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:

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

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.

 

Illogical (part one)

I don’t know what to call this besides illogical:

  • The cost of a college education has been increasing more each year than the cost of living has.
  • Wages, particularly in the last few years, have not been keeping up with the increasing cost of living.
  • Therefore wages are falling way behind tuition inflation.
  • A college degree is becoming more essential to employment every decade, but the process of earning it seems to be teaching graduates less and less applicable knowledge.
  • A rule of thumb generally preached to prospective college students who need student loans is that they should borrow a total of no more than their annual starting salary after graduation.
  • So many college freshmen don’t actually know what they’ll be doing after graduation. But architecture students do.
  • So many college students have no idea how much they’ll be making after graduation. But architecture students can find this out pretty easily.
  • The 2013 AIA Compensation Report came out last month. Click here for an article about it, that includes some of the data.

What do entry-level architecture graduates make? I’m going to spell out some of that data from the report.

  • Nationwide, mean (average) compensation for an “Intern 1” position is $40,000. (“Intern 1″ is a person who has graduated from architecture school, works full-time in an architecture firm, and is on the path towards licensure.)
  • Compensation for these new grads a little higher in some places. (In the Mid Atlantic Region it’s $41,800.)
  • And it’s a lot lower in some places. (In the East South Central Region, it’s $34,800.)
  • Remember – these numbers are just averages.
  • According to the rule of thumb, architecture students should borrow a total of no more than $40,000 in student loans, since they’re likely to make no more than $40,000 in their first year after school.

So, as I wrote on a forum recently, if you have to borrow money to go to school, keep these things in mind:

  • To get a professional degree (a BArch or an MArch) in architecture, school takes 5 or 6 years.
  • My alma mater’s current tuition is over $44,000 per year, not including room and board. My alma mater has a 5-year professional degree (a BArch).
  • Tuition alone for the state university in my state is over $10,000 per year, and you’d have to go for a total of 6 years to get a professional degree (4-year degree plus a 2-year MArch).
  • In most states, you need a professional degree if you want to be able to pursue licensure.
  • A growing number of architecture firms won’t even hire you unless you have a professional degree. (According to the AIA report referenced above, 20 percent of firms do not hire employees without a professional degree in architecture, up from 15 percent in 2011.)
  • You might need to borrow money for room and board, or for living expenses, in addition to tuition. If, while in school, you have a job, or live with parents or a spouse who supports you and pays for living expenses, and you get in-state tuition in my state, you’ll likely borrow something like $60,000.
  • If you go to my alma mater, don’t have a job, live on campus, and borrow money for tuition, room and board, you might need something like $285,000, unless you get “gift aid” from the university, in which case you might be borrowing “only” $142,000.
  • You’d never make $142,000 in your field as an architecture grad in the first few years after school.
  • In fact, that figure is close to the mean of what architects top out at right now.
  • The mean salary for CEOs of architecture firms in New England (the highest-paid region in the country for architecture CEOs) is $151,500. That is the highest number on the whole survey.
  • And nobody gets to that compensation level very fast – the mean compensation for “Intern 3″ is $49,200. (“Intern 3″ is a person who has graduated from architecture school, has three to six years experience, works full-time in an architecture firm, and is working towards licensure.)

If you have to borrow money to go to architecture school, the math just doesn’t work out.

  • Check it out for yourself – figure out how much tuition and room and board and fees and books and supplies cost at the schools you’re looking at. Then figure out what you might make in each of your first few years in an architecture firm in the city you want to be in. (To do this, go to the local AIA office and ask to look at the latest compensation survey results for that city. Do not search online for “architect salary;” the internet thinks you mean “software architect,” or some other IT field, and they make more. ) Then use an online calculator to see if it’ll work. Here’s one.

Something’s gotta give. So what can be changed? I have some thoughts that will be in part two, later this week.

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. http://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/architects-take-back-the-reins/
    2. http://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/the-fervor-of-a-convert-part-one/
    3. http://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.

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”: http://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/sunset-review-of-licensure-for-architects/ and

“Really?!? ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’” http://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.

“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

 

 

Really?!? “Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?”

Architect magazine, “The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects,” just published a column by Aaron Betsky titled “Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?”

Architect magazine has perplexed me again.  (Do any actual architects review this stuff before it gets published?)  

Anyway, here’s a link to the column by Mr. Betsky, and below is the response I posted tonight on the Architect website.  I hope that my comment, and a whole bunch of other similar comments, show up tomorrow.  (So far zero comments show up, but it’s late at night right now.)

