BUILDER-DESIGNER: A TECHNICAL PROMISE
May 21, 2010
There’s never any doubt, as long as a building is under construction, the jobsite belongs to the builders. But once the building is finished, credit always seems to drift back to the designers. Once in awhile the GC or developer gets to share the credit, but rarely do you see a list of the subcontractors, let alone the names of the plumbers, electricians and technicians that put the building together.
All the labor, materials, manufacturing, and fabrication, along with the thousands of decisions that made the building possible, are forever embedded in the final product.
At the same time, whether it’s a cathedral, mosque, high rise, or house, anyone with construction experience will automatically wonder who built the building. And if the results are really interesting, they’ll begin to think about how the building was put together, what the challenges were, and how it could have been built even better if they were part of the original construction.
Builders see materials, labor, and methods embedded in stone, steel, or stick frame construction. They see time and motion in static objects.
Papered promises ignore the process
Once the building is finished, the process has no real significance to anyone except the constructors. To others, it all seems simple and straightforward. Builders build what they’re told to build, fulfilling contractual obligations, drawn and described perfectly in a set of documents that fully explain the construction.
Of course, everyone (except for the famous few) knows this is simply not the way things are built in the real world. Though rarely openly discussed, we all know that the drawings are more than likely full of errors and there are easily hundreds of omissions and conflicts waiting to be discovered.
In addition, once the project is ready to bid, there’s no way to effectively contribute ideas or communicate new thoughts about the project. The building is already designed and the accepted belief is that the construction documents already prove the building can be built. In addition, the entire project team is committed to the solution because they’re already deep into the costs of its production.
The design is final as presented (or sold) and all that is needed now is to find someone to carry out the requirements for its success, and commit to a preconceived budget and schedule. The builder is left to fulfill papered promises.
It’s like speaking Chinglish
Sadly though, even when builders are invited to join the design process, it doesn’t take long to recognize that designers and builders speak different languages.
As I see it, somewhere, long ago, scribes broke away from other workers as visual thinkers. Using sticks and sculpture, they began to plan the work, organize the flow of materials, and think through alternate means of assembly. These were early construction managers, some known as masterbuilders, famous for their expertise, ability to organize, and successfully complete traditional designs.
But early on, a generation of competitive masterbuilders began to imagine new spaces, breaking from customs and inventing innovative shapes as special features added to traditional designs in order to win bigger projects. As competition heated among these masters, and times got tougher, marketable variations were drawn on paper for clients to approve and admire before even thinking about the construction.
Some argue that because of early forms of paper, the drawing began to represent more than just the construction. It somehow began to represent the ideal of the completed structure. Both the masterbuilder and the construction process got lost in the lines of the artistic drawing. Those who could not draw became servants of the scribes, and unfortunately, those who could draw and draft soon forgot how to build.
But designers and builders are visual thinkers
Today, because of the computer, these once papered divisions are beginning to blur. The paradox is interesting because both designers and builders have always been visual thinkers. Designers, enamored with their drawings, imagined the potential for their completed visions, while builders looked at the same drawings with an eye for time, motion, sequence, and the assembly process.
Given the invention of new digital technologies, both designers and builders are now able to see that there is a relationship between the design and the process. Some are beginning to recognize that understanding that relationship only increases with the power of graphic communications. Just like the early drawings, graphical programs, including simple three-dimensional modelers, are at the heart of a new kind of masterbuilder.
We see this in our readers. Designers on one side eager to learn more about the construction process, builders on the other who have ideas of their own that they can now begin to express.
It’s not about the drawing anymore
Important though is not to make the same mistake as the old-school scribes. Many designers continue to see a virtual model as a representation of the completed product. To them, a design model is just a three-dimensional version of the traditional drawing, with little or no real understanding of how the building is actually put together. And many builders share this perception, assuming that a 3D model is again, just a representation of the finished product, nothing that can really help them in their work.
Many in both schools fail to see construction models as a tool to both communicate and simulate the construction process.
The goal of our books is to break-through these almost prehistoric perceptions and demonstrate what can be done with a construction model. A basic 3D construction model is neither a static drawing nor a rendered design. The model is a dynamic tool because its piece-based construction can be assembled and disassembled, animated and published in minutes using a variety of uncomplicated programs running on ordinary personal computers.
Construction models can now be delivered to both the studio and the jobsite almost instantly as annotated screenshots, deconstructed images, and sequence videos over a network of wireless devices. As a result, the process itself comes to be the focus of the design and everyone is recognized as part of an emerging collaborative approach to the evolution of the final product.