The focus of this blog is construction-related topics. The purpose is discussion, so please feel free to comment! See Specific thoughts for thoughts from the daily life of a specifier.

29 December 2012

Liebster Blog Award

Early in December, fellow blogger Randy Nishimura honored me by nominating my Constructive Thoughts blog for the Liebster Award. "How cool!" I thought. "It's nice to know someone actually reads what I write!" Being a specifier, I know how rarely that happens, and the relatively few responses to the hundreds of articles I have written suggests those articles don't fare much better.

The thrill quickly dissipated as I read the description of the award; it's for bloggers with fewer than 200 followers.

18 December 2012

A Dickens of a Tale

Scrooge was an old man, set in his ways. And why not? He had been doing things the same way for many years, and the resulting success was sufficient evidence of the wisdom of continuing in that path. Whenever it was suggested that change might be a good thing, “Bah, humbug!” was his response. “I like things the way they are! I started this business, I’ve been doing things the same way for fifty years, and I don’t see any reason to change! All this new-fangled stuff is just a fad.”

One evening, a strange series of events befell our dear Mister Scrooge. Having had a particularly trying day, he tried to enjoy a rich repast and a few glasses of wine in an effort to forget his problems. As he fell asleep, he was thinking of how much fun he had had in his youth.

21 November 2012

What lies ahead for architects?

The profession of architecture has changed significantly, but the perception of what an architect does has remained much the same. So what's the big deal? As is often said, perception is reality, and therein lies the problem. What architects do now no longer agrees with what the public, and even architects themselves think they do.

Most people don't really understand what today's architects do. They think architects know about planning and design, and how to create buildings that are responsive to owners' needs. In that, they are correct; architects by training learn how to do these things, and they do them well. Unfortunately, most people also believe the architect is still the Master Builder, who knows everything about construction materials and methods, actively manages the work, and tells the contractor exactly what to do. And in that, they are sadly mistaken.

05 October 2012

Hollywood politics

I’ve been avoiding the political melee, but an article titled "Forks in the Road revisited" in Structural Engineer prompts me to ask this question: Who do you believe - and why? This issue is only tangentially related to this election; it pervades our lives.Even though the following quotation specifically mentions the President, it’s a comment on who we allow to influence us, and applies to all political parties.

28 September 2012

How have the architect's responsibilities changed?

About a hundred years ago, when AIA produced the document that eventually would become the familiar A201, the architect was firmly in control of construction. The 1915 AIA general conditions state, in Article 9, "The Architect shall have general supervision and direction of the work….The Architect has authority to stop the work whenever, in his opinion, such stoppage may be necessary to insure the proper execution of the Contract." Article 11 required the Contractor to "give efficient supervision to the work", and Article 12 required the Contractor to "provide and pay for all materials, labor, water, tools, equipment, light and power necessary for the execution of the work."

Those basic responsibilities remained essentially the same until the 1960s. Since then, a lot has changed.

04 September 2012

Are specifiers weak in faith?

The main reason we've been doing things the same way for the past hundred fifty years, is - that we've been doing things the same way for the past hundred fifty years. It's human nature to keep what's comfortable, even though it may no longer work, or even if something better is available. I'm fairly certain the original versions of the contract documents we use, and the way we write them, made perfect sense when introduced, but is that still true?

Along the way, there have been many changes in building products, construction techniques, communication, and other technologies used in construction, perhaps the most significant being the expanding use of computers. If we were starting over today, with the current status of products, industry and government standards, and the increasing application of powerful computers, what would our construction documents look like? There would be some similarities, but I suspect they would not be what we have today.

23 July 2012

What happened to the architect?

We started this series of articles with a question - What happened to the master builder? - and went on to talk about how the architect no longer is the master builder of old, for a couple of reasons. First, the continual increase in construction products, methods, and computer technology makes it virtually impossible for any one person to know all there is to know about construction, or even a significant part of it, and, more important, there was a conscious effort to divorce architects from hands-on experience and technical knowledge. Finally, as we will see, architects themselves have, through contract documents, reduced their importance, at the same time increasing the importance of the contractor.

Today, no one expects a single person to know all about construction today, but a semblance of a master builder can be found in the collective knowledge of an architectural firm and its consultants. However, because of the lasting impact of the design-bid-build process, there remains a schism between the design and construction activities of architecture.

Which, of course, means that an architect, in the original meaning of the word, no longer exists, or at least is rare.

13 June 2012

More than a club - #JoinCSI

In today's world of instant communication and global socialization, who needs to join a formal organization?

All organizations offer membership benefits - a newsletter, and perhaps a magazine, devoted to that group's activities and interests; discounted costs for activities and publications; and local meetings and educational opportunities. In addition to these tangible benefits, some organizations offer benefits that affect a much larger group. For example, CSI created MasterFormat, SectionFormat, and PageFormat, which are used not only by members, but by most of the building construction industry.

"That's all fine," you say, "but what's in it for me?"

29 April 2012

What have architects given up?

When architects were Master Builders, they were responsible for an entire project, from beginning to end. Over the years, as buildings became more complex, the architect became the leader of a team of professionals, a Master Builder by committee. However, along the way, a number of things fell aside, leaving others to take on essential functions that apparently were no longer important to the team. The first of these was extensive knowledge of building materials and construction, encouraged by the separation of architecture into separate fields of design and construction.

Since then, architects seem to have less interest in - or less time to address - other things, such as complete design, site services, and estimating. Yes, many architects provide some of those services, and some do better than others, but some have simply allowed others to take them on. And some project delivery systems have reduced the architect's role whether they liked it or not.

Why are architects not fighting to keep these lost services, and allowing others to take more control? Perhaps they are not willing or able to accept the associated risk.

22 March 2012

What is a Master Builder?

Last month, I said the architect no longer is the Master Builder. Architects still have a valuable place in construction, but that place is much diminished from what it was a hundred and fifty years ago. To appreciate the degree of change, let's look at what things were like many years ago. The following quotation uses the term "master mason", but the meaning is essentially the same as "master builder."
The master mason was in charge. He was architect and builder rolled into one. He often directed a work force numbering into hundreds. But he also worked among his people. He cut stone and installed plumbing. That puzzles us, wed as we are to the notion that academic and manual knowledge don't mix.
John H. Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History, University of Houston; my emphasis.

24 February 2012

What happened to the Master Builder?

It's time architects accepted reality: They no longer are master builders, and haven't been for a long time. It's nothing to get excited about (well, not too excited), and there is no reason to maintain the fiction that architects are what they were in the good old days. In fact, there is good reason to admit the truth and move on.

Building materials have evolved, fabrication and construction have evolved, and the tools of our profession have evolved, yet we continue to create and use construction documents the same way we have done for nearly two hundred years, simply because that's what we have done for nearly two hundred years. And, even though architects do less now than they did many years ago, we maintain the fiction that architects are master builders.

"Heretic!" "Blasphemer!" "How dare you!" "Vile person!"

22 January 2012

3 reasons to not get certified

Aren't you tired of all this talk about certification? No one will tell you, but there are a few good reasons to save your time and skip the exams. Why waste the time and effort on something you probably don't need? If any of these reasons apply to you, sit back and relax - you're in great shape.