Friday, August 30, 2013

Design Build Client Empathy

For most of my adult life I have designed and built residential projects (I would prefer not to mention the total number of years at this endeavor). We have watched our clients struggle with design decisions, with appraisals, with banks, with schedules, and with compromises. We've witnessed our client's exhilaration with a completed project, a beautifully executed detail, or a space that feels just right. We've shared the joy and helped smooth the rough spots.

I thought I completely understood these feelings. Right up until my wife and I started to design and build our own home. Right up until we tried to settle on design decisions. Right up until we were completely baffled in our effort to compare financing packages. Right up until we watched our start date move down the road. Right up until we experienced the inevitable holy cow, how much is that?  (Note: not the actual words used.) Right up until we heard that the engineer requires this assembly (and then back to the prior question). And then there is the other side. The part where we realize that we really love this house and we have not even built it yet. The part where we mentally move in to the spaces (and it is a perfect fit). The part where we realize that we simply could not go out and buy a house for us, but only buy a marginally constructed house for a market segment. A segment that is not us. A house that would not satisfy our zero energy (and costs) goal. A house that would not make us happy.

To be fair, I have to say that I should have known. I should have fully understood the required effort, the frustration, and the joy. Well, I do now. Viscerally. And do you know what? It is worth it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Seventh Generation

“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... (…even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.)” – Iroquois Law

Well, the quote comes from my quick internet searches, but the concept is a fact of Iroquois Law. And what a concept it is. It may have been one of the first sustainability policies ever enacted. There was a voice at every council that represented the future generations. How does your decision today affect the world in which our children and our children’s children will live? It seems like a fairly reasonable request, but is a far cry from the attitude of, “Well, who cares ‘cause I’ll be long gone by that time.”

Thomas Jefferson had great reverence for the Iroquois system of representational democracy. How would a seventh generation clause have influenced our current environment had it been part of our country’s founding principles? Though it was not a prevalent part of discussions at that time, I am glad the sustainability question is part of public debate and awareness everyday today.

So, whether or not you are a believer in global warming or want to drive a prius doesn’t really matter to me. I pose one question to you. Don’t you think we can do better?  We’ve dumped so much into our water and air, we’ve stripped the landscape of trees and mountains, we’ve watched natural habitats decrease, and seen the extinction of tens of thousands of species. I want to think that evolution means we grow smarter and we realize where we have failed. This isn’t about blame for those in the past, but about responsibly moving forward. We have the technologies to help turn back the clock on the ill effects of the past, but we need the collective will. Let’s make decisions from today forward that benefit those of the seventh generation.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Design-Build Benefits

There are many differences between a conventional architecture firm and an architecture-construction (what we offer at BuildSense) or design-build firm. I suppose the main distinction is fairly evident; the design-build firm builds their own designs rather than handing them off to another construction company. I just wrapped up my summer as one of two interns at BuildSense and have come to learn of many other advantages to the structure of a design-build firm.

Design-build provides the opportunity for much better quality control. When the architect is the general contractor or the two are team members working on the project together from design inception to construction completion, there is no lack of communication or understanding of the construction documents and specifications as may happen in the traditional separation of roles. By working alongside each other, possible problems can be caught earlier and resolved before they affect other aspects of the project. This increased channel of communication also helps with the progression of the project. Avoiding problems or resolving them more quickly results in a better project pace.

If quality control, communication, and project progression are high priorities for a project, design-build is a very good option. All three benefits depend on design-build teamwork. Having both skills in-house removes the gaps in the process and leads to a better project and a happy client.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A View from the Crawlspace

Is your crawlspace the murky underbelly of your home? If it is, you likely avoid it and ignore it. However, sometimes it can be one of the most important spaces in a home containing the mechanical systems providing you with the conditioned air you breath, the plumbing systems carrying your water and waste, and critical electrical and communications wiring. If you consider the importance of the equipment and how it affects your life and health, it seems important that it would be efficiently organized and well installed. I’ve learned this is usually not the case. I just wrapped up my summer interning with BuildSense and, fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, spent a good amount of time in crawlspaces. The first time I entered a crawlspace I was intrigued by the maze of joists, insulation, and hardware, and interested in how this jumble of things corresponded with the floor plan above. This fascination quickly faded when I realized that apart from the existence of a crawlspace, there was no logical design layout to it at all. It was an afterthought to the house plan; just leave 24’’ of clearance between the building and the earth and let someone else figure out how to make the systems fit.

Although I’m not personally in the market for a new home, I think I’m right in saying that an “accessible and organized crawlspace” is not first on the checklist for many buyers. It’s an afterthought, an added plus to a good home or a deal breaker on an average one. But if something so crucial to the function of a building is an afterthought, what else are you missing when you consider a future home? The fa├žade of a beautifully renovated house or a well-designed interior can easily lure one into thinking that internal issues can be “fix-its” to deal with in a few years once you’re settled. Before getting swept away, remember that even a beautiful house can be dysfunctional, and when things do start to go amiss, the culprit may be in the crawlspace.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Keep it clean

Keeping my truck clean and organized is hard to do. It’s not easy making time at the end of a tiring day. If you let it get away from you, you’ll lose some things buried in clutter and then find things you didn’t know you even had. Taking some daily time to clean and organize our trucks and tools results in better work productivity. Additionally, we fully inventory our trucks and tools each quarter. If we keep up with daily organization this goes much smoother, but still usually yields a couple of “oh, that’s where that went moments”. This organization applies to the job site too. Daily cleanup and organization is even more important as it provides a safer work environment in addition to a more productive one. So if your truck or tools or jobsite are a reflection of the quality of the work you do, keep it clean and organized. It will result in a safer environment, better productivity, a better final product, and a job well done.