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November, 2020 Beer Can ABI Plunges — We’re Running Low on Cheap Beer

The November ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI took a step in the wring direction following months of progress towards the land of actual good beer. At this point, we’ve been so down for so long that we’re running low on cheap beer options. If only Costco still made Kirko Sigs Light…

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October, 2020 Beer Can ABI Brings Good Beer and Not So Good Beer

October’s ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI brought us mixed signals, with design contracts firmly over the line into quality beer territory as billings lag behind and are still sipping the crap beers.

Since Midwest firms lead the way back to good beer, we’ll salute this part of the country with Three Floyd’s legendary Alpha King. Cheers! We ain’t drank this good since February! 🍻

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September, 2020 Beer Can ABI Continues to Languish in Cheap Beer Territory

The post-lockdown dip into the cheapo beers for the ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI continues in the latest beer can stack from September. As the Beer Can ABI enters the upper 40s, we are seeing a changeover into “ironic cool” cheap beer, which is good news, but still a ways to go in this recovery. It feels like an eternity since we enjoyed quality brewskis.

As always, remember that the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans and the better the quality of those beers. 🍻

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The ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI – August, 2020

Let’s visualize AIA’s ABI as beer cans. Here’s last month’s ABI alongside this year’s previous numbers. For as long as we’re below 50 on these numbers, we’ll be stacking the cheap cans.

If you have a preferred (canned) beverage, let me know and I’ll include it in future visualizations. Remember: the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans.

Revisiting Software Costs

I saw this recent article speculating on Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost’s claim that his bullshit license costs for Revit did not represent a significant portion of revenues for the firms in the now-famous open letter to Autodesk. Not that we needed any analysis to know that Autodesk is full of shit, but it helps.

We know that architecture firms are too chicken to switch BIM authoring tools, which is why it doesn’t matter what Andy or the angry architects say to each other, but I thought it would be fun to see how low we could go with annual costs and see if we could match Andy’s claim that licensing fees equate to only 0.63% of revenues for the complaining firms (in this exercise it won’t be Revit’s fees though as we’re not going to get the math to work with their insanely high costs).

I’ll base my math on the same fictitious firm as the other article, which requires five licenses of everything. I’ll align my software selections as best I can to these categories which were created by the author of the other article:

Here’s my visual representing the annual software costs:

Everything here is US pricing in US dollars, excluding tax. Here’s my breakouts and footnotes for those costs:

  • Archicad: $800 x 5 = $4,000 2
  • Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, Affinity Publisher: $0 3
  • Freshbooks: ($20 x 12) x 5 = $1,200
  • Twinmotion: $0 (included with Archicad)
  • Linea Sketch: $29.99 x 5 = $149.95
  • Google Drive: $0 (included with G Suite)
  • G Suite: ($6 x 12) x 5 = $360
  • Smartsheet: ($25 x 12) x 6 = $1,800
  • Freshbooks: (see above)
  • Google Chat: $0 (included with G Suite)
  • Google Meet: $0 (included with G Suite)

The annual costs related solely to the firm’s BIM authoring tool licenses (Archicad) come out to 0.62% of revenues (you’ll recall from the original article that annual revenues were $650K), slightly ahead of Andy’s claim for Revit. I was able to get the total software licensing costs down to 1.2% of the fictitious firm’s annual revenues. Maybe Andy was talking about his competition’s costs instead of Revit??? 😉


Footnotes:

  1. I was truly baffled by the inclusion of this category and especially SketchUp in the original article, so I put in my favorite sketching app figuring this is kind of what they meant with this category 🤷🏻‍♂️
  2. Archicad has an initial cost per perpetual license around $5K which represents one-time up front costs
  3. The Affinity apps have initial costs of $49.99 each app, per perpetual license that are one-time up front costs
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Introducing the ALL CAPS “Will I Get Paid?” Index

I’m on a roll with the economic indicators here, so…

I thought about this out loud on Twitter a while back and now I’m ready to introduce this novel(ty) index that tells us how likely active clients are to start defaulting on our invoices, an important tool to have in “these challenging times” for sure.

Here’s how it works: I’ll take the AIA’s current ABI and CCF numbers, have shot of Stolli, and then I’ll put on an album from Yello and dance for a few minutes. From there, information pops out that tells us something about the likelihood of getting stiffed on an invoice. Pretty magical, huh!?

And Now, The Inaugural “Will I Get Paid?” Index

Index Readings

The Index uses a five-point scale:

  • 5 – 🤑 Hell, invoice the next 12 months — it’s ALL GREAT!
  • 4 – 😁 The accounting staff have never had it so easy!
  • 3 – 🙂 Normal times, no worries.
  • 2 – 😦 Better wrap up invoicing quick, it’s not looking good out there…
  • 1 – 🤕 Oh, shit — emails to client bounce and their phone is disconnected!

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The ALL CAPS White Claw ABI – July, 2020

Let’s visualize AIA’s ABI as White Claw cans. Here’s last month’s ABI alongside this year’s previous numbers. As the industry continues to struggle, we’re stuck in the low-brow aisle of the liquor store. Hopefully the ABI will be back at or above 50 soon so we can use some classier cans.

