People who read this blog know that I’m a specifier, and therefore pretty technically-minded. But many people don’t know that I haven’t always been technically-minded. I migrated to the technical side of architecture from a place of relative technical weakness. (I wasn’t utterly ignorant; I did know the actual dimensions of a 2 by 4. Some architecture grads don’t.)
I first realized the importance of specifications when I started doing CA (construction contract administration) on the projects that I’d produced drawings for. But it wasn’t until after I started preparing specifications myself that I started to learn and understand more about building technology, building science, construction detailing, and building codes, and finally started learning how to find out information about how buildings actually get put together.
In hindsight, I realized that the technical weakness that I had when I was working as an emerging project manager and project architect was a pretty bad thing, though not uncommon. That type of technical weakness is changeable, it is fixable – but it is NOT defensible.
In this blog, I try to write to the person that I used to be – the intern architect or architectural project manager or project architect who doesn’t fully realize the importance of building technology, building science, and construction detailing.
I have broadened my own focus in architecture. Others can, too. But they have to be open to learning about these technical things; they have to understand the importance of the technical before they can start drawing good construction details. Only with good construction details can architects’ designs be executed the way they have been imagined. The designer who can’t draw, or even recognize, good construction details that communicate to the constructor how to build his design will not be a good designer of anything but unbuilt work.
I write so relentlessly about the importance of the technical things in architecture because I know what it’s like to not think they’re important. I know the results of that attitude – embarrassing moments on the jobsite – because I used to have that attitude. Now that I’ve become a more technical person, I see this issue from another side, and I see clearly that we can do better as a profession.
Looking back now on the early years of my career, I suspect that I had a number of opportunities to learn about building technology and construction detailing that I didn’t take advantage of, because I just didn’t realize the importance. I knew that there were things I needed to learn, but there were so many areas I needed to learn about. I focused on some other areas of practice instead of on building technology. I had to learn how to put together a set of drawings. I had to learn how to communicate with engineers and general contractors. I had to learn how to communicate with owners and potential clients. I had to learn how to write proposals for fees and services. I had to learn how to budget my hours on a project. I had to get up to speed on new versions of AutoCAD when they came out. All these things are important to the practice of architecture, and, of course, spending time on design is important, too.
But I have realized that when it comes to that stamp and seal, knowledge about building technology and codes is absolutely essential to the practice of architecture. Our professional obligations mandated and regulated by governments, building owners’ expectations, and our obligations addressed in our owner-architect agreements and covered by our professional liability insurance, are related to building technology and codes more than to anything else about architecture.
I am still learning about construction, codes, building science, and detailing. We all are, because technologies and codes change – but I still feel like I am catching up to where I should be on these issues, because I still have to research a number of things on almost every project. But I can catch up. All of us can.
As a brand new intern architect, I didn’t know what specifications were. When I first started doing project management, I barely comprehended that specs and drawings were supposed to work together. Then when I started doing CA on projects, the importance of specifications hit me like a bomb. And now I’m a specifier. We all start somewhere. Regardless of the starting point, and regardless of the career destination, architects who want their constructed buildings to look like the designs in their minds must understand building technology.
When I graduated with my Bachelor of Architecture degree, I knew that there was a lot I would need to learn on the job. But I didn’t realize how much there was to learn, and I didn’t realize which things were most important. One reason I write this blog is to tell others the things that I now realize that I should have been trying to learn earlier in my career.
For more about that degree, see Part Two of this post, coming later this week.