Square Peg, Round Hole?

Does anyone else think it’s funny to see CSI MasterFormat 2004 section numbers rammed into the old CSI MasterFormat 1995 categories in construction estimates?

This is what most of the construction estimates that I see look like:

Division 1 General Requirements

01 50 00 Temporary Facilities and Controls

Division 2 Site Work

02 41 19 Selective Demolition

31 00 00 Earthwork

32 12 16 Asphalt Paving

Division 15 Mechanical

22 00 00 Plumbing

23 00 00 HVAC

Division 16 Electrical

26 00 00 Electrical

It looks funny to see section numbers that start with 22 put under Division number 15.  In the olden days, like maybe in 2003, the same info would have looked something like:

Division 1 General Requirements

01500 Temporary Facilities and Controls

01732 Selective Demolition

Division 2 Site Work

02300 Earthwork

02741 Asphalt Paving

Division 15 Mechanical

15000 Mechanical

Division 16 Electrical

16000 Electrical

See how nice and neat that looks with those first 2 numbers of each section matching the Division number of the category?  But then the spec writers went and started using different section numbers.  So there was some confusion, a period of transition…

But now, 9 years after MasterFormat 2004 was published, I’d expect this same info to be categorized like this:

Division 01 General Requirements

01 50 00 Temporary Facilities and Controls

Division 02 Existing Conditions

02 41 19 Selective Demolition

Division 22 Plumbing

22 00 00 Plumbing

Division 23 Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning

23 00 00 HVAC

Division 26 Electrical

26 00 00 Electrical

Division 31 Earthwork

31 00 00 Earthwork

Division 32 Exterior Improvements

32 12 16 Asphalt Paving

But mostly, it’s not.  Those square pegs keep getting rammed into those round holes.

  

Communication Breakdown?

Ever feel like you just aren’t being heard?  Ever feel like you aren’t sure exactly what someone’s talking about?  I do.

We hear a lot about how we work in “silos” today; we often work a little bit too independently from the rest of the people we’re supposed to be teaming with.  We make assumptions about the work of others (and then build our work from there); we sometimes make incorrect assumptions (and that affects our work negatively).

I love working independently, and I love working with other architects, but… the more I understand about the other people affected by my work, the better I can do my work.

When architects understand more about the point of view of a contractor, a subcontractor, a manufacturer, a supplier, or an owner, we can understand them better, we can make ourselves understood better, we can have a better team.  We can have a better construction process!

I often work on trying to learn more about the perspectives of others in the construction industry, but my first big step towards a better understanding was taking the CSI CDT exam.

The CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) exam covers a lot of information about preparing, understanding, and interpreting construction documents, and the roles of different groups in the construction process.

It was my first non-project-related introduction to the processes involved on the contractor side of the team.  There’s a lot I’d still like to learn, about the perspectives of the owner and the contractor during construction, but the CDT exam was a good start.

Learning more about where others are coming from can help you avoid communication breakdowns.

  • Final registration deadline for CSI Spring Certification Exams is February 28th.
  • Exams will be offered April 1 – 27, 2013, in the U.S. & Canada.
  • Learn more at http://csinet.org/certification

What is “Building Technology”?

I often mention “building technology” in my blog posts.  I’ve realized that I’m using a term that many people aren’t familiar with.

When I use the term “building technology,” I am not talking about information technology within a building.  I am not talking about the software technologies used to design buildings.  I’m not talking about only high-performance buildings.  I am not talking about only new technologies in building systems.

I am talking about “technology” in terms of its most basic, stripped-down definition: “1. The practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area. 2. A manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.”  (Definition is from Merriam Webster.)

And I am talking about “building” as defined by Webster, too: “The art or business of assembling materials into a structure.”

When I use the term “building technology,” I mean knowledge of the technical processes and methods of assembling buildings.  Drawing proper construction details requires understanding building technology.  Identifying conflicts between the construction documents and the way things are being built on the job site requires understanding building technology.