“‘CLIENTS care’ is the answer to the question ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’  Sophisticated clients want design professionals who are insured for professional liability.  Design professionals who are not licensed cannot obtain professional liability insurance.

“Governments care, too.  Unsophisticated clients deserve the consumer protection that licensing and regulation by states provides.  A license only demonstrates minimal competence, but that’s so much better for consumers than NO required demonstration of competence, and no regulation of design professionals.  According to a recent report by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, ‘Title protection plays a vital, fundamental role in protecting consumers from unqualified practitioners. The use of certain protected titles and phrases informs consumers that the individual is regulated, has undergone a certain level of scrutiny, and is qualified to practice under state law.’

“Everyone who cares about good buildings ought to care about licensure too.  ‘Design’ of buildings is total design – down to the flashing details inside the walls.  Someone has to figure out (design) those details, and building owners don’t want the guys in the field making up those detail designs as they go.  In fact, building codes for commercial buildings REQUIRE that the construction documents show details of ‘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.’ (2009 IBC)  These construction documents are required to be prepared by design professionals who are ‘licensed to practice their respective design profession as defined by the statutory requirements of the professional registration laws of the state or jurisdiction in which the project is to be constructed.’ (also 2009 IBC)

“As I have written before, in my blog, ‘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.’  In other words, the drawings might look good, but the constructed building won’t necessarily look like the drawings, unless the designer can draw the construction details for that building.

“So, a licensed design professional is required by law to prepare the construction documents, including details.  It may as well be an architect – there’s no shortage of licensed architects who need work right now.  Good construction details make better buildings.  Details drawn by the same team who produced the schematic design make better buildings.

“Many, many licensed architects already practice architecture as described in the last paragraph of this column by Mr. Betsky.  Many licensed architects produce designs that transform ‘buildings into frames for our daily lives, frameworks for relationships, catalysts for new ways of living, anchors in a world of change, and many other things that… are difficult to define…’

“Debate away about what these other, difficult-to-define things are, but do not discount the core of what it means to practice architecture.  (Program a building based on a client’s needs, schematically design a building, develop the design, prepare construction documents including construction details and specifications, assist the owner in bidding out the project to builders, observe the construction process to determine whether construction is proceeding in accordance with the contract documents.)

“And for people who are looking for ways to describe to the public what architecture is, why not start with the basics that I mentioned in the paragraph above?  It’s what’s most important in the eyes of the public, governments, lawyers, insurers, and CLIENTS.  The basics MUST COME FIRST.  Licensure is a basic requirement for the practice of architecture.  The difficult-to-define qualities of the practice of architecture can come after that.”

Why Does My Spec Writer Ask So Many Annoying Questions?

Many full-time specifiers were project architects at some point. We’ve been in your shoes. We are thinking about ourselves in your future shoes, a few months from now, during construction. That’s why we ask you all these questions during the Construction Documents phase.

How do spec writers keep all these questions in their heads?

Well, they’re not always bouncing around in our heads. When we use our master spec sections to prepare project specification sections, we get prompted to think about many little details of construction, spanning a range from bidding to layout, rough construction, finished construction, to warranties and life cycle maintenance. We also think about sequencing, and how things will all get put together, a little more than some other members of the design team do.

But I still have design work, and other stuff to do right now, during CDs. Why do I have to think about these questions now? Why can’t we just address these things in the field?

The process of writing a spec section, much like the process of drawing a construction detail, is part of the process of design. Your spec writer is a design professional, just as your consulting engineers are.

Sometimes spec writers think a little bit like estimators – when we look at product data and specification masters, we consider different product options and selections that need to be made. That’s one reason we ask the project architect questions. We don’t want you to have to make these selections during the submittals part of construction. We want to specify it now. Why? It’s not because we’re control freaks, and it’s not that we’re so concerned about your work load during construction contract administration (although some of us might be control freaks, and I personally am concerned about my architect-clients’ work load during construction). We want to spec these things now because now, during CDs, is the right time.

Some product options are standard and others cost more. We’d rather specify the color you want, now, before the contract is signed, so that there won’t be extra costs in the form of change orders for silly things like colors that are more expensive than the color group the contractor was expecting (and priced).

Sometimes we think like installers or subcontractors. We might ask questions about whether the owner wants vinyl tiles to be under the casework, or to butt to the casework. This is something that might be in spec sections for casework and for vinyl tile. Someone needs to make the owner’s expectations explicitly clear to the contractor. The owner might not care. But the owner might care – the project architect should ask the owner.

