Chronicles of an Architect: Architect’s Fees, To Pay or Not to Pay

By Virginia Mwangi / Published June 4, 2019 | 8:55 am





The architect’s office was one that exuded elegance. The aura and general ambience you feel when you get into the office is an interesting crossbreed of warmth and respect.

His desk was of prime grade mahogany with impressive lacquer the type that gives you reflections when light shines on it. It was about two metres in length and a meter in width. Behind it was a black leather executive chair, the kind that swivels.

In front of this desk was a pair of black leather seats, one facing the other, for his visitors. This desk had books and construction magazines neatly arranged on one side; a manifestation of his trade.

One side of the office had large windows whose height was from the ceiling to about one and a half feet from the floor. With such large windows you are afforded an impressive vista of the exterior. That was not all. The evening sunlight was filtering directly into the office space from this window and it made one feel warm.

I was led to the black leather settee that was close to the window and asked to sit. There was another settee adjacent to it and a low-lying elegant triangular glass table with rounded edges that gave my artistic eyes a statement of simplicity. It had a curvilinear chrome frame underneath that descended into its three legs forming a tripod arrangement. That transparent glass table in all its elegance seemed to tell all its visitors to keep staring.

An inviting smell of well-made Kenyan Masala tea was wafting in the air and I could not help but be tantalized. I closed my eyes as if the gift of sight was interfering with my ability to smell. “Hi, would you like some tea?” the lady asked. My train of thoughts was politely interrupted. I obliged. “Yes, please. Thank you.” She placed the flask of tea on a mat on the glass table and turned to leave.

Just then, the man I was waiting to see arrived. They exchanged pleasantries and she left the office. I do not know where my legs marshaled all the vigor with which I stood to greet him. I still do not understand why I rose so fast. Was it respect? Was it instinct? I cannot tell. One thing for sure, he commands a presence that makes you just want to stand at attention when seeing him.

For a brief moment there, I grew tense. Then he smiled and stretched his hand to greet me. I was relieved. “How are you Dennis?” he asked with his authoritative and deep voice as he motioned me to sit down. “I am fine sir.” I said as I sat down. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.” He said as he looked at his watch. Nothing about him was casual. Not even the casual clothes he wore.

He was obsessively punctual to the minute. It is as if he was just outside the door all along waiting for the clock to strike 5:30p.m. This strong affinity to time keeping is one of his greatest qualities. His mantra “punctuality is the soul of business” is ingrained in his DNA.

I had an appointment with him and he had offered to meet me at his office at 5:30pm. Since I am not so much of a time keeper myself, I knew I had to arrive there some twenty minutes before the appointed time. He detests tardiness. He once told me that in a site meeting some time ago, he refused to allow the client into the meeting on account of being late. I am still in shock. So when it was my time to be tested, I did not want to fail the test.

He was an architect worth his salt. He had a reputation for professionalism and delivering on his projects. His name was Ile Nzuri. “I am just from the gym so I will not join you yet for the cup of tea, but go ahead and pour yourself some tea as we talk about the architect’s fees,” he stated as he sat next to me on the leather settee. “No wonder you look athletic.” I told him as I sipped my tea and he laughed.

He can be too straight-forward for the average person but that is just his style. It was for this same reason that I indicated in my email to him what the agenda of our meeting will be. He simply cannot handle ambiguity. For him, beating about the bush is time consuming and wasteful of everybody’s time. He believes that truth is always quicker.

If you want a piece of his resources, of which time is one, he needs to know why. As a young architect, I had started encountering serious challenges in my practice because of sporadic and measly cash flow.

I wrote to him and asked for his assistance to enlighten me as a mentor would, and he accepted. Our meeting lasted 45 minutes as he was to embark on some office work afterwards. He adjusted himself on the sofa, crossed his legs and leaned back. Then he looked at me and began.

“In my thirty years of practice as an architect, I have come to learn a few things about how clients perceive our services and how eventually we get paid.