Knowledge of building technology is an important part of the practice of architecture, but it’s an area in which many of today’s young architects are weak.  This is an area in which I was weak, until I started writing specs and suddenly had starting points for researching my questions (or rather, I suddenly realized what questions I ought to be asking).1

We hear a lot about high-performance new technologies in buildings, but somehow, we seem to have lost the basics of knowledge about detailing foundation, roof, and exterior wall assemblies that meet the minimum of the applicable code requirements.

Without an understanding of basic building technology, an architect cannot properly prepare construction documents for submittal to the authorities having jurisdiction for the purposes of obtaining a building permit.

From the 2009 International Building Code (which has been adopted by many municipalities), Chapter 1, 107.2.4 “Exterior Wall Envelope”:

“Construction documents for all buildings shall describe the exterior wall envelope in sufficient detail to determine compliance with this code. The construction documents shall provide details of the exterior wall envelope as required, including flashing, intersections with dissimilar materials, corners, end details, control joints, intersections at roof, eaves or parapets, means of drainage, water-resistive membrane and details around openings.” 

Without an understanding of basic building technology, an architect cannot demonstrate (to an owner, to a contractor, or to the building department) the constructability of a design.  A building is not made up of bits and pieces erected next to each other; a building is composed of interrelated systems and assemblies that work together to contribute to the building’s proper functioning.  If these components are not carefully selected, specified, and detailed, with the designer taking into account these components’ effects on all the other parts of the building, the completed building may not be able to protect its occupants from drafts, moisture intrusion, mold, condensation, cold, outside noise, or excessive heat.

When I worked as a project architect, I often put off the detailing of tricky conditions until the last possible time.  I know that some other architects do, too.  Drawing construction details is hard work.  There are other, more fun, more easily achieved, tasks that also must be accomplished before a set of construction documents is finished.  But waiting to detail the tough transitions is a problem – when we finally get into the meat of these things, sometimes we realize that the assumptions we’d carried all along were incorrect, and we need a taller parapet, or we need more rigid insulation in the cavity, or we need a building expansion joint.

This detailing work can be less tedious, less torturous, and less time-consuming when we have more knowledge and more understanding of these things.  We produce better construction documents, and help to get better buildings built, when we know more about building technology.

Without an understanding of basic building technology, we can’t contribute much to high-performance building initiatives, such as those by the Building Enclosure Technology and Environment Council (BETEC) of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Building Technologies Program, the U.S. Green Building Council, and many cities and states.  Just as the IgCC (International Green Construction Code) is an overlay to the other ICC codes (such as the International Building Code), high-performance building technology does not replace, but enhances, basic building technology.

But… who’s teaching architects about basic building technology today?

Architecture school curricula have gotten heavier on design; architecture graduates are supposed to learn almost everything else they need to know during their internships.  But as more and more knowledgeable gray-haired architects retire, many of the mentors for interns and young architects know less about basic building technology than the mentors of the past.

CSI (the Construction Specifications Institute) recognizes this problem, and is currently exploring the concept of a Building Technology Education Program.  The task team for this program has been charged with formulating “the concept of a building technology education program for participants in the design/construction industry that will benefit the industry by raising the technical knowledge of the participants.”  I don’t think a program like this exists today, and I don’t think that any other organization is working on anything comprehensive like this proposed education program.2

This program is envisioned as being for everyone in the construction industry – not just for intern architects and emerging professionals.  (Architects, remember: we’re part of the construction industry.)  The more that everyone in the industry can understand the concept that all parts of a building are interrelated, and that a modification to one assembly may require modifications to other assemblies, the more effective all of us in the construction industry can be.

Notes:________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Here are some links to past blog posts of mine that discuss technical weakness in architects – including my own past technical weakness.  I have greatly increased my understanding of building technology – anyone can.
    1. https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/architects-take-back-the-reins/
    2. https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/the-fervor-of-a-convert-part-one/
    3. https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/the-fervor-of-a-convert-part-two/
  2. Here’s the roster of the Building Technology Education Program Task Team on the CSI website http://new.csinet.org/csi_services/committees.aspx.  (Scroll down to “FY 2013 Building Technology Education Task Team.”)  If you have suggestions for the team, please contact one of the members.