Things that ought to be addressed during CDs, and aren’t, often end up costing the owner more money, end up costing the architect more time (and therefore burning through more fee and therefore reducing the firm’s profit) and end up causing the general contractor more stress, because of having to obtain a price on documents that aren’t really complete, and having to then address (argue about) discrepancies between what was actually desired (but not specified clearly) and what was priced (based on fair assumptions).

SOMEBODY HAS TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES. The most qualified person, and the person who might actually be legally obligated, to address these issues, is the architect. The contractor often ends up making these decisions, and it’s not always the way the owner or the architect would have liked it – it’s better to explain how you’d like it, so the contractor knows, instead of letting him do it however he decides, and then asking for it to be redone later. Redoing things costs the owner extra money.

THE ISSUES HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED AT SOME POINT. They will not just go away. The time to address these things is during construction documents phase, when everything can be considered together before it’s too late. (Before it’s too late to make necessary changes to other things in order to get everything to turn out the way you envision. Nothing in design and construction can be considered in a vacuum. Everything affects, and is affected by, other things.) Try to address everything now, and you’ll have fewer surprises during construction.

Your spec writer is thinking about these relationships between building elements right now, and has taken the time to ask you the questions, and wants to write the specs in such a way that your intent can be achieved during construction.

Take the time now, read your spec writer’s provoking emails now, think through everything now, ask your spec writer questions now, and get all those design decisions made now, so that you’re not scrambling later, under the gun, in the field, during construction.

This is what the sophisticated owner expects.

Today’s Webinar on Submittals

This afternoon I attended a great CSI Practice Group webinar. You don’t have to be a CSI member to be part of the Practice Groups. There are practice groups with free webinars for BIM, sustainability, specifying, product representation, and construction contract administration. For info on CSI Practice Groups: http://www.csinet.org/Main-Menu-Category/Communities-2109-14280/Practice-Group

Today’s Specifying Practice Group topic, presented by Dave Stutzman and Louis Medcalf, was “Submittals.” There’s one little tangent from the presentation that I want to elaborate on here:

On a recent project of mine, the lack of a submittal for the contractor’s proposed solution to an unexpected situation caused a problem. The contractor didn’t think that a submittal was required by the contract documents, and the architect didn’t realize that a submittal was required by the contract documents. The contractor could have saved himself some money and time, and could have saved the architect and the owner some time, if the contractor had just prepared a submittal for the architect’s review before proceeding with the work. (Oh, yes, some freshly-installed flooring underlayment had to be removed before the project could proceed. THAT was a waste of time and money.)

If something is added to a project, because of an unforeseen condition, everyone (architect, owner, contractor) often acts as if it’s the first time this sort of thing has ever happened. It’s not. Unexpected things happen all the time on construction projects, and that’s why we have standard processes to deal with them.

Anything that wasn’t originally in the project, but is part of the project now, is in the contract as the result of either a change order or a minor change to the contract. Whether it’s a moisture mitigation treatment for an existing slab, or a whole new roof assembly, whether it was initiated by an owner as a late addition to a project, or it was initiated by the contractor as a solution to an unexpected condition, or initiated as a substitution request because of a sudden product unavailability, it ends up in the contract as the direct result of a change order or a minor change (such as the type authorized by an ASI, Architect’s Supplemental Instructions). Even when the change results in no added cost to the owner, and even when its purpose is solely to repair a mistake made by the contractor, it’s a change, and it should be documented (and submitted on).

Architects and specifiers can make sure that the contract documents require submittals for things that weren’t originally in the project. Requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction is a good idea. In fact, requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction may be even more important than requiring submittals for things that were originally part of the design, since the new element wasn’t originally thought through along with the rest of the design. The contractor’s preparation of the submittal, and the architect’s review of the submittal, act as a double-check mechanism to help make sure that the added item will be appropriate.

If the architect is creating a new spec section as part of an ASI or Proposal Request, the architect should include in the specs a requirement for submittals – just as the spec sections in the original documents did. If the architect is modifying a spec section as part of an ASI or a Proposal Request, the spec section probably already calls for submittals. The architect needs to dictate those submittal requirements in the documents issued during construction.

Then, the architect just needs to make sure that the contractor provides the submittal required by the contract documents; the architect then just needs to enforce the contract documents.

We have typical processes that state submittal requirements for Substitution Requests and for contractor-generated Change Order Proposals. So the architect doesn’t need to reinvent a process; the architect just needs to enforce the contract documents.