If you have a preferred (canned) beverage, let me know and I’ll include it in future visualizations. Remember: the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans.

Fun with Design Budget Austerity

Here’s the design challenge: You’ll use the exact same palette of building materials that everyone else working on a design in this particular building typology is using. Your only variables are the color/pattern selections you make for these materials and the way you work with the materials in the space.

The building type is a restaurant, and this challenge explains why so many restaurant concepts in the fast food and fast casual market segments look similar (if not identical). It’s primarily driven by money (shocking, I know), because no matter where a given restaurant chain is at relative to their average unit volume (AUV, or revenue generated per location on an annual basis), the calculus used to determine the amount of money to invest in a new location essentially backs the design and construction teams into a budget number that’s identical to the number reached by every other concept with the same AUV. That AUV is the determining factor of the investment amount. From there, you get a lot of follow-the-leader in terms of design cues, which exacerbates the sameness of it all, so do try to avoid the cliches with your design proposal…if you can.

I find it a welcome challenge to work within these confines and sometimes wonder what architects and firms accustomed to much larger budgets would do with these kinds of constraints.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the material palettes relative to AUV so you can think about how you’d use them for our challenge — remember, everything is a design opportunity…

Note: Though everything I’ve discussed thus far affects exteriors too, we’ll focus on interiors for this exercise. I’m excluding the kitchen and restrooms to really zero in on the dining rooms. Also excluded are construction methods to help us focus on finishes. Know that these exclusions do vary by AUV too, and I may cover them in another article.

💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $700K

  • Flooring = Vinyl (sheet, tile, and/or plank) or Quarry Tile
  • Wall Base = Vinyl or Quarry Tile
  • Walls = Paint
  • Wall Protection = Wainscoting made from Plastic Paneling or Vinyl Wall Covering
  • Ceiling = Lay-in Gypsum Acoustical Ceiling Panel in Steel “T” Grid, up to 20% Painted Gypsum Board Hard Lid
  • Lighting Budget = $2.50/square-foot

💰💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $1M

all finishes from $700K range available plus…

  • Flooring = Polished Concrete, Porcelain Tile, Epoxy
  • Wall Base = Metal, Porcelain Tile, Wood
  • Walls = Wood Planks or Ceramic Tile
  • Wall Protection = Wainscoting from Metal, Wood, Porcelain Tile
  • Ceiling = Exposed Structure, Architectural Lay-In Ceiling Panels in Atypical Sizes with Steel Reveal Grid, up to 50% Painted Gypsum Board Hard Lid
  • Lighting Budget = $5.50/square-foot

💰💰💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $2M

Who cares! It’s so luxurious that it’s not a challenge to be different and cool.

The Labor Factor

No matter what the budget, labor is of course a major factor to be considered by the designer. There’s often a desire to express these limited material palettes in unconventional ways as a means of differentiating a design; but that too is limited, particularly at the lowest budget tier where labor is the driving force behind the selection of particular materials. So keeping the installations inline with industry standards is key. Sorry.

Global Economic Forces Will Screw Up Everything

Stuff like labor disputes, natural disasters, global pandemics (ahem), recessions, trade disputes, and corporate bankruptcies can screw up supply chains for all projects, but wreak a unique havoc on chains as they look to maintain consistency of cost, lead time, and appearance. So designing a backup plan for your look is mandatory in this challenge, since you can guarantee you’ll have to alter something in your material palette as soon as you debut your masterpiece. These are the forces that further limit the available materials too, so even if you find a unique material not listed here that fits the price point, it has to be widely available with reasonable lead times from a stable supplier with a good reputation since you’ll be going back to them over and over for more orders over time.

You’ve Got the Kit, Design Your Space

We’ll skip them for the purposes of this challenge, but there’s even more variables that can impact these budgets. For example, the amount a concept chooses to spend on equipment, food, and labor can take a restaurant with a higher AUV and shift its budget for building materials into one from a lower AUV (or vise versa). Another variable is material quantities — commit to a big enough order and expensive materials suddenly get more affordable. I tried my best to be very middle-of-the-road here. So go forth and see if you’ve got what it takes to stand out despite the constraints. Tough challenge, right?

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The ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI – June, 2020

Let’s visualize AIA’s ABI as beer cans. Here’s last month’s ABI alongside this year’s previous numbers…

If you have a preferred (canned) beer, let me know and I’ll include it in future visualizations. Remember: the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans.

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Grab a drink! Let’s peruse Architecture’s PPP Data!

The federal PPP bailout program’s loan data from the first round of stimulus has been made public by the SBA and conveniently compiled into a searchable database by ProPublica here.

In my nerdy opinion, this is as much (if not more) fun during these boring times when everything is shut down as a good Netflix binge. I started late one night and stayed up way too late because it was so fascinating. Here’s some quick highlights:

  • The great news is that our beloved profession was likely able to preserve thousands of jobs because of PPP 👏🏻
  • I’m guessing there’s a lot of paperwork errors in this data — there was a rush to get applications filed and you can see some stuff that just has to be wrong like big firms with hundreds of staff saying zero jobs retained or roofing companies categorized as “architectural services”

Juicy Tidbits

Here’s a link to ProPublica’s database that takes you straight to all of the architecture firms who took more than $150K in PPP moolah.