Shoegnome Hit the Nail on the Head

Jared Banks (you might think of him as Shoegnome, as I do) hit the proverbial nail on the head in his blog post yesterday. His post “You graduated from Architecture School and want to be called Architect” illustrated for me the main reason that I am so displeased by the formal use1 of the word “architect” to describe people who are not licensed architects.

Jared points out in his post that the question in the profession about who gets to use the term “architect” may be “just the symptom, not the illness,” and that “Perhaps the real problem isn’t who should be allowed to be called an architect. It’s actually that the value of architects has eroded.” Building owners are finding architects to be less valuable than they used to find them. I hate to be reminded of this.

When “architect” doesn’t mean much anymore, because architects provide less value than they used to, there are fewer objections to broadening the field of people who are eligible to call themselves architects.

Compounding yesterday’s displeasure, that morning I had read the text of the National Design Services Act, which was written by the AIA and the AIAS “to try to help alleviate this massive accumulation of debts for architecture students.”  It’s being sponsored in the House by Ed Perlmutter, a Congressperson from my state, Colorado.

The bill currently defines an eligible participant in the loan relief program as an “eligible architect” and defines “eligible architect” as an individual who “has completed an accredited masters program in architecture; or is an intern architect who has completed an accredited masters program in architecture and is enrolled in the Intern Development Program of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.” Here’s the text of that bill.

In other words, the bill defines “architect” as a person with a masters degree in architecture. Even the AIA, this country’s primary professional organization for architects, misuses the word “architect.”

The AIA is writing legislation that misleads our legislators and the public by ignoring the fact that under state laws, a person can’t be called “architect” without a state-issued license to practice architecture. (Oddly, the AIA also doesn’t seem to believe that a person with a 5-year professional degree, a BArch, should be eligible for loan forgiveness – the bill currently only addresses masters degrees.)

How is THIS advocating for architects?

This doesn’t help with the perception of the value of an architect. If everyone who finishes school gets called “architect” by the AIA and our federal lawmaking bodies, while under state law only those of us who have licenses can call ourselves architects, mixed messages are being sent. “You just have to get through school!” “You have to get through school, actually get some experience, pass some tests, and be willing to take on some professional responsibility!” Which is it? State law is clear. I believe federal law is silent on the matter, but will no longer be if this bill passes.

As I wrote to my senators and representative, the profession has problems, and one problem is that many grads have huge debt, but this bill is a bad idea that may further the problems of the profession by allowing schools to continue to charge more tuition every year, and deliver less of value to architecture students every year. Schools turn out architecture graduates who are nowhere near equipped to produce construction documents that buildings can be built from, but schools seem to be telling their grads that they’re ready to practice as full-blown architects upon graduation. That’s simply not true, and it’s not how our profession is set up.

Internship, the years between graduation and licensure, is an essential part of our training in this profession. Schools teach lots of design and theory, and a tiny bit of building technology and construction documentation. We are supposed to learn these practical things on the job. Producing construction documents is absolutely essential to the job, to the profession, as described in state licensing laws. But schools gloss over that, and some lead students to believe that they can just hire someone to do technical things like construction documents for them.

This National Design Services Act bill indicates that people straight out of architecture school can do a number of things, including “Assessment of the safety of structures that are in disrepair or have been damaged as the result of natural or manmade disasters.” I don’t want people right out of school doing this type of assessment in MY community. They are simply not qualified. (I may not be qualified. I’m an architect [licensed for over a decade], not an engineer.)

It’s not too late to find ways to return value to our profession. And I know where to start. Architects need to get more technical, and architecture firms need to keep technical expertise in-house or under their umbrella. By “get more technical,” I mean that architects need more building code expertise, an understanding of building technology, comprehension of building science, and expertise in effective construction contract administration. These things are no longer emphasized in many practices, and are rarely addressed in schools, but this knowledge and these skills are where the value lies for owners, for communities.

This knowledge, these skills, and the responsibility and liability that come with a license are what separate competent licensed architects from designers, architectural graduates, and kids with software programs. And we shouldn’t all be called by the same name.