I once had a client who was the CEO of the Kenyan Franchise of a large multinational company. He was referred to me by a friend. At the time that I received a call from him, I had not moved to this office,” Nzuri said as he gestured to the office he now owns.

“He called and introduced himself and stated briefly that my friend had recommended me for a proposal that he wanted done for their new facility in Mombasa. I thanked him for his kind words. I was facing serious financial woes at the time.

My rent was two months late, my family was running on my emergency fund and if I didn’t get another project that same month I was going to close the office. I was desperate for a good paying project and this seemed like a relief from the sporadic projects I was getting.

I knew I had to get this job so I decided to play a game of wits.

This CEO was used to getting people work for him. He had a large workforce at his beck and call and was used to having things done his way because of the position he held and the influence. I knew that.

I also knew that he could also call up any other Architect in town and simply tell them to design their new office complex. He went ahead to tell me that he wanted to meet me the next day and discuss the project. I agreed to the meeting but would charge him consultation fees for that initial meeting.

I thought of a quick figure of 50, 000 shillings and told him that it was my consultation fee for one hour. He was shocked that i was charging him so much for an hour’s worth of discussion and yet I did not even have the job.

I was quick to tell him that it was our company policy for institutional and corporate projects. I was also quick to tell him that I could offer my colleagues who are equally good if he found my proposal to be exorbitant.

I also told him that the venue of the meeting could be my office and he dismissed that option. So I asked him to suggest a convenient location and he said that his office is best suited for such activities and he would not have it any other way.

I then told him that my coming to his office is a good idea but his company will reimburse me my out of pocket expenses that will be incurred as I come to his office. He was taken aback once more. He was so worked up and he hang up.

I was shocked that during my conversation with him, I was as cool as a cucumber. I did not break a sweat yet I was desperate for that commission. The word ‘idiot’ kept rattling in my frontal lobe as I reflected on that conversation that day. However, another small section of my brain kept saying ‘good work’.

READ ALSO: Chronicles of an Architect: The Fulfillment of Laughing in my brain amid Sporadic Dreams 

That was my first time to make such a bold offer. I had heard of colleagues who had tried such stunts and they failed. I comforted myself that after all; the worst that could happen is that I don’t get the project. I have not lost anything.”

Mr. Ile paused and looked at me straight in the eyes as if to ensure that the point sank home. I had to slightly shift my gaze to the floor to avoid the stare. I felt like a fish out of water.

Somehow, I marshaled my courage and asked, “So, how did it go from there? Did you feel so bad for losing such a lucrative deal? Did you now close shop?” Mr. Ile adjusted his sitting position. Both his feet were now on the floor. He moved as if to inch closer to me and he held my gaze all the while as he told me.

“First of all, I did not feel so bad for losing such a well-paying commission. In my mind, I was at ease that for the first time in my life, I was bold enough to state my terms and value. You only lose what you had. I was actually so pleased with myself after that telephone conversation. A part of my brain was ecstatic and I just smiled and then laughed and smiled some more.”

He started smiling as he said those words. I wanted to laugh as well but I held that thought because it would be uncouth given the nature of our conversation.

“Secondly, I had already given my landlord a notice that I would be vacating his premises at the end of that month and that I will settle the arrears as soon as I get a buyer for one of my cars.

On the day I was packing my stuff ready to leave, I get a call from Roy, the CEO, in a one minute conversation, I was appointed for the commission to design the franchise in Mombasa. In that same one minute, he asked me to avail myself for a consultation with the board of directors at their premises. There was a driver on the way to come pick me up from my office. I got picked up an hour later, driven in their state of the art SUV to their offices made my presentation and was dropped off back at my office with a check of ksh.50, 000 drawn in my favor.

That is when I started realizing that time is money. I had left the moving company to pack my stuff so I found them finishing up and told them we were going to a new office. They were equally surprised since they thought they would be taking these items to my home.

