As architects, we're concerned about all aspects of the built environment, and that includes transportation. Here's my first encounter with an innovative idea - Car2Go.
Austin is one of three cities to have a first try at the car of the future. No, it's not the rocket inspired sedans or the sporty muscle cars we all imagined as kids. The car of the future is all about technology, efficiency and economy. But, as I discovered today, it is still subject to some very low-tech and bureaucratic problems.
1950's Car of the Future (Motor Trend)
With my conventional car in the shop this morning, I was a prime candidate for the Car2Go program. Think of all the cars sitting un-used, parked on the street or in lots. What if another driver could use that car when the first driver doesn't need it? And what if that driver only paid for the car during the time they he or she used it? That's the idea behind Car2Go. I see the vehicles all over Austin, and I'm sold on the concept.
I'd signed up at the end of last year. I got a card and was shown how to place it on the windshield of an available car to start the rental. The high-tech part of the program is also pretty cool. This morning, I fired up the Car2Go app on my I-phone and located the nearest car, approximately an eight-minute walk away.
I slung my computer bag over my shoulder and set off on a hike to find the car of the future. I found the vehicle easily, but the car wouldn't cooperate. When I signed up, I'd been given a plastic card to use for each rental. But no amount of holding or sliding or flipping my card would unlock the doors. I even looked at the handy pictures on my I-phone to verify I was doing it correctly. OK, the future may have a technical glitch. I called customer service.
The voice on the phone confirmed my identity and confirmed that we had an active account. I gave him the license plate number and he located the car, confirming it was available. "Well, it says the battery is very low, so maybe that's why it won't open." He suggested I find another car and identified one a block away.
So I trooped to the second car. Still no response. A different customer service rep went through the same routine, and noted that this car was available and should work. I asked whether people ever had problems with their cards. "No," he said, "it should be working."
Then he asked me what was the color of my card. "Well, it's blue and white, just like the pictures on the instructions."
"Is it mostly blue?" he asked.
"No, it's mostly white, just like the picture."
"Oh, you have an old card. You should have gotten a new one in the mail. The old one's don't work anymore, only the new cards work."
Well, I didn't get a new, blue card in the mail. We verified that my mailing address was correct. The customer service promised to mail a new on immediately.
"So can I rent the car?" I asked.
"Not without the blue card."
I gave up on the Car2Go this morning. I called my office and used a very old way of getting cheap transportation - I bummed a ride.
"Hey, can you guys come pick me up?"
Last week I was interviewing with a delightful couple about the possibility of designing a new house for them. In our previous communications, the husband was very excited about the various green building techniques we could employ. However, when we started discussing this in the interview, I noticed his wife was kind of shying away from the table. It jumped into my mind that she was worried about what the house would look like. I asked her, “Do you think that green building has a particular look?” She said yes.
Here is a highly modern green building by a local architect.
It is not hard to believe that someone may feel this way -- especially here in Austin, where a lot of the new green houses we see as examples have a more modern, clean and open aesthetic. But this, I think, is a coincidence in that a lot of the younger “hipster” families are choosing to build green for the environment and are also interested in the modern look. Please don’t get me wrong: I love the clean lines, open plans, crisp use of materials, and interesting massing of the buildings, but this is not for everyone. Many people, and more importantly, my wife (remember that we are building a home currently), don’t find these expressions as warm or as comfortable as other styles.
Here is a series of traditionally designed green buildings at Austin's Mueller Development.
Green building does not have a style. Green building is the concept of building environmentally sensitive buildings that use less energy, provide more comfortable living spaces, and use less (and less toxic) materials. This begins by designing your building to take advantage of and work in tune with the natural surroundings—solar, wind, trees, and topography. Next, it's important to look at making the building work with the local climate by giving it the best ‘skin’ it can have, keeping in mind the total cost (production energy, shipping, and environmental degradation) of the materials used. Finally, it is vital to look at the technology inside to make it be a efficient as feasible in terms of its electric, water, and gas use.
This is a farm house we did in Copland, Texas; it was featured in the Austin American-Statesman. Traditional design with no central AC in Texas!
Looking at traditional house styles (i.e. before the 1950s, when we started overcoming environmental issues with technological solutions) for your area will often show you what works. For example, in hot central Texas, we see porches for outdoor living and to shade the windows, high ceilings with double-hung large windows to coax in the breeze, shade trees etc.
In northern climates, where cold is an issue, steep roofs help keep snow from piling up, and smaller windows help limit drafts. Multiple fireplaces (usually placed on an interior wall) also help keep houses warm. Instead of screened porches, exterior rooms are often enclosed with glass to form 'sunrooms' for cold winter days.
A good architect can work with green building concepts and come up with just about any style you desire. A glass box in the Alaskan tundra may not be the best concept, but most styles can be developed and built to work efficiently and comfortably in your climate. Whether your tastes run to Victorian gingerbread or high modern style, you don't have to sacrifice your green principles to have the house of your dreams. Talk to your architect; he or she can make it happen!