 

Notes:

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1. By formal use, I mean use by newspapers, professional organizations, local government candidates, and architecture firms. I do not mean use during cocktail party conversation, or use by 19-year-olds explaining their college majors.

 

Product Representatives Helping Architects… Or Not

A great way for construction product representatives to get to know architects and specifiers is by offering technical assistance in the form of reviewing specifications and details during the construction documents phase.

A great way for architects and specifiers to feel comfortable that they’re properly incorporating a particular product into the project design is to ask a person who represents that product for the manufacturer to review specifications and details during the construction documents phase. This is appropriate when there’s a specific product that the drawings are based on, a basis-of-design product.

This informal review process is great when it’s done right. No one can possibly know a product better than a good product representative. Knowledgeable product reps can be tremendous resources for the design team. Some reps observe construction and advise contractors on installation for purposes of warranties. Some do forensic work on their products. Many are very familiar with their products’ limitations and proper construction details and specifications.

Not all representatives are technical experts, though. A rep doesn’t have to be the most knowledgeable in order to be a good rep, but a good rep does need to know when to ask someone else for assistance with reviewing details and specs.

Architects, be suspicious if you’re told by a rep that all your specs and details “look great!”

Product reps, if you don’t have the technical knowledge to review specs and details in which your product is the basis-of-design, pass this work on to someone on your team who does have the know-how.

Manufacturers, make sure that your reps know who to turn to when they need technical info.

Fixing things during construction, rather than during the construction documents phase, is a lot messier and more painful for everyone involved.

Cheerleaders, Mentors, Colleagues

One of my biggest cheerleaders recently passed away. I never got to meet him in person, although we corresponded via email occasionally, and talked on the phone sometimes.

Ralph Liebing was 78 years old, but still worked every day. He was an architect and a specifier; he did the same work that I do. I subscribed to his weekly newsletter; he frequently commented on my blog posts. We often wrote about the same topics: construction specifications and the education and training of emerging design professionals. He had a long history of teaching in architecture and technical schools. We worked together on a volunteer effort for CSI, for a Building Technology Education Program.

Ralph encouraged me in my blog writing, and in our efforts on the Building Technology Education Program. He really reached out to me, sending me an occasional little quiz on some building assembly or another, telling me about his family, congratulating me on mentions in CSI publications, and emailing me the occasional “Have a great weekend,” or forwarded curiousity. I own 2 of the 11 textbooks that he authored. I tried to teach him a little about social media, updated him on Denver’s weather, and told him about my family.

He worked for an architecture and engineering firm; I am independent. I don’t work with other specifiers; I don’t even work with other architects in my office. This is part of why Ralph was so important to me. As an independent, I am on my own in my work. But when I joined CSI, I found that I’m not really alone. CSI brought me Ralph, and other people who have helped me along the way in my career.

I had been writing specs for over a year when I joined CSI. I knew about CSI, because I’d taken the CDT exam before I started writing specs.

When I started writing specs, I worked as an independent contractor to a specifications firm that had employees and independent contractors, but I did my work mostly at home. My kids were little, 2 and 4 years old. I hadn’t worked for 4 and a half years. My husband’s business was a major source of stress for me at the time. I was busy BEFORE I started working in specifications, but I fit the work in. CSI wasn’t emphasized by the spec writer I worked for, and joining a professional organization was NOT on my to-do list. I barely had time to sleep, sometimes.

After 8 months of being an independent contractor, I was fully on my own. One day, one of my clients mentioned something about my being “in the loop” with CSI, and I realized that I needed to GET in the loop in order to be my best at my work. I owed it to my clients. So I finally joined CSI, but it was months before I made time to get to a Chapter meeting!

After I started going to meetings, and meeting other CSI members, I quickly realized how important my CSI involvement is to my work. I’ve found a network of colleagues, with technical knowledge about construction, that is essential to me. I’ve been extremely lucky to find mentors in CSI all across the country who have offered me various types of challenging and rewarding opportunities that have helped me in my career. And I found a very special cheerleader in Ralph Liebing. Ralph was important to many other people in the same way. He will be greatly missed in our CSI community.