If there’s a substitution request generated by the Contractor, the Division 01 spec section “Substitution Procedures” can include language that requires product data and samples to be submitted as part of the substitution request. MasterSpec’s master language already does this very well.

Contractor-initiated Change Order Proposals that are the result of unexpected site conditions are addressed in the Division 01 spec section “Contract Modification Procedures.” The MasterSpec version of this section includes some language for this, but more specific language could be added by the specifier.

When unforeseen site conditions pop up, people often panic, and rush through things, trying to find a solution quickly, to stay on schedule. Just remember – there are probably already processes for these situations in your contract documents, in Division 01 of the specifications. Do not ignore them. This is the worst time to throw out the rules.  Your schedule may suffer even more if you ignore submittal requirements. If the requirements for typical submittal info get written into the “rules” (Division 01) and are in there BEFORE unforeseen situations come up (before the contract is signed), it’s easier for the architect to enforce the submittal requirements. It can be difficult to extract a submittal from a contractor after a substitution request or a change order proposal has already been submitted and informally approved.

 

The Fervor of a Convert (part two)

People who have read Part One of this post know that although I often write about technical competence for architects, I have not always been technically competent myself.  So, why wasn’t I technically-minded earlier in my life?  And, if this technical stuff is so important, why don’t architects learn it all in school?    

In the family I grew up in, education has been held in very high regard for generations.1  When formal education is so revered, it is offered up as the answer to everything; the other side of that is that someone’s lack of formal education is seen as something to pity, even when knowledge and expertise in one’s field have been gained through practical experience.     

A recent column by Robert Samuelson2 discusses the college education issue.  Here’s an excerpt:

“The fixation on college-going, justified in the early postwar decades, stigmatizes those who don’t go to college and minimizes their needs for more vocational skills.” – Robert Samuelson 

In my opinion, in the field of architecture, not only does this college fixation stigmatize those who don’t obtain a college degree, it also falsely inflates the importance of the university degree in architecture, and it deemphasizes the importance of the things that aren’t taught in college.  Many people overvalue the degree and seem to undervalue the practical work experience in architecture.  NCARB overvalues the BArch and MArch.  Most states overvalue the BArch and MArch.  Many employers overvalue the BArch and the MArch. 

Although in most states a professional degree (BArch or MArch) is mandatory for licensure, I believe that those states should reevaluate this requirement.Yes, most people who have been through the rigors of semester-after-semester of design studio will be better designers than most who haven’t, but schematic design is such a small part of the actual practice of architecture.  Not every licensed architect will need to do schematic design.  But every licensed architect is required to be technically competent.

During one of my summer internships, I didn’t get along very well with a co-worker – our personalities clashed.  One day this co-worker said something important, and I responded with a retort that I now recognize was terribly wrong.  He said that I should have been learning more about drafting and construction detailing in architecture school.  My response was that I wasn’t going to a vocational school – I was going to a university

In my mind, not only was there a disconnect between the dirty work of building buildings and the work of designing buildings, there was also a disconnect between the technical work of drawing construction details and the work of designing buildings.  Looking back, I suspect that this misconception of mine stemmed from the combination of these 3 things: one, the knowledge that I was on the right track to a career in architecture by pursuing a university degree, two, the feeling that since this technical stuff wasn’t emphasized much at my school it must not be that important, and three, the utterly misguided confidence of a 21-year-old that since I wasn’t very good at the technical stuff, it must not be crucial.

So, if this technical stuff is so important, why don’t schools teach very much of it?

I certainly was taught some things about building technology in school.  One very relevant class that I remember was in first semester sophomore year; I was pretty lost when we covered wood framing.  I was 18, and I had already known for about 7 years that I wanted to be an architect, but apparently I hadn’t realized that designing wood framing was the sort of thing architects did

We did our thesis projects in the first semester of fifth year, and second semester we fleshed out the construction details of those design projects.  I fumbled through my wall section, probably just using Architectural Graphic Standards to guide me, and possibly not listening very well to my professors…    

Those 2 classes may have been the only classes in my program that officially addressed building technology.  I do not remember building technology being taught or emphasized in any other classes.  (Even my 4 semesters of structures didn’t really address building technology.)

Here’s why: It would be impossible for university programs to teach all the technical information that architects need to learn.  On the one hand, the schedule is full.  School is a great place to learn how to design, and to study architectural history and theory – things that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn on the job.  And on the other hand, there’s too much technical stuff to know, and it changes frequently.  Every building is different.  Each region of the country has different requirements.  Firms specialize in different areas of practice.  The best place for architects to learn technical things is on the job.  As I mentioned in Part One of this post, when it comes to the legal obligations of an architect, the technical things are essential, but the subjects we focus on in school aren’t.  This causes some people to suggest that architecture programs shouldn’t be in universities at all.4

Although schools cannot teach students all the technical things they need to know, schools can do a better job of preparing students to be able to learn technical things later.

