option may require substantial additional effort on the part of the architect and engineers.
Also, like investment projects, nonprofit projects can encounter roadblocks or go unrealized. They can become entangled in litigation or be plagued by unforeseen technical problems. Hidden site conditions can crop up, or labor and material shortages can occur, resulting in costly delays as construction prices rise and overhead stretches out.
The Washington Monument is perhaps D.C.'s most graphic example of what can happen. Early in the 19th century, the monument was planned and a society formed to raise funds privately by citizen subscription. Robert Mills prepared the design -- a 700-foot obelisk with a "colonnaded pantheon" at its base -- but money came in slowly.
In 1848, having collected almost $90,000, the society began construction. Soil conditions forced them to move the monument site to slightly higher ground. Seven years later, construction was stopped at the 150-foot mark. Money was running out. The Know Nothings -- who the year before had thrown into the Potomac a block of marble from the Temple of Concord in Rome, a gift of the Pope -- confiscated the monument society's property so that further fund-raising became impossible.
No work was done during the Civil War and for 15 years afterward. In 1876, Congress decided to complete construction at federal expense. The monument finally was dedicated in 1885, 80 years after it first was contemplated, without its pantheon, and at a total cost well beyond the original estimates.
Discussion of the public or institutional development process would be incomplete without consideration of the indispensable building committee normally composed of organization officials, well-meaning volunteers, experts and persons of influence or affluence. While commerical development enterprises almost always are guided by a single entrepreneur or general partner, institutions tend to look to their building committees for steerage. If such committees have a wise and decisive chairman or chairwoman, the committee can act effectively in overseeing development tasks.
But sometimes building committees go in several directions at once, become embroiled in internal controversy, adopt contradictory policy, or refuse to make timely decisions. If the chairman and project architect cannot mediate satisfactorily to formulate a cohesive vision, the building that emerges indeed may appear to have been designed by a committee.
Government agencies such as the General Services Administration, the Corps of Engineers or local school boards also can get carried away with their own methodologies, techniques and managerial strategies, to the detriment of good architecture. In an attempt to dictate and control final project results, they may establish design criteria so rigid that the architectural outcome effectively is prescribed in advance, precluding innovative proposals by designers.
Of course, developers of investment projects can behave in a similar manner, rejecting anything but the most conventional and mundane of designs from a position of safety and advocacy of the tried and true. With either public money at stake in the case of government-sponsored projects, or investors' and lenders' money in the case of privately sponsored projects, these conservative attitudes are somewhat understandable.
Although Washington has its share of conservative and decidedly mediocre architecture, project sponsors and much of their public constituency often realize that buildings can and should do more than just satisfy a single user's immediate space needs. Buildings of a public or quasi-public nature should exemplify architecture's best and serve generations of citizens not yet born.
NEXT: The development of housing