I never expected these relationships that I’ve found through CSI. These relationships are the main reason that CSI rocketed from being something I made myself find time for, to being something vital to my career.

Inconvenient Assemblies

I’ve dealt with some inconvenient exterior wall assemblies lately.

Although two recent projects had to comply with the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code, the nature of their exterior wall assemblies made achieving continuous insulation difficult in both projects, and made achieving a continuous air barrier difficult in one project. Energy calculations indicated that we did need continuous insulation on both; there was no getting around it.

In these projects, the insulation and air barriers were afterthoughts.

So the construction documents for both projects show some unusual applications of rigid insulation, and for one project, show an unusual application of an air barrier coating. It can all work, it can all meet the code requirements, but these situations may not be ideal for construction.

How did we get here? I believe that the exterior wall assemblies were dictated by the owner in one case and by the design-build contractor in the other case.

Owners and contractors aren’t required to be familiar with building codes. The person responsible for interpreting the building code and making sure that the construction documents comply with the code is the architect.

Whether the architect or someone else initially selects wall assemblies, the architect needs to verify code compliance, early in the project. And don’t forget that IECC! The earlier in the project that you take all code requirements into account, the more convenient for everyone, from architect to cost estimator to insulation installer.

 

 

 

Continuous Insulation & Masonry Veneer Anchors

There’s something that architects need to be aware of as we use increasingly thicker continuous insulation behind masonry veneer cladding.

If the distance between the structural steel backup and the back of the masonry veneer cladding exceeds 4-1/2 inches, the masonry veneer anchor spacing must be designed by a structural engineer.1

Masonry veneer anchor spacing is not usually designed by a structural engineer; the code provides prescriptive requirements that we typically follow, and this spacing is most often indicated in the specifications by the architect or the structural engineer.2

Manufacturers of some types of masonry veneer anchors indicate that the legs of the anchors can accommodate up to 4 inches of insulation. But even these can’t be used without having calculations run by an engineer, unless you keep the distance between the structural steel backup and the back of the masonry to 4-1/2 inches. (This would leave very little air space. You need at least 1 inch of air space, per the code, and an air space of 2 inches is recommended by the Brick Industry Association.3)

By the way, these things aren’t spelled out in the text of the International Building Code. They’re in a separate document that is incorporated into the IBC by reference, the TMS 402/ACI 530/ASCE 5. This document is called “Building Code Requirements for Masonry Structures,” and is developed by the Masonry Standards Joint Committee (MSJC). Since it’s referenced in the IBC, it becomes part of the requirements of the IBC.4

So, architects, either stick with 4-1/2 inches or less between the structural steel backup and the back of the veneer masonry, or let your structural engineer know, as soon as possible, that you are exceeding 4-1/2 inches. If it’s too late for your project, sometimes the masonry veneer anchor manufacturer who gets the project will hire a structural engineer to check (or design) the anchor spacing. The cost of this service would get passed on to the general contractor and then to the owner (as an extra cost). Avoid a construction change order – deal with this on the design side, before construction starts.

Notes:

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  1. Chapter 12, section 12.2.2.7.4 of the latest version of TMS 402/ACI 530/ASCE 5 indicates that “A 4-1/2 inch maximum distance between the inside face of the veneer and the steel framing shall be specified. A 1 inch minimum air space shall be specified.” There are alternative procedures allowed by the code that can be used instead of these prescriptive requirements, but the alternative procedures are what require a structural engineer to design the anchor spacing.
  2. Chapter 12, section 12.2.2.5.6 of the latest version of TMS 402/ACI 530/ASCE 5 tells us the prescriptive requirements for anchor spacing: “For adjustable two-piece anchors, anchors of wire size W1.7, and 22 gage corrugated sheet-metal anchors, provide at least one anchor for each 2.67 ft2 of wall area.
    “Space anchors at a maximum of 32 inches horizontally and 25 inches vertically…”
  3. The Brick Industry Association publishes online Technical Notes on Brick Construction. Here’s a link to their Technical Note on “Brick Veneer/ Steel Stud Walls.” http://www.gobrick.com/portals/25/docs/technical%20notes/tn28b.pdf
  4. Section 2101 of the 2012 IBC indicates that “Masonry veneer shall comply with the provisions of… TMS 402/ACI 530/ASCE 5.”

