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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 21, no. 536: June 22, 1878

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Real Estate Record AND BUILDERS^ GUIDE. YoL. XXI. NEW YORK, SATUEDAY, JUNE 22, 1878. No. 536. Published W«el:ly by TERMS. ONE YEAR, in advance....SlO.OO. Communications should be addressed to C. W. .SWKKT, No.s. ."ilB ASO :A7 ibtOADWAV. OWNERS, ARCHITECTS AND BUILDERS. In no other city would one naturallj' look for the exhibition of private orders for building iu greater number than hi the citj- of New York. Yet probablj'' in no city does the ratio of private orders to Speculative fall so low as in our own city. With an abundance of eligible and accessible land, with a perplexing a.ssorttiient autl variety of building material, with architectural and mechanical taleut of the highest order and ready to be proffered iu tho greatest profusiou, there is still a lack of disposition ou the part of private owners to embark in building schemes. If we except from the calculation projections made by public corporations, banks, insurance com¬ panies and other stock concerns, the percentage of private ordei-s in the annual building projection would not exceed ten per cent, in number or t%venty per cent, iu value. If we cast about for the cause of this lack of enterprise on the part of private capitalists, the least experienced person in building affairs may readily assign it. It may be attributed primai-ily if not wholly to the ill-organized, not to .'ay dis¬ organized condition of the building trade. It would be an astonishment to those who do not know, as it is a mortification to those who do know, how few building establishments there are in tliis city organized and equipped according to a true mercantile standard with respect to system, ability and solvency. The private order busmess of this city is practically monopolized by a few old and leading concerns, whoses names aro a suf¬ ficient guarantee for tho faithful performance of work; and yet scarcely any of these concerns are able to execute 'their work independent of an architect's superintendence aud dictation. When an owner, actuated by a spirit of frugality or par¬ simony, seeks to cheapen the cost of construction, by accepting bids from persons of doubtful sol¬ vency, the experiment is pretty apt to prove a costly failure. A repetition of these experiences tends to confirm the monopoly already enjoyed by more substantial firms, and they 'in turn find it to their interest to cater to tho whims, preju¬ dices and interests of the architectm-al profession. The ordinary routine of procedure in a private projection of building, is, for the owner first to select his architect to whom he explains his pm^- poses, and from whom he expects to derive his whole initiation and instruction in the mysteries of builtling. The architect is accustomed to take possession of the job, and, we might say, of the owner for the time being. Architects much pre¬ fer to have an absolute engagement made at the start, and to receive a liberal retainer or promise of one as an earnest of the client's good faith. This is diguilied and prof&ssional, and give.s the architect that autocratic control over the whnli' undertaking which is so indispensable to the true conception of his calling. The avenage owner, however, is too canny and wary to fall blindly aud artlessly into the professional trap which may be set for him. He is curious, imiuisitive, cate¬ chetical, deniiuitls a great deal of advance infor¬ mation, is not chary tibotit tusking for sketch plans tuul for multiplied estimates of cost before com¬ mitting himself absolutely to a contract. Prob¬ ably the experience of every architect's ofilce in this city is, that out of a hundred sketch plans prepared and submitted to clients, not more than ten are ever executed. Young architects have to be .satisfied with superintending tho execution of one out of twenty to liftj'. Ther* is souie inherent difliculty, either physical or mental, encountered in architects methods, ways or means which proves fatally obstructive to private projection of building. Practical ex¬ perience with work thus undertaken usuallj- proves dissua.sive of further efforts. It is no uii- couiuiou event for tho actual eost to niaterially exceed the architect's estimate. Tho architect's fee itself forms no inconsiderable portion of the cost of building; aud where this fee takes the form of a fixed percentage of the cost, there is presented an irresistible temptation to lay on the 'expense in the name of improving the work. The readiness with which architects lend them¬ selves to tbe suggestion of costly improvements aud expensive alterations of work has a discourag¬ ing effect upon the mind of the untutored owner. There is a suspicion prevalent among experienced owners and a well established tradition among mechanics that some architects are in the habit of receiving commissions