Thursday, August 18, 2011

Next on Dr. Phil: architects that rarely draw...but can they sketch??

I've been noticeably mute on my Uber MOB project lately, and indeed on anything architecty. Partially it's because I'm trying to find a way to talk about my work while keeping it anonymous but also helping my tens of readers understand whatever it is I'm complaining about. Talking about architecture to the non-architects (aka, normal people with lives and hobbies) is, I've noticed, a lot like teaching someone how to build a building--you have to have a real project in order to learn. So it's hard for me to talk abstractly about "a project that has lead shielding" or "building that is built on a hill". I really need to say "this project I did in Wheatlands, Kansas" or "the Henderson Replacement Facility." The other reason I'm quiet about it right now is that I'm getting worn out on it.

My Uber MOB project is now in CD phase. CD stands for "construction documents", which are the drawings and specifications that we make to give to the contractor so he/she can actually build the building. The Uber MOB is about a quarter of a million square feet, so we need about three months for each phase:
  • SD - schematic design, where we figure out basically where which rooms go where in the departments, what spaces are needed, what spaces we forgot to account for (figuring out where the departments go in the building is also done during SDs, but on a project this size it was part of a separate pre-SD phase)
  • DD - design development, where we confirm room locations and then being working out how the building looks, inside and out. We also confirm with the building's users where the cabinets and sinks are, what equipment goes where, and so on.
  • CD - construction documents, where we start drawing all the little details in earnest and really work through how all the building's systems work together. (Some of this coordination happens during DDs as well, but now it's Gotta Be Done.)
We're about halfway through CDs right now, and I'm finding that as you move up the food chain in architecture, the less drawing you do. Over the past few months, I find that I spend a lot of time writing meeting notes and doing paperwork for Gestalt (deliver me), researching products, reading code books and writing code studies, reviewing and marking up drawings and specifications, coordinating systems with engineers, and generally just answering questions. My job becomes less about "do the work" and more about "make sure other people have what they need to do the work." It's also my job to poke further on any question or request: you say you need me to lower my ceiling to 8 feet because of your pipes? What's keeping your pipes so low? Where do they run to? Oh, they're for that room/area? Perhaps they can run over here instead and I don't have to lower that ceiling and make this waiting room feel like a shoebox? Excellent--thanks.

But what I notice is that I rarely draw in Revit these days. I spend so much time writing and reading and marking up and making phone calls and talking that I find that I'm getting less familiar with the computer drafting/modeling nuts and bolts of the project, and I'm getting rusty on my skills. This frightens me for a couple of reasons. One, it means that if we even need as many hands as possible to draw a lot for a deadline, it's not entirely safe to have me in the model. (As I've described before, Revit is different from AutoCAD in that one person can delete something and it goes away everywhere in the project, not just in that drawing. This means you can fuck up a lot more in a short amount of time.) I'm also slower in the model once I get in. But the second reason it creeps me out is that being able to use drafting software is something that a lot of architecture firms demand when looking for a position. It's not that I'm looking to change firms, but rather it's that I'm recognizing that I'm losing a skill that everyone seems to find important.

Yet throughout the project, I've been sketching. I go in and print something out of Revit and start tracing over it or marking it up or doodling, thinking about how to make it better. Perhaps an intern brings me a plan or elevation that he can't figure out how to make work, and I doodle and sketch and work it out. That's the part I'm good at--having had to stomp countless floor plans that don't work into plans that flow effortlessly, the sketch or doodle or scaled linework over a printout is the kind of drawing that someone at my level does best. So maybe I do draw. It's not in the way I'm used to drawing in an office, but strangely, it's similar to the way I was used to drawing in school. It's the circle of life, Simba.


Anonymous said...

You, m'lady, are suffering from that condition known as transition to project management. I suspect, based on past performance, you're headed for the Associate track. Which means... no more drawing for you. Except to trace over prints, as you described. You're becoming to valuable to be allowed to draw. Mad props for you, though, realizing the potential hazards for working with Revit! You're just that much further ahead than your predecessors. :)


Miss Kitty said...

You should do a post of X-ray vision and bird's eye view. THAT would appeal to non-architecty types. :-P

Mile High Pixie said...

Sarge: Oh, you! You know how to flatter a gal! :-p I'm in that weird place between architect and Associate, where I'm still hourly but a lot of my work really isn't production-based.

Kitteh: X-ray vision and bird's eye view drawings would only appeal to you. :-P Lulz!