A Silly Solution

DesignIntelligence has published a new article by Scott Simpson, FAIA. “What Have We Learned?” is well-written and lays out some of the problems in the profession of architecture right now. http://www.di.net/articles/what-have-we-learned/

The article mentions that most owners find architects’ construction documents inadequate.

I just posted the following comment on the article. It’s not showing up yet. It might soon, it might never. I feel strongly about this, so I am sharing it here.

The article states that “…92 percent of owners do not believe that architects’ construction documents are suitable for the purpose intended.”

How can attempts “to prove that ‘good design is good business'” possibly solve this problem? Will SOMEONE ELSE fulfill the task of producing adequate construction documents while architects busy themselves with “becoming conversant” in “good business” and making up new “value propositions” to offer to potential clients?

Adequate information with which to construct buildings will still be necessary, whether it’s in digital form or on paper. Someone needs to produce this information. For hundreds of years, architects have been the people doing this. This is what architects are licensed to do. It still needs to be done. 

Encouraging architects in different directions, without addressing how this need for adequate construction documents is to be fulfilled, is silly.

Bad behavior in toddlers is best addressed by redirection (“Don’t pull the flowers off the bush; here’s a ball instead!”) Redirection is NOT the appropriate remedy for inadequate performance of NECESSARY duties.

Architects ought to be producing good construction documents. I believe that this is our primary obligation under the terms of our licensure. If we don’t, who will?

The Construction Specifications Institute can help. Have you seen the new CSI logo? The new tagline is “Building Knowledge. Improving Project Delivery.” Good construction documents are achievable, but you can’t produce them unless you understand building technology and the principles of construction documentation. If you want to start building your own knowledge about how to produce good construction documents, check out CSI. http://www.csinet.org

New directions for architects may be necessary. But basic obligations of architects are not being fulfilled. We must master the basics before we can move in new directions.

“Brake Metal” – What Is It?

Have you ever wondered why architects’ construction details often have notes that call out “brake metal” (or, possibly, and incorrectly, “break metal”)?

When I was an architectural intern, working on construction documents, I often used details from previous projects to get started on details for a current project. I often wondered, and sometimes asked, “What is brake metal?”

I never got a good answer.

But when I started writing specs, I learned that brake metal is sheet metal that is formed in a press brake. This metal is often specified for sheet metal flashing and trim.

Here’s a press brake in action:

In this photo, above, a length of prefinished sheet metal is being inserted between the male die and the female die of a press brake. Next, the workers will pull up the bottom die, pressing the dies together, which will bend the metal.

Violà! Brake metal.

Many thanks to Metal Sales Manufacturing Corporation for today’s tour of their Colorado plant, where they roll form tons of sheet metal wall and roof panels every year (and brake form lots of sheet metal trim).

This tour was organized by the Denver Chapter of CSI (the Construction Specifications Institute). If you’ve been considering joining CSI, now is a great time to join, because, for one week starting today, CSI has a 20% discount on national membership (November 9th through 16th). This discount is only available to new members joining at the professional (non-student) level. The discount doesn’t apply to your chapter membership, but chapter membership is where you get great benefits such as this plant tour I wrote about today, so it’s worth joining a local chapter, too! Here are the details:

Join CSI at www.csinet.org/join by Friday, November 16th and pay only $192 for national dues, a 20% savings.

  1. Log onto www.csinet.org/join
  2. Select “Join Now”, and then click “Sign Up as a New Member”
  3. Enter Promotion Code CSI1220 when prompted
  4. Click the “Add Discount” button

 

 

Masonry: Something New Every Day

Masonry.  It’s an ancient form of building material, but there’s an awful lot to learn about it.

One thing that’s important to remember is that masonry (including brick, CMU, stone, and mortar) is porous and absorptive.

Masonry walls that are under construction should be protected from rain and snow (at the tops, and at window openings), so that the masonry wall doesn’t absorb too much water.  If saturated masonry is not allowed to dry out before being closed in, moisture-related problems, such as exterior efflorescence, or even interior moisture problems, may occur.

Here’s my latest post about this, and how building codes address this issue, in the brand new Denver Chapter CSI Blog: “Protection of Unfinished Masonry Walls.”