from sub-contractoi^s. It isneedles.s to .say that such a practice is totally inconsistent witti the relations sustained by tho architect to his client, and is fatally injurious to the proper prosecution of the work. Besides, architects are apt to be tibsurdly and excessively theoretical and artistic—in a wonl, unpractical. Plans and designs that can be worked out readily enough with pencil and ruler are awkward, com¬ plicated and almost impossible of execution with bricks and mortar and .scantling. Mechanics are frequently bewildered with fanciful plottings and sketchings of the architect's assistants, and find themselves too often involved in a net, from whose meshes the architect alone can extricate them. Such sei"vices ai-e apt to afford the founda¬ tion for the exaction of a fee to which the mechanic is quick to respond as the readiest out¬ let from his difliculties. In ordinary private jobs the architect and builder are apt to pull in contrary directions, and the innocent and unsophisticated owner stands appalled with the conflict of ojiinion. Owners iiaturaUy seek to make a judicious in¬ vestment of their capital, whether it may bo large or small in amount. Tho conventional method of conducting building operations makes it to the interest of the architect to lay out as great a sum as possible, while the builder, if he is tied up in a contract, is anxious to give as little as may be consistent w^ith a fair interpretation of tho contract. The common result is dissatisfac¬ tion, sometimes law suits, with more or less pro¬ tracted and expensive issues. In this statement we have simply presented a common experience. We have uo purpose of de¬ crying ono profe.s.sioii or exalting another. We observe this phenomenon in the growth of the city, that it is dependent upon public and private corporations tuid speculative builders; that pri- vtite order work appears in a far smaller volume than might reti.sonably be expected. We are seeking to explore not only the cause but a reme¬ dy for this contlitiou. l-'roni circuiiist£inces, which we will not stop to explain, we believe the future growth of this city will be largely dependent upou the enterprise of privato ownei^s. It will promote the physical growth of the city to devise some metms whereby private capital may lind a ready and satisfactory outlet in real estate improve¬ ments. The prevailing and established method has not been productive of beneficial or adequate results. There is another method, an efficient and reliable oue we believe, but now in its infancy, which is destined to surpass any other that has ever been tried for enlisting the interest of private owners in building enteriirises. American capitalists are of a practical turn of mind. They know nothing of the traditions and customs of professional life abroad, and have no undue respect for pretensions of them in this country. It is not to be expected that a gentle¬ man who desires to procure an elegant aud modern suit of clothes should firet select his de¬ signer, and from ti sp'ecially prepared model have the needed garments wrought and fitted under the supei'vision of his chosen artist. He simply goes to Rock, Bell, Laws, or any other first-class tailor, describes his want and leaves his order. Or, if he desii^es an elaborate and costly piece of cabinet work, it is not the custom to firet seek tm expert draughtsman or modeler, but to apply directly to tiie manufacturers of cabinet work, to Marcotte, Herter. Pottier, Schasty, and select from their patterns, or adopt a design specially improvised bj' their employed artists. These are unimportant matters compared with the erection of a building, but they are artistic aud creative, just as the building business is. In¬ stead of fostering or penietuating discordant immobile and unsatisfactory offices, such as the separate functions of architect and builder are apt to be, we believe it is in the line of progress, and in unison with the inevitable elevation and advancement of the building trade to inculcate and require that builders should thoroughly equip themselves with the science as well as the technics of their calling, and should acquire such mastery of the principles of their business as will enable them to design, plot out, and executo the ordinary products of their trade. We are aware that heretofore the builder and mechanic have ranked as inferior to the architect, just as the ai-chitect is esteemed to be the pro¬ fessional inferior of the civil engineer. But callings and professions in this country at least are not necessarily potrefactions, their functions are exchangeable. A competent,conscientious and pains-taking buildor may easily become an archi¬ tect or civil engineer, and, we may say, more naturally and easily than the professional man may bscome a master mechtxnic. It is inconsis¬ tent with the aspiring aud ambitious temper of American mechanics that they shouhibe satiilled to remain mere automatons of traiueil profes-