ArchiCAD Insights: Projects By Accident"

13 Oct, 2005 By: F. Rutson Fuqua Cadalyst

Planning and good communication are the keys to a successful project.

"If an architect was producing a set of drawings that was for a project of his own, he would most assuredly do the drawings unerringly correct and in extensive detail."

I made this comment to an architect friend from London. This, I thought, had to be one of the most accepted concepts in the modern AEC world. My insightful English friend then asked, "What makes you think that architects (or designers) comprehend the significance of producing proper documents, even when their own time and money are at risk?"

I realized that because most architects have never walked in the shoes of a builder, most don't understand the need for complete plans and specifications. Having built residences for nearly 30 years, I know that all project information must be communicated either through proper plans or through countless hours of on-the-job design development. Otherwise, Murphy's Law takes control of the project and chaos ensues.

On-the-Job Design Costs Time and Money
On-the-job design development is acceptable only as a last ditch approach. The trouble with on-site design is that it does not give any of the participants the opportunity to economically mull through the countless options. Mulling is quite expensive with workmen standing around waiting for an answer so they can get back to work.

In addition, it is often next to impossible to obtain the necessary and appropriate materials. It's like shopping for your spouse at 5:55 p.m. on Christmas Eve -- what's available is expensive and wrong. Options are limited when pressed for quick decisions. On-the-fly decision-making is a costly methodology for the client, the contractor and the craftsman alike. One of my subcontractors had a prominent sign in his business: "I refuse to let poor planning on your part create a crisis on my part!"

Lee Iacocca wrote the following about contemporary U.S. industrial policy in his autobiography Iacocca: "Don't they want America to be strong and healthy? Sure they do. But they want it to happen without any planning. They want America to be great by accident." Ayn Rand wrote in The Fountainhead (1943): "Most people build as they live -- as a matter of routine and senseless accident."

From a builder's point of view, "by accident" is a harrowing way to conduct proper business From a neophyte client's point of view, "by accident" might appear to be acceptable in light that he saves money on design fees and he feels he can litigate or bully the building contractor for the balance of the unknown. Little does the client know, and no one is about to point it out, that the poor planning costs a lot of money.

Decisions, Decisions
In the real world of construction, if incomplete plans are released as construction documents, the contractor must fill in all of the design omissions. If the contractor is unable, the subcontractor must fill in the design shortfall. If both of the above parties are unable, the workers will make up the missing design decisions as they go. This process of decision making travels downhill if left undefined.

The lower the level of decision making, the less chance that the decision maker will have the ability to consider all of the necessary factors involved. The only participant capable of knowing all of the interwoven intricacies is the person at the top who sees the big picture

Many will argue that the one toting the hammer has the actual knowledge. This is true. But a building project is a team sport that needs a designated leader. This leader must take the knowledge from all of the practitioners and assemble the many pieces of information in the most efficient manner possible to accomplish the task at hand. This is a difficult, time-consuming job. However, if properly prepared, it will pay for itself and much more.

Bad Planning = More Money
Consider this simplistic example. Let's say that you draw a square on a piece of paper. You make 10 copies of your square and distribute the copies to your suppliers and workers. After they review your plans, they each call you and ask, "What is this?" You say to 10 different people, "These are, of course, the plans for a dog house." They ask, "How big?" You say, "Scale it, for goodness sakes." They ask, "What scale?" You say, "Standard scale is

About the Author: F. Rutson Fuqua

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