Are two heads better than one? A study in National Geographic tested this theory to find that this is true in certain experiments. The key to the success of a team outperforming individuals with the same task came down to communication; when solving problems together, if the team was equally matched, equally respected, and equally contributed, their results of taking simple visual test questions did outperform individuals. Upon review, I think we would all say this is a logical finding and conclude more is better, but is designing a project applicable, and will the outcomes be better? When a perfect match is found, it’s truly enchanting, reminiscent of Dolly and Kenny, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, or Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds. The question arises: How can one achieve such results, and is it worth taking the risk?

Imagine you’re in a situation like we were in. We had shortlisted design teams on a library project in the mountains and were entering interview #2. This was a joint venture between a firm whose portfolio was unmatched on houses in the region, and they were stunning even if they were out of our budget. Combined with this, it was one of Denver’s largest and most respected firms that carried the bulk of the library portfolio and also outstanding designers. We let the team in the room to set up, and they started the interview with, “We are the dog and pony show without the dog today.” When they further explained, it turned out that after the shortlist was announced, the teams began really talking about the project, their respective roles, and how to divide the fees. It would have seemed that as the project was a library, the more prominent Denver firm would have driven the design, but the local architect believed their mountain experience would make them the lead designer. They hit an impasse, and only the local firm showed up to the interview, now with no project-type expertise. We have seen many reasons a joint venture is attractive:

  1. Local architectural knowledge combined with a larger national firm’s project-type expertise.
  2. One firm is well-positioned to win but does not have the bandwidth due to the project size.
  3. The owner wants a design from a renowned architect but local production.
  4. Complimentary skills of two smaller firms
  5. Technical or design expertise of one firm combined with a local, larger, or well-positioned firm.

Joint ventures can be successful, but note many of the proposals you are receiving are from two firms that may not have worked together. They now have the added complication of building a long-lasting relationship, sorting out roles, and managing finances together while actively doing the same with you as a new client. Historically, we have hired joint venture firms a few times; some didn’t make it through as a team, and some defined the roles and brought clients value by providing different value propositions.

If you are in a position where your project is headed down the path of a joint venture, know how to manage the risks and take the extra time to get through your procurement process. For you as the owner, the contractual relationship becomes an area different from a traditional AIA B103 or B133. I won’t repeat the great information the AIA puts out on this subject; instead, I will refer you to your owner’s representative, this article, and your legal counsel. AIA Document B511-2022 – Guide for Projects involving a Design Architect and Architect of Record (¬†¬†This article defines a few key items to consider.

  1. Concurrent Services
    • This approach is the most common among teams, dividing the work amongst their expertise and bandwidth. Often, the architect of record will have the final say on the project decisions as they carry the risk of holding the primary agreement. Both firms should work collaboratively through the project, with the architect of record increasing efforts as the project progresses.
  2. Consecutive services between the two firms.
    • This format can apply when the design firm leads the project through schematic design and transitions to the Architect of Record. It’s not the norm, but often, projects are conceived by one architect, and due to procurement processes or other reasons, the project goes back to the design market for proposals. When we have seen this, the initial designs are often changed significantly due to budget constraints or simply design evolution, causing the loss of efficiency and vision of the original project. Note the agreements must account for the transfer of digital data.
  3. As the owner, you drive the contract structure that works for you. There are three primary options for you to consider. (See the link for more detailed information.)
    • A single prime contract paired with a consulting contract
    • Two prime contracts
    • A joint venture formed by the two architects.

There may be reasons to entertain the Dog and Pony or Pony and Dog but know that you have a vital role in qualifying the team’s viability and establishing an agreement structure that will carry through the project as you aim for “Islands in the Stream” or “Shallow” results.

Paul Wember, President

Two heads better than one (if the heads talk and know how competent they are) (
AIA Document B511-2022 – Guide for Projects involving a Design Architect and Architect of Record (