“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.

Avalanches & Construction Project Teamwork

The Colorado mountains were host to a tragedy last month, on April 20th. Six skiers and snowboarders triggered an avalanche that killed five of them.

These guys were experienced backcountry travelers; their collective knowledge and experience made them a group who knew, better than most, what they were getting into, and how to avoid triggering an avalanche. But that didn’t actually translate into making them a great team.

Weird group dynamics often contribute to disaster. The larger the group, the less likely people are to speak up with dissenting opinions. An interesting study on data from human-triggered avalanches supports this statement in the context of avalanche danger.

The Denver Post had a great article on this tragedy, and how the “pack mentality” contributed to it.

From the Post article:

In 2004, avalanche researcher Ian McCammon released a seminal study “Heuristic Traps in Recreational Avalanche Accidents: Evidence and Implications,” in which he looked at 715 U.S. avalanche accidents from 1972 to 2003. The study found that people traveling alone and parties of six to 10 exposed themselves to significantly more hazard than groups of two, three or four.

McCammon identified six human factors in more than 95 percent of the accidents and concluded that they have the power to lure almost anyone into thinking an avalanche slope is safe. They are:

• Familiarity, which McCammon said “relies on our past actions to guide our behavior in familiar settings.”

• Consistency, which sees people sticking with original assumptions and ignoring new information about potential hazards.

• Acceptance, described by McCammon as “the tendency to engage in activities that we think will get us noticed or accepted.”

• The Expert Halo, which sees group members ascribing avalanche safety skills to a perceived expert, who may lead the group without those skills.

• Social Facilitation, which sees groups tending toward riskier decisions.

• Scarcity, or the “powder fever,” that can overwhelm backcountry travelers hunting for deep, untracked snow.

Many of these cues were clearly evident April 20 when the six skiers and snowboarders were buried in the 800-foot wide avalanche that slid 600 vertical feet off the north-facing flank of Mount Sniktau.

Hey, architects, does any of this sound familiar to you? Working on a team with an owner who listens to the contractor more than to you, because she’s worked with that contractor before, even though you have to stamp the drawings? Keep working on what you designed with an original budget in mind, although the budget has changed? Don’t want to rock the boat because you hope to work with this owner again in the future? Let the contractor select a roofing assembly because you perceive him to be more of an expert on roofs, even though you don’t actually know that he is? Willing to specify a completely new untested product because someone else on the team recommended it? Willing to take on a client, or work with a contractor, who has proven unreliable in the past, just because there’s not much work to be had?

From the study: “In hindsight, the danger was often obvious before these accidents happened, and so people struggle to explain how intelligent people with avalanche training could have seen the hazard, looked straight at it, and behaved as if it wasn’t there.”

We can’t do this design and construction thing alone. But when teams get too big, it’s human nature to speak up less. Architects, keep this human tendency in mind as more and more projects become contractor-led. Don’t forget that, although your life isn’t in danger due to not speaking up when you know better, as it is in the mountain backcountry, your reputation and liability are. You may be part of a pack, but you’re the team member who stamps those construction documents. You’re responsible for their content, no matter who contributed to them. You don’t have to go along with the pack on everything.

What Do Architects NOT Do?

Sometimes I tell people I’m a Renaissance Man. (Since I am female, this statement often momentarily confuses people.1) I mean that I am interested in, am capable of, and dabble in, a wide variety of pursuits.

Many, many architects could have taken career paths other than architecture. Our brains work mathematically, scientifically, and artistically. I am an architect, but while I am doing some of the other things I enjoy (making a gorgeous cake, managing my family’s investments, repairing a threshold in my home, carving a jack-o-lantern), I’m not practicing architecture.

Some practicing architects are builders as well as architects. Some practicing architects are also developers. But while they’re doing general contracting or real estate development, they’re still architects, but they are not practicing architecture. Construction, development, and architecture all require different agreements with clients and different liability insurance policies, even within design-build firms.

A bit over a week ago, I read a blog post that I can’t stop thinking about: “Being a Professional Architect is about much more than just designing nice buildings.” This post is on the blog of Build, LLC, a Seattle company that offers architecture and construction services. It was written to outline “a common code of conduct that all professions should abide by.”

The post was inspired by a community news blog post account of a designer in Seattle who declared bankruptcy and “walked away from more than $10 million in debt…” Ten million dollars doesn’t sound like an amount of debt that a small architecture firm could easily rack up, right?