“Or Equal”

equal symbol2“Or Equal” is the most confounding phrase in construction documents.1

It means something different to everyone. Sometimes it’s defined in the documents. Sometimes it’s not defined in the documents, which means that the documents are relying on a generally-accepted understanding of the meaning. The problem is that “Or Equal” means different things when defined on different projects so there’s really no generally-accepted understanding of the meaning.

If “Or Equal” is defined, the definition, or description of procedures, should be somewhere in Division 01 of the specifications. In addition, it’s likely to be somewhere in Division 00 of the Project Manual, usually in the “Instructions to Bidders” form.2

In Division 01, the most likely place to find the definition of “Or Equal” is Section 01 60 00 “Product Requirements.” That’s the place to start, anyway.

The major confusion that I’ve seen among people3 dealing with “Or Equal” is the question of when “equals” can be accepted.  The document that defines “Or Equal” should indicate when they can be submitted on, and how and when they can be accepted.

Recommendation for the contractor team:

If “Or Equal” is used in the construction documents, look it up in the documents for the project. Find out its definition for each project. Make no assumptions on a new project. Understand that the definition may differ from project to project. A tip: use the “find” function in the software you’re viewing the electronic documents with, and search for “or equal” in Divisions 00 and 01.4

Recommendation for architects and specifiers:

If you are going to use “Or Equal,” properly define it in the construction documents. (If the owner uses it in the procurement and contracting requirements, you need to use it.) Use the definition the owner uses. If you can’t find one in the owner’s documents, ask the owner about this. Understand that you may have to expand on the owner’s definition in order to make it clear to the contractor team. Understand that if you are working on a project with a general contractor on board prior to completion of the construction documents, such as a Construction-Manager-at-Risk/Construction-Manager-General-Contractor project, the CM may be issuing instructions to bidding subcontractors, and you should make sure that these do not conflict with the owner’s definition of “Or Equal.” This is part of the architect’s job.

Recommendation for owners:

Figure out if you want to allow “equals” or not. Figure out if you want them to be treated as substitutions or not. Figure out if you want to allow substitutions-for-contractor’s-convenience after the contract is signed or not. (Remember that substitutions-for-convenience after the contract is signed are usually not allowed on public projects, because it’s not fair to the bidders who did not win the contract.) Then communicate this to the architect, whether the architect asks for this info or not.

The way I work (this is kind of long-winded, so you can skip from here to the bottom if you want):

Except where specifically included in an owner’s requirements (either in procurement requirements, in contract documents, or in instructions to the design team) I do not use the term “Or Equal” in my project specifications.5

For unnamed products by manufacturers that I name in the specs, I use the term “Comparable Products” and specify that submittals for these products are due at the time that the submittal for a named product would come in, during construction.

For unnamed products by unnamed manufacturers, I use the term “Substitution” and, except on projects in which the owner wants substitution requests to be allowed during construction, I indicate that substitution requests must be submitted prior to the bid and will be accepted in the form of an addendum, which will be issued to all bidders.

The latest project I had on which the owner used “Or Equal” in the procurement requirements was a project at Colorado State University. CSU uses State documents. The State’s definition of “Or Equal” includes “Any material or equipment that will fully perform the duties specified will be considered ‘equal,’ provided the bid submits proof that such material or equipment is of equivalent substance and function and is approved, in writing.  Requests for the approval of ‘or equal’ shall be made in writing at least five business days prior to bid opening.  During the bidding period, all approvals shall be issued by the Architect/Engineer in the form of addenda at least two business days prior to the bid opening date.”

Since that’s exactly how I treat substitution requests, in Section 01 60 00 “Product Requirements” I indicated “Or Equal:  For products specified by name and accompanied by the term ‘or equal,’ or ‘or equivalent,’ or ‘or approved equal,’ or ‘or approved,’ comply with requirements in Division 00 Document ‘Procurement Substitution Procedures’ for submitting a substitution request to obtain approval for use of an unnamed product.  These substitution requests must be submitted at least 5 days prior to the bid date.”