 

 

 

The Meaning of Teamwork

Ah, the meaning of teamwork is being discussed again.  In a recent online column, Michael S. Weil wrote that I don’t understand the meaning of teamwork.  (He was mixed up about my name, which is O’Sullivan, not Sullivan, but he quoted from my blog post on Integrated Project Delivery in his piece.)  This post is my response to him.

Sometimes, the most valuable player on the team is the one who demands that each member pull his or her own weight.

Many people understand my above statement pretty well from experiences in their personal lives, especially people who are part of a household with children and 2 parents who work outside the home.  It might take time for such demands to be appreciated and to be seen for what they are.  It is not always easy to be the “bad guy.”  I know both men and women who sometimes have to remind their partners at home that it’s their turn to do something for the kids or something in the kitchen.  Speaking up and reminding one’s partner is better for the relationship than not speaking up (and just doing it oneself and resenting it).  We need to team up on the things we can’t do alone.

Years ago, when I was the architectural project manager on a school addition/remodel project, I had assistance from various coworkers throughout the project.  For the more technical items, such as the design and detailing of the roof assembly and parapets, an architect who was much more experienced than I assisted me.  Sometime early in construction, a question from the contractor came up about parapet height and the tapered insulation on the roof.  I discussed the issue with my boss, and I offered to figure it out.  He said no, have the architect who originally detailed it figure it out and fix it

I never discussed his reasons with him, but I see a few good reasons for his response:  First, it’s good to have people clean up their own messes.  (This was not a mess, just a minor miscalculation, but the idea is the same – require people to finish what they start.)  Second, it’s important to maintain continuity of thought throughout a problem-solving process – only this other architect knew what factors she had taken into account from the beginning – giving the problem to someone else to solve would have thrown away that knowledge.  Third, it’s good to pick the most appropriate person for the task based on skills.  Since the other architect was more experienced than I, she was the more appropriate person on our office team to draw those details.

Teamwork on a Construction Project Team

Teamwork!  It often means working by oneself, and bringing the products of that work back to the team.  Work must be broken down into discrete tasks, and the tasks have to be given to the people on the team who are best-suited to those tasks.  Many of these discrete tasks (such as detailing a roof parapet) are best accomplished in solitude.  Some (such as compiling a GC’s bid on a bid date) need to be accomplished while working constantly with others.  In either case, people must give their all – team members cannot expect others to pick up their slack. 

My January 2012 blog post “On Collaboration” discussed my vision of teamwork: 

“I think about construction project team collaboration kind of like this:

“If everyone on a project team gives 101%, if everyone does his own job as thoroughly and as best as he can (accounting for the 100%), PLUS goes an extra 1% (tries to anticipate and be proactive about locations where gaps between the work of team members might occur, and tries to overlap a tiny bit) we’ll get to 100% (our best work as a team) on the project.”

The Teeter-Totter

There’s a teeter-totter kind of mechanism in every relationship – if things are to keep moving, the less one party does, the more another has to do.  The more one party does, the less another has to do.  (You may have grown up calling it a seesaw.  I grew up calling it a teeter-totter.  It’s a board on a fulcrum; kids often try to bounce each other off it.  This activity may end in tears.)

A question for general contractors who have done Construction Manager as Constructor projects – have you ever received unfinished drawings at GMP pricing time and been asked for a ton of input at that point from the architect?  Did it feel like a bunch of someone else’s work was dumped on you?  

A tough question for architects – have you ever gotten stumped, busy, or lazy on a Construction Manager as Constructor project, and decided to ask the CM for technical design advice, on a question like the appropriate height of a roof curb or flashing, or the appropriate thickness of material for a metal door, or the proper type of paint for the metal bollards, instead of researching it yourself?  Do you realize that you were asking the CM to do some of your work for you?  (I have done that sort of thing myself, on one project.  I was young; I didn’t know what I was doing.  It was a mistake.)

The Right Party for the Job

Some CMs have the knowledge and the contacts to do a good analysis of what would be an appropriate design solution in a particular situation.  But my personal experience with CMs leads me to believe that many only analyze by cost, and many seem to just forward their questions on to their favorite subs.  If the question just goes to one subcontractor, there’s no analysis, just an answer driven by convenience and economics, not by a comprehensive look at what product or detail would be best for the owner, short term performance-wise, or long term performance-wise, or aesthetically.

