Architects, Let’s Get on the Same Page

Tara Imani’s excellent, passionately-written blog post, “Architecture – A Profession at War with Itself,” inspired me to comment, and then to take my comment and turn it into this blog post. 

Tara asks “Do you think it is important for Architects to be on the same page in order to take our profession to the next level?  If so, why?  And, on which issues must we find consensus?”  The post then goes on to identify a number of areas where architects disagree.

Disagreement is a wonderful thing, which can test and temper individuals’ own arguments, and then shape a group’s stronger argument.  When a few members of a group disagree and argue and write and rant, the failings and weaknesses in the individual members’ arguments get exposed and culled out, and the main points get sharpened, and the group can bring a stronger argument to the table. 

Ultimately, architects do need to be on the same page about many things, so that our profession can be strengthened instead of being fragmented.

I feel the same sense of urgency to help strengthen our profession that Tara feels, and I know that many, many other architects do, too.  But not enough architects realize that we have a problem in the profession

Tara included a fantastic “Starter List” of issues that architects disagree about.  The following is the area that I, personally, feel called to act on:

“Learning how buildings go together” vs “Continuing to be the brunt of behind-your-back jokes as you leave the construction site or hang up the phone after a CM calls you for clarification of a detail.” 

This is the one issue that I feel that architects really, really need to be all on the same page about – we need to dedicate ourselves to learning how buildings go together, and we need to dedicate ourselves to teaching emerging professionals how buildings go together.  We shouldn’t need to argue among ourselves about this particular issue to get on the same page.  I think that the disagreements, or the different placement of priorities, about this issue (understanding construction technology), stem from a place of ignorance, rather than strong opinions. 

I come to this strong feeling (my unbending opinion that architects all need to agree that architects need to understand construction technology) from a place of not having known how buildings go together, and recognizing that as a weakness in myself.  I had this weakness not just before architecture school, not just after architecture school, but even after a number of years of working in architecture.  I had a lot of questions, and didn’t know where to go to find the answers.  I knew there were things I didn’t even know enough about to know what my questions were.  Now I write project specifications as a consultant to other architects, and I know way more about how buildings go together than I used to, and I know how to go about finding the answers to the questions I have. 

What many, many architects don’t seem to fully recognize is that architects are part of the construction industry.  The construction of buildings is the execution of our designs.  Our job, the job that we’re licensed to do as architects, is to prepare Construction Documents and to Administer the Contract for Construction.  Yes, we design, also.  And that’s the first step.  And it’s a very, very important step.  But the biggest portions of our fees on typical projects come from the Construction Documents phase and the Construction Contract Administration phase.  Schematic Design and Design Development are practically all we learn about in architecture school, and some people think that’s all that architects do… even some architects think that.   

I am answering this call to action.  I will continue to strive to educate other architects about the importance of understanding construction technology, and the importance of the huge part of our job as architects that requires us to document our design intent through technical construction details in the Construction Documents phase.  I will also continue to strive to encourage other architects to pass on the message of the importance of this understanding to emerging professionals.

4 thoughts on “Architects, Let’s Get on the Same Page

  1. A great deal of my career has been spent translating design drawings into construction drawings, and then using construction drawings to obtain the desired result in the field. I agree that architects need to be aware to some degree of how the materials they hope to see incorporated into a project are joined, and how they interact with other materials in construction assemblies. It is as important, however, that architects develop a set of priorities that mirrors those of clients and other building team members, starting with meeting deadlines and staying within budget limitations. Unlike owners and builders, A/Es most often have no equity in the project, and do not always share the sense of urgency felt by those who do. A/Es need to become more relevant in a process that is being taken over by contractors using BIM, increased off-site fabrication, more complex project buy-out procedures, etc. We can do so in a variety of ways, and I would urge the profession to unite and generate more.

  2. Fine article, Liz.

    Looking at the issue from a big-picture perspective, architects also need to understand that the preparation of construction documents, both drawings and specifications, is part of design. The artificial (if necessary, at least in the early school years) separation of design studio from technical classes in architecture schools plants the bad seed at an early stage in one’s career that design has little to do with construction.

    It doesn’t have to be that way. When I was a student at Michigan (in the tumultuous 60’s) we had no classes in working drawings or specifications. But in every design class we had to do wall sections and window/door details of our projects, and so we learned that the way a building goes together is as much a part of design as are plans, elevations, and sections. What we learned about real-world construction was less important than the mind-set.

    My office (Heller & Metzger, we are specification consultants also) has developed a PowerPoint show we call Deconstructed Specifications, which shows slides of buildings for which we’ve written specifications, and the ways that design and technical issues such as mockups, window wall performance, and site constraints can be addressed only in specifications. It’s a qualitative approach to specifications. We’ve presented it to our architect clients, AIA chapters, and students for 20 years. For students especially it’s been a good introduction to specfications.

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