In 2009, I was starting out as a junior architect for a small firm.
The client was a shipping company who specialized in importing goods from China. They wanted to build a 20,000 square meter (215,000 square feet) warehouse in the harbour adjacent to their existing container storage platform so they can open the containers themselves, categorize the contents and then ship them off in their own fleet of trucks to their various destinations.
They also asked for a four story HQ building near the warehouse, complete with a worker's dining hall and enough office space that they could move their operations down to the waterside instead of leasing expensive real estate in the city.
At first I was puzzled why the other, more senior architects in the firm decided to not get involved in the project, but I was young and enthusiastic, so I accepted.
There were a few red flags. For one, the project lead was a “quirky” structural engineer who sometimes didn’t talk to people for months if he thought they had slighted him. For another, the client asked me to attend daily meetings in which to show everyone the progress I had made.
Me: I can’t really make any meaningful progress from one day to the next – especially if I’m spending the morning in a meeting with you.
Client: I thought you young folks these days preferred to work at night. Just do it then.
I refused and he finally accepted to hold those meetings only twice a week.
I set to work, but soon afterwards the Financial Crisis began to manifest itself in earnest, so the client firm ended up having to find partners for the project.
Those partners would change sometimes from one week to the next and each would have their own requests which most of the time invalidated all the work I had done up until then.
Finally, a few months in I couldn’t take it anymore. The project had already been radically altered five times and the clients keep changing their mind from one meeting to the next on wherever they wanted a HQ building at all or simply a small office on the side of the warehouse. Finally I had a meeting with the client to clear these things up.
Client: (staring down his nose) I’m a respected pillar of the shipping industry. I’m no amateur.
Client: I’ve heard that windows are cheaper than walls.
Me: They’re not.
Client: Well, whatever the case, I want the whole warehouse to me made out of windows.
I sat there, completely dumbfounded. My brain had stopped working, so the only thing I could ask was:
Me: So… like a greenhouse then?
Client: Exactly like a greenhouse! Can you change the plans by tomorrow morning?
At this point, I stood up, packed my laptop and left, informing them I’ll send them completed drawings to the last design specification but they’ll have to find someone else to finish their project for them.
They sent me a host of emails, ranging in tone from threatening to plaintive. The “quirky” project lead didn’t speak to me for a year, even though we worked together on a few projects. He would ask other people to relay information to me, but never spoke to me himself.
The warehouse was never built and the client was instead arrested two years later for smuggling and evasion of customs duty.