I requested that they give me one hour and I would direct them to an office. I found this office through a colleague and I talked to the owner with the aim of buying it.”

Mr. Ile leaned back on the leather settee looked at his watch and then turned to me and continued.

“Finally, Orenge, the job was an eye opener, a game changer and a breath of fresh air. Hitherto, I had always been lamenting on how unappreciated I am for my advice. To this day, I have never undervalued my work neither have I taken my time for granted.

Our time is up Sir. I hope that my experience has shed some light on your question. I do not have all the answers but I know you are a smart man and you will fill in the blanks. I only give what I have and now I do not have more time. You can finish your tea and I can get back to work.”

He concluded, rose to shake my hand as I stood in awe and pure admiration. He must have had an impeccable timer in his head because I looked at the wall clock and alas! It was 6:15p.m. Not a minute earlier not a minute later…who is this guy? I wondered.

“Thank you very much Architect Ile Nzuri. I shall use the experience you have shared with me to reflect on my career and business.” I stated as I nodded.

“I can guarantee you that if you do not value your resources nobody else will and …..Time is one of them. Go buy yourself a watch,” he said while still hold my hand as he looked deep into my eyes.

I nodded in agreement. He knows better, I will buy the watch. Whether I thought he gave me an order or not was immaterial. I had picked some nuggets of wisdom from this man and I was not going to throw them away on account of some pride.

I walked out of Nzuri’s office a bit more enlightened. I felt the fresh air outside and took time to take in a deep breathe.

The sun rays had now receded into the horizon and the dusk was slowly creeping in. I walked along the Wood Avenue and headed to Argwing’s Kodhek Road so that I could board the bus to town. Quite some development I saw ranging from serviced apartments to office blocks, Kilimani has bowed down to the pressures of densification.

My mind got drawn to the iconic Mihrab Towers that commands a certain visual presence. It keeps your eyes busy with the detailed façade but when one is looking for a façade that is easy on the eyes, the Yaya centre parking lot offers a view of triangular shapes that are engaged in well-choreographed dance.

My train of thought is interrupted by my phone vibrating in my pocket. I answer. “Hallo. Is this Architect Orengo?” the lady on the other end of the line asked. “Yes it is. And If I may ask, whom am I speaking to?” I asked. “Catherine. I was referred to you by a friend and I would like to talk to you about setting up my dream home.” She cut to the chase. “In that case, we will need a meet up so that I can listen to you and then offer my advice and input.” I stated in a matter of fact way.

Then I remembered what my mentor just told me. I paused and prepared a quick response mentally for that question that I know will be asked.

“Where can I meet you and when?” she asked quickly. She seemed to be prepared to shoot all the questions. After explaining to her the location of my office in town I told her, “Catherine, I shall be available on Wednesday to Friday as from 8am to 5pm and I charge 5000 shillings for a one hour consultation.”

There was silence on the other end of the line. Then the tirade began. “How on earth will you expect me to pay you for a one hour consultation yet I have not even given you the job,” She burst. Now the tone of her voice had changed. She no longer sounded businesslike and cold, she now sounded emotional and annoyed.

“How come my friend did not tell me about this consultation fee? What if I don’t like your advice? Do I get a refund?” She asked in quick succession. I took a deep breath and thought about how I really need a client and how this could be the client. I paused, collected my thoughts mustered my courage and told her, “Catherine, it is our company policy to charge a consultation fee for such meetings because there will be an expenditure of resources of which time is one, my skills set and experiences are another set of resources. Should you feel that I am not a good fit for your project, it is still fine with me if you do not engage me further. However, in all honesty, building a home is expensive and my consultation fee is a small drop in a large ocean of expenses you will incur.” I finished.

There was a brief pause and then she hang up. I had lost a client but I had won back my time. Perhaps I could read a book for one hour….but will the book pay me? Yes, it will pay me with knowledge.

By Arch. Dennis Orenge.






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