The community news blog post keeps referring to the “architect,” and mentions that the “architecture firm imploded.” But it appears as if it was a development company that failed, and the guy isn’t actually an architect. (Yes, he designs buildings, but he isn’t a licensed architect.)

I’ve written about protection of the title “Architect” before.2 And I’ve written about a news writer’s obligation to use appropriate titles to refer to different types of design professionals.3 This situation is a good example of why I think the title should be protected – some of the comments on both posts are about this guy giving all architects a bad name.

This shouldn’t be happening; this designer’s actions shouldn’t be giving architects a bad name, because what he was doing that caused problems wasn’t actually the practice of architecture, and he isn’t actually an architect.

Financing the construction of buildings is not part of practicing architecture. Practicing architecture does not include constructing buildings.4 Yes, people who practice architecture sometimes do these things, but they are not doing these things at the same time that they’re practicing architecture. Everyone should be ethical in his or her work, but in practicing different types of work, we have completely different obligations to our clients and to the public.

Some consumers actually have no idea what an architect does. Architects themselves should not muddy this issue further. Practicing architecture as a profession is all about designing buildings. An architect discusses a project’s needs with the client, and based on those criteria and other requirements such as building codes, the architect designs, and prepares construction documents for, the building. The architect observes the construction of the building to verify that the building is being constructed in general conformance with the construction documents.

Mixing up the roles of architect, contractor and developer misleads consumers, and might be giving all architects a bad name.

Architects love being architects. But let’s be clear with clients and with the public that when we’re not actually practicing architecture, we’re not working as architects.

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Notes:

  1. “Renaissance Woman” doesn’t conjure up images of someone engaged in artistic or intellectual or scientific pursuits…  I just think of peaceful women sitting or lying down, posing for paintings.
  2. Recent posts of mine about protection of the title “Architect”: “’Sunset Review’ of Licensure for Architects”:  and “Really?!? ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’”
  3. Post of mine about obligation of a journalist to use the correct title:  “Perpetuating a Misconception”  Note: In February 2013, AIA Colorado sent personalized letters to more than 50 editors and other journalists throughout the state educating them about the title “architect.”  I am thrilled.  http://www.aiacolorado.org/advocacy/about-architect.aspx
  4. Colorado law specifically excludes the “performance of the construction of buildings” from the definition of the “practice of architecture.” I suspect that other states do the same.

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.

Perpetuating a Misconception

Do we have an obligation to stop perpetuating a misconception that we know is out there?  Or is it ok to keep it going, because it’s easier to gloss over it, instead of stopping conversation to correct the misconception?

Nope, I’m not talking about the girlfriend of a certain football player from my alma mater.  I’m talking about the misconception that someone who has a degree from an architecture school and designs buildings is an architect.

Now, there’s a difference between cocktail party conversation and written articles that reach a wide audience.  There are social skills and then there are conversation stoppers; there are manners on one hand and truth in journalism on the other hand.

I recently emailed with a newspaper writer.  He had written an article about the beautiful remodel of a home, and in it, he referred to the “architect” several times.  The designer of the remodel appears to be in the middle of taking his licensing exams, but does not appear to be a licensed architect.

I wrote to the writer that I felt compelled to inform him that a design professional cannot be called an “architect” in Colorado unless he or she is actually licensed as an architect in Colorado, and that although a licensed architect is not required for design work on a house, only a licensed architect is allowed, by law, to call him- or her- self an “architect.”

The writer wrote back that he knew all that, but in his mind, and in the mind of almost all readers, since the design professional has a degree in architecture, he’s an architect.    

What is the writer’s obligation as a journalistAccuracy, or an article that flows like a cocktail party conversation?

What is my obligation as a licensed architect?  I have been told by the Colorado arm of the American Institute of Architects that it is my “duty as a licensed architect to report anyone that is using the term architect and is not licensed to the state licensing board, per the licensing law.”

The architecture profession does a great job of letting the profession know that intern architects shouldn’t call themselves “architect” until they’re licensed.  But the architecture profession doesn’t do a good job of getting the word out to the general public.  And I believe that this can cause problems for consumers.

Here are a couple of recent posts of mine about this issue:

“’Sunset Review’ of Licensure for Architects”: https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/sunset-review-of-licensure-for-architects/ and

“Really?!? ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’” https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/really-who-cares-whos-a-licensed-architect/

If anyone (besides Manti Te’o) has suggestions for me, about how to continue to correct misconceptions, while continuing to practice good manners, please let me know.  I’m really at a loss, here.