The full procedures were indicated in Document 00 26 00 “Procurement Substitution Procedures” in the project manual. That document again defined “Or Equal,” indicated that they had to be submitted prior to the bid, and also defined Procurement Substitution Requests as “Requests for ‘Or Equals,’ and other changes in products, materials, equipment, and methods of construction from those indicated in the Procurement and Contracting Documents submitted prior to receipt of bids.”

So, what does “Or Equal” mean? Whatever the contract documents say it means.

It comes down to this: Owners should define “Or Equal.” Architects and specifiers should explain it. Contractors should look it up. We just need to communicate.

Notes:

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  1. “Or Approved Equal” is equally confounding, and can be substituted for “Or Equal” in this post.
  2. The Colorado Office of the State Architect calls the form “Information for Bidders” instead of “Instructions to Bidders.” Sometimes these instructions aren’t included in the Project Manual, but are instead issued separately, either by the owner or by a Construction-Manager-at-Risk/Construction-Manager-General-Contractor.
  3. By “people” I mean the whole freakin’ team. Owners are confused. Architects are confused. Engineers are confused. General Contractors are confused. Subcontractors are confused. Vendors are confused.
  4. On your computer keyboard, hitting the Control key at the same time as the F key will usually bring up the Find function. It works in Microsoft Word, PDF readers such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, and web browsers.
  5. Sometimes engineers sneak “Or Equal” into the project specifications, though.

Illogical (part two)

Here are some possible solutions to the unsustainable situation outlined in part one of this post:

Colleges and universities could stop increasing the price of tuition, or even decrease it.

Parents and high schools could stop pushing all kids towards 4-year college.

  • A 2011 Harvard University study, “Pathways to Prosperity,” points out that of the 47 million new job openings projected over the decade ending in 2018, about one-third will need people with bachelor’s degrees or higher, one-third will need people with associates degrees or occupational certificates, and the last one-third will go to high school grads and lower.
  • “Pathways to Prosperity” also stated that “nearly 70 percent of high school graduates now go to college within two years of graduating. But… only about 4 in 10 Americans have obtained either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties. Roughly another 10 percent have earned a certificate… Only 56 percent of those enrolling in a four-year college attain a bachelor’s degree after six years…”
  • So, two-thirds of the jobs out there will be for people who have less education than a bachelor’s degree. Almost half of those who enroll in a four-year-college don’t finish. This tells me that not everyone should be going to college.
  • When student loans are thrown into this mix, it becomes really obvious that many kids are being guided down the wrong path.

Back to architecture: The profession of architecture could change a lot.

1.  Architects could charge higher fees, and pay employees more.

Other professionals manage to do this, but architects don’t anymore. Why can’t architecture firms charge enough to keep their employees from being crushed by their student loan debt? If I look at it as a supply-and-demand issue, I have to conclude that either architects aren’t delivering what owners expect and need (there’s not much demand), or there are too many architects (there’s too much supply).

To be able to deliver what owners expect and need, and to be able to charge fair fees for these services, architects need to get more technical.

Architects should keep technical expertise in-house or under their umbrella. I am not talking about computer software; I am not talking about Reviteers. I am talking about building code expertise. I am talking about an understanding of building technology (knowledge of the technical processes and methods of assembling buildings). I am talking about comprehension of building science. (“If architects did their job there wouldn’t be any need for building science.” – Joe Lstiburek.1) I am talking about effective construction contract administration.2

A building owner has just one financial “pie” of a certain size for each project. Everyone involved in the design and construction of the building gets a piece of the pie. Architects keep giving away profitable tasks (usually just by not doing a good enough job at them, so the owner hires someone else to do that part next time) and keep receiving a smaller piece of the pie. Owners sometimes hire code consultants, and sometimes hire building envelope consultants. Sometimes contractors hire building envelope consultants. Owners often choose Design-Build, or Construction-Manager-as-General Contractor, or IPD project delivery methods, all of which give the contractor more of the pie.

