Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I don't talk much about what my husband, Guy, and his firm do. However, the following story warrants repeating, with identifying details left out, of course. The firm at which Guy works, Acme Architects, Inc., has offices in several cities in the country, and they work on some pretty high profile stuff. On a mixed-use project that Guy is on, Acme has teamed with a really high-profile architecture firm. I mean, a name you might know from newspapers (and all my architect readers would know the name for sure). What happens on some projects is that one firm does the initial design and then passes it off to another, local firm that finishes the design and works out all the construction details. In this case, Guy's firm would be inheriting the design from this big-name firm, and he was excited to work with them. He might get to go to New York to meet with the designers on the project and even meet the high-profile well-known architect who runs the firm. Very cool.
It is at this point that I will name the high-profile firm "Scooby-Doo & Associates." There's a good reason for this.
Here's a little fact for you: three courses (rows) of standard brick are 8" high (including mortar joints), and three bricks in a row are 24" long (again, including mortar joints). Hence, we try really really really really hard to make sure a building's dimensions "course out", or that the heights between things like tops of doors and bottoms of windows are evenly divisible by 8" and the distance plan-wise between things like door frames and column bump-outs are divisible by 12" (you can cut a brick in half or hide half of it in a corner, trust me). This makes coursing easy, which makes construction and fabrication easy. The less your masons have to cut bricks, the less time and expense goes into your construction. (Remember: in the U.S., labor is more expensive than supplies.)
So, Guy gets SD&A's initial design for the building last month. It has a stone and brick exterior, a stone base with brick up top. Since most of the building is brick, you want to make sure that the pieces of stone course out, right? Mm-mm, not the fine designers at Scooby-Doo & Associates. Each of the stone units is 10.25" high. That courses out to Jack Squat. Frickin' ridiculous. Guy calls them last month--yes, a month ago--and tells them that in his review of their magnificent design, he noticed that the stone base units don't course out. Finally, a month later, this past Monday, he had to bring it to their attention again. They finally looked at the problem, realized Guy was right...and then told him that they would need a week to come up with a good solution.
Guy was blown away by this. "These fuckin' high-designer types," he mused, annoyed. "They have no idea how a building actually goes together. I mean, seriously. This is just one of several things I've found wrong in their drawings. And it took them a month to confront the reality of that! And it'll take them another week for them to 'assess' the design and 'figure out a solution'. It doesn't take that long to recourse your stone units. Jesus!"
"How can they not know how to put together a building?" I mused.
"Because," Guy responded, "a high-end design firm rarely if ever takes a design all the way through to completion, and detailing a building for construction documents and then having to monitor its construction teaches you how a building actually goes together. And these guys never get that experience. So they're really good at making buildings look good and cool and interesting, but they don't know shit about how it actually gets built."
"So," I mused again, "you're Velma and they're Daphne." Guy chuckled in agreement.
Look, I've met some architects and designers who worked for really high-end firms, and some of them know just how a building goes together. But others don't. That's the down side of being a really good designer--you get so good at making things look awesome that you never learn how to make things work. And in order to get licensed, you have to know how to put a building together. But if you're a good designer, you can get paid serious mad cash to make things pretty, therefore there's no impetus to get licensed. And in my cheesy li'l opinion, that makes you only half an architect. Earn your hours and credits, get the experience, take the tests, and get the license.
Let's just hope they don't turn into Scrappy-Doo before the end of the project.