Every architect knows the frustration of having a project that gets built badly, or not at all. And many dream of acting as their own client. The Thinking and Making panel at Reinvention 2011, which took place Dec. 8, featured a group of architects who have taken matters into their own hands and have become either a design/builder or design/developer (or both).

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David Dowell, AIA, and Douglas Stockman of el dorado in Kansas City, Mo., talked about their firm’s varied levels of involvement in the building process. Sometimes el dorado fabricates details and other components in its own shop, sometimes it acts as the general contractor as well as the architect, and sometimes the firm just provides design services. Dowell and Stockman showed work ranging from furniture design to multifamily lofts to a bridge for the Missouri Department of Transportation, and ended with a quote from another architect who also has embraced design/build, Peter Gluck: “Do it already.”

BUILD LLC was founded in Seattle as a design/build company by Andrew van Leeuwen, Assoc. AIA, and Kevin Eckert, LEED AP. “Before we started, we saw a lot of work that didn’t get built,” said van Leeuwen, and he and Eckert were determined to avoid that fate for their projects. They presented a design/develop/build multifamily project, The Park Modern, which they constructed in Seattle for $146 per square foot. Custom design/build work also was in the mix, including a mid-century modern remodel, which the partners see as a key project type for them. The firm’s cabinet shop kept them busy during the slowdown, Eckert noted.

In New York City, Jared Della Valle, AIA, has reinvented himself as a real estate developer. Della Valle’s derring-do impressed the audience and his fellow panel members—he showed images of several buildings he and former partner Andrew Bernheimer designed and developed as Della Valle Bernheimer Architects, as well as projects he’s working on now with his new development company, Alloy. “Architects solve problems all day,” he noted, on the subject of architects’ ability to be developers. “All we do is solve problems.”

About half of Zack | de Vito Architecture Construction’s work is design/build at the moment. The firm also usually has one development project going. Partners Lise de Vito, Assoc. AIA, and Jim Zack, AIA, showed images of various San Francisco Bay Area projects they’ve done, including custom homes, small-scale residential development work, and restaurants. “We love the process,” de Vito said of design/build and design/build/development. “We have more control over the design and the end product. We can usually build what we design more efficiently and affordably.”