Why are owners making these choices? Architects haven’t been delivering. Architects’ piece of the pie gets smaller, because they’re doing less of the essential work; they’re doing less of the technical work. That work still has to get done. If architects take back the technical work, and do it properly, architects’ piece of the pie can get bigger.

2.  States could bring back the apprenticeship path to licensure.

Tuition at NAAB-accredited architecture schools often costs a lot of money. But only a small percentage of what accredited schools teach actually contributes to students’ knowledge of the instruments of service that building departments and owner-architect agreements require. Accredited schools generally place most of their focus on design and theory, and barely touch on building codes, construction documentation, and construction contract administration. They don’t teach much building technology or building science.

Tuition at technical schools  and community colleges is much more affordable. Their curricula usually focus on drafting, modeling, construction detailing, building materials, and construction techniques. Basically, they focus on production, documentation, and building technology. Many firms looking for new employees are looking for production people. Building departments are looking for clear documents that include code-required details. Owners are looking for buildings that won’t leak or get moldy (we prevent these things with an understanding of building technology).

So why does an increasing number of firms refuse to hire people without professional degrees? The focus in schools offering professional degrees is design (the work that firm owners and current employees want to keep to themselves). Why not hire some people with associate’s degrees, who are trained and ready to do production, and probably understand how to draw roof and wall details much better than newly-minted BArch’s and MArch’s?

Colorado is one of a handful of states that still have the apprenticeship path to licensure (in Colorado, you don’t need any college degree – you just work for 10 years under the supervision of a licensed architect, and then you’re eligible to sit for your licensing exams). I think this is a good alternative to the professional degree path.

If a professional degree from an accredited school isn’t required for licensure, architect-hopefuls wouldn’t have to borrow huge sums of money for school. They could go to technical schools or community colleges, and then get work experience, and then get licensed.

3.  NCARB could make its alternative route to certification less expensive.

NCARB requires each certification candidate to have a professional degree from an accredited school. There’s an alternate route to NCARB certification, through the Broadly Experienced Architect Program. However, a dossier review fee could be as high as $5,000 if an architect who is licensed in an NCARB member state, but who didn’t go to an accredited school, wishes to pursue NCARB certification. This makes it tough for many people who wish to get licensed in additional states.

4. The AIA could Reposition in a different direction.  

The AIA launched its “Repositioning the AIA” initiative earlier this year. The goal of the initiative is to “determine how the Institute should reposition architecture, architects, and how to reflect current client and public perceptions.”

From the strategic marketing firm working on the repositioning: “One of the great kind of a-ha moments for us was understanding that architects are no longer those who specialize in the built environment… a lot of people who now call themselves, and are trained as, architects are not building physical things anymore, you’re building design solutions that address societal problems. It’s not bricks and mortar; it’s systems, it’s constructs, but in all these things that you’re building, you’re creating something that matters.”3

If architects are “no longer those who specialize in the built environment,” who is? If we no longer specialize in the built environment, what, exactly, do we do? Why would we want our work to differ so extremely from the way our states legally define the work of an architect? Why would the AIA wish to reposition its members in such a way that not only do we no longer do the work that the states license us to do, but we do something else, something that is not regulated, and does not require licensure, and which, therefore, legally, anyone could do?

Architects should be focusing on getting better at what we are licensed to do. Once we’ve perfected that, we can add other services to our portfolios. We should not be throwing away what we are licensed to do, doing something else instead, and still trying to call ourselves architects.

Some owners who wish to build buildings think of architects as just a necessary evil. I suspect that government requirements for licensed architects to stamp and sign construction documents are the only reason that most architects who were employed during the Great Recession kept their jobs.

Design is not regulated. Architecture is not only Design. And if we start treating architecture as if it is just Design, but is the design of anything we desire (and can sell to someone), the profession will be lost, fees will go even lower, and those young architecture grads will never get out of debt.

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Notes:

  1. Read the whole Inhabitat interview with Joe Lstiburek of Building Science Corporation.
  2. CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute, can help with building technology education and with effective construction contract administration. CSI is working on a Building Technology Education Program, and has a well-established education track for Construction Contract Administration in its CCCA certification.
  3. Watch the whole Repositioning (the AIA) at Grassroots: 3/21 General Session video.