On a project team, such as the kind we have under a CMc agreement, the contractor is the best person to answer questions about cost and schedule, and the availability of installers for systems and assemblies, but the contractor is not the best person to answer questions about specific products and technical construction details.

A good technically-minded architect (who understands building science, durability, product interfaces, assembly transitions, and building codes), someone who does not have anything to gain financially by recommending a particular product or solution, is the most appropriate person to explore solutions involving specific products and technical construction details.  Now, that architect (a firm’s technical director, or the firm’s construction specifier, in many cases) will be getting some of his or her information from people who do have products to sell.  But that architect ought to be doing independent research, and ought to be talking to more than one technical sales rep about more than one product for more than one possible solution.  The contractor, even a CM getting a preconstruction fee, might not do anything more than talk to one person about the question.  The CM is probably not the right party to do this research.

Ethics

As I commented on Antony McPhee’s blog post, I do not doubt that IPD will make the construction industry more efficient.  But, I think it will not make aesthetic design better overall, and I think that worse aesthetic design, in general, will be bad for the built environment.  There’s also the ethical side of more-contractor-influence for owners to consider.  Under design-bid-build and CMc, when different solutions involve products and systems and assemblies that someone sells, the design professional doesn’t get a “cut” or percentage of that sale for specifying it on the project, but the contractor’s profit figure is always based on the cost of the project.  In a team relationship such as CMc, the design professional is supposed to be the party evaluating different solutions for their aesthetic value and their performance value over the life-cycle of a building, and the contractor is supposed to be the party evaluating these different solutions for their scheduling and cost issues and installer issues.  The contractor, because of the profit factor, should not be the only party evaluating different solutions.  Architects should not be taking direction from contractors on products under CMc.  What is the expectation under IPD?  Everyone designs!

Architects’ Fees

Sometimes, some architects dump some of their work into the laps of CMs.  But there’s that owner-architect contract and those general conditions of the contract that spell out the architect’s roles, responsibilities, and obligations, and that delineates architects’ fees.  Whether or not they actually accomplish all those obligations, whether the contractor is designing the roof-edge drainage system, or the architect is designing the roof-edge drainage system, the architect gets the fee for designing the roof-edge drainage system. 

Architects, do you plan to transfer more of this type of work in the future, under an ever more team-oriented agreement such as IPD?  Do you think that “teaming” means doing less of the work that architects have traditionally done, and getting the same fees?  Do you understand that if you keep giving away work, such as technical design work, you will keep receiving lower and lower fees over time?  Do you know what IPD may lead to in the future? 

Under CMc, the CM usually gets a preconstruction fee.  Preconstruction services are often a great value to a project and to an owner.  But that fee has to come out of the one project cost “pie” that the owner has.  When one party does less work, another has to do more work, and should be compensated properly for that work.  There’s one “pie” of one size.  The more work architects give away, whether contracted to do that work or not, the lower their fees should be.  Is this what architects want?  It’s not what I want.  

The Technically-Minded Architect

Architects, get, and keep, a technically-minded architect on your team.  In house, out-of-house, wherever, but keep this person under your umbrella.  Pay this person fairly.  You know you need him or her under design-bid-build, to reduce change orders and to preserve your reputation.  CMc can be a better value for the owner if the architect has this technical person on the design team.  Architects, if you want less erosion of architect fees under IPD, you need a technically-minded architect on your team.  If you don’t have people like this, and you want to start developing some, a good place to start is by getting some of your team members involved in CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute.  There are CSI chapters all over the United States.  Canada’s equivalent is the CSC, Construction Specifications Canada.   

Teamwork Summary

Demand that each member pull his own weight.

Put the right party on each task.

The right party to evaluate the suitability of products and assemblies and systems, without the influence of profit to gain, should be on the design team.  This will provide the best value to the owner.

Architects, if you don’t have one, get a technically-minded architect on your team. 

GoooooOOO TEAM!