Most architecture grads understand that a degree in architecture is not the end of their learning.  I did grasp that while I was in college, but I didn’t realize that it was truly only the beginning of my learning.  Schools should emphasize that students’ time at the university is only the beginning of learning about practicing architecture.

Learning challenging things is hard, because people who are learning are always slightly out of their comfort zones.  It’s unsettling to be out of one’s comfort zone, and to be responsible for production in an architecture firm, at the same time.  It’s difficult, or maybe impossible, to learn things when one was not expecting to need to learn things.  Schools should emphasize that students should expect to be out of their comfort zones, and learning new things, for years to come.

Every professor in an architecture program should tell his or her students how the subject matter contributes to the knowledge foundation for the students’ future practice.  Every studio project final crit could end with a professor explaining that in real-world practice, schematic design phase may be only about 15 percent of a project, and that the architect would need to produce many very detailed technical drawings to create a set of construction documents that someone could actually build the studio projects from.  Some of those detailed technical drawings should be explored in school, as a follow-up to that studio project.  Schools should take every opportunity to explain to students that although they aren’t learning or doing many technical things now, they will need to learn them, and do them, later.

The mere combination of knowledge of how to schematically design, and mastery of the modeling or drafting software that one’s firm uses, does not make one an architect.  Software skills are just a tool, a starting point, that makes it possible for an intern to work at a firm; an intern has to be able to contribute something to the firm, usually production documents, in order to earn wages and be able to have the opportunity to learn from the firm.  Schools should emphasize that, although interns will be contributing team players at the firms at which they work, what they gain in knowledge from their experiences should end up being more valuable than their initial contributions to the firm.  Interns should expect to work on production documents, and maybe help out with some design.  Interns should expect to be given the opportunity to learn about building technology.  (Note that I did not say that interns should expect to be taught about building technologyNothing is handed to us as emerging professionals in architecture.  We have to keep consciously working to learn, all through our careers.)

It’s overwhelming to think that a BArch or MArch, and all the time and money and work that degree takes to earn, is only the beginning of learning how to practice architecture.  Maybe this is why so many students don’t comprehend that.  But schools need to make sure that their students understand this concept.  Schools need their graduates to understand that although they should be ready to work in architecture firms by the time they graduate, they still have much to learn before they can engage in the independent practice of architecture. Perhaps more than anything else, schools must prepare their students for a lifetime of learning.5

Notes:

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  1. Including my parents, there are 10 of us in my immediate family.  My dad and I have bachelor’s degrees, my youngest brother is currently in law school, and among the other 7, there are 2 medical degrees, 4 master’s degrees, one doctorate, and 1 law degree.  These were earned from Georgetown, Columbia, Notre Dame, University of Virginia, and the University of Oklahoma, in public health, Spanish literature, art history, and philosophy.  The reason that my mom went to medical school in the 60’s when she was 22 was because her brother enjoyed medical school so much.  My mother’s father taught philosophy and law at Fordham.  Including this grandfather, three of my four grandparents, who were born between 1900 and 1910, graduated from college.  My father’s mother, who was born in 1903, didn’t go to college, and that is a fact that was kind of whispered, rather than stated outright… perhaps so that not too many people would find out.  As I mentioned, formal education is considered pretty important in my family.
  2. Robert Samuelson is a journalist who writes economics opinion pieces in the Washington Post.  Here’s the column, as published by the Denver Post:  http://www.denverpost.com/samuelson/ci_20714508/degrees-failure-idea-that-everyone-needs-attend-college?source=rss_emailed
  3. Here in Colorado we still have the apprentice/draftsman route to licensure.  A college degree is not necessary for licensure as an architect in Colorado.  http://www.dora.state.co.us/aes/licensing/requirements-arc.htm#exp  However, my understanding is that most Colorado firms do not want to hire an emerging professional who does not have a professional degree (a BArch or MArch). 
  4. Garry Stevens’ “Why Architecture Should Leave the University” is really something to think about, even if we just use it as a starting point to improve architecture programs in universities. http://www.archsoc.com/kcas/leaveuniversity.html  
  5. So, how do emerging professionals – and everyone else – pursue learning?  I plan to address some good ways in a future post.

The Fervor of a Convert (part one)

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.