Congratulations! You've been asked to serve on the building committee of your church or non-profit organization. This could be the experience of a lifetime. But watch out. There are many risks. The sensational and catastrophic failures are the one's you've probably heard about. The church that couldn't finish when the money ran out. The community building that sparked protests instead of celebration.
Fortunately, these catastrophes are actually quite rare. Most of these well-publicized failures have been years in the making. And most often, we see a trail of missteps before the final explosion. For most church or non-profit building projects, its the common problems that really cause havoc. Here are some of the more typical mistakes you should work hard to avoid.
In decades of architectural practice, I've seen lots of evidence of these common failures. Working with churches and community groups, we hear many stories from our clients about frustrations with previous building projects. These failures don't make the evening news, but they can have a dramatic impact. As much as a successful building program can unify and bring a congregation or community together, a failure can leave years of hardships and hurt.
Here are just some of the issues that we find lingering years after a marginal building program is completed or, sometimes, abandoned. But take heart. With thoughtful planning and good communications, nearly all of these can be avoided.
Build Big Enough:
Though this isn't the worst problem, it's hard to believe the number of times we've heard that the previous program didn't build enough. A fellowship hall gets cut down in size. Classrooms are too small. Not enough parking. These small frustrations can't always be addressed by building more. Budget realities will ultimately dictate how much to build.
But good planning helps a community make good decisions in the face of constraints. We've helped many groups come up with innovative ways to make do with less. One community laid out parking, but used a gravel surface until they could raise the funds for paving. That same community is now building an outdoor pavilion the full size of their future fellowship hall. The plan calls for enclosing it at a later date. This was a better option than building a space too small for their growing needs.
Completed Hall for Unity Church of the Hills
Avoid Piece-Meal - Think Long-Term:
Some of the biggest problems we deal with are the result of short-sighted building projects. A classroom wing blocks access to the kitchen. The memorial trees are planted in the prime spot for a new building. The new bathrooms are great, but no one can find them.
This failure comes from a narrow mindset. Committees feel they should concentrate entirely on one issue, and ignore anything else. While many well-meaning committees think they are making things easier, what they ignore can cause disaster. When building for a vibrant and dynamic community, a broad vision is essential.
We recommend a community or congregation have a master plan for a building program of any significance. When a plan is out of date, or there are new elements to consider, it should be updated or started again. We often will conduct an update program for the master plan even after a successful phase one building program. This builds momentum for the next phase of the project, and can incorporate ideas from new members into a larger vision for the future.
Too many public buildings, churches and community centers are like rabbit warrens. You practically need a tour guide to get from one place to another. Compounding this problem, people tend to visit and congregate in those narrow corridors. First-time visitors are not only disoriented, they are often put off by choked hallways and entries.
One imperative in our firm is to consider how people move from one space to another. We think of the first-time visitors and regular members. How do they arrive? What will happen when two-hundred people leave a meeting? Can people find the bathroom? Can they stop and visit comfortably on the way to another activity? Is there a clear path to the kitchen? The nursery? The parking lot?
When circulation works, it is intuitive. The architecture invites people to go in the right direction. When it doesn't work, people put up all kinds of signs to get things sorted out. Circulation is so critical, we strive to fix bad circulation any time we do a renovation or addition. We've planned additions for buildings where visitors are frequently lost. Even when we've doubled or tripled size, the visitors' orientation is always improved.
Get Something Done:
A few years ago, we began planning with a congregation that had attempted several previous times to build. People recalled a ground breaking decades earlier, and still nothing happened! No one could believe in the program because of past failures. Fortunately, the building committee persevered. There was a lot of celebrating at the dedication of the new worship space!
There will always be critics who cast doubt on a building program. Hopefully, you won't have to face as much doubt as the congregation we just mentioned. The only way to overcome this challenge is to build something! If a committee is formed, and needs are identified, something good should come from the effort. Setting realistic expectations is a key factor.
A building committee facing an unexpected difficulty should communicate clearly with its constituency. One congregation couldn't afford the major sanctuary improvements they anticipated, so they re-focused the congregation's energy on an upgrade for the day school. At the re-dedication of the school, they then announced the phase-two sanctuary program. It was completed two years later. Had they stopped the program and made no improvements, it is doubtful anything would have been completed in that timeframe.
When we work with our clients to design or modify a worship space, one of the most interesting issues that must be considered is the relationship between natural light and the audio/visual systems. Whether it is a historic sanctuary, a high-end praise and worship space, or a multi-use space (Sanctatorium is one of my favorite multi-use space words), more and more, we are seeing a desire to have a least some video projection in the worship environment.
Foundation UMC, Temple TX -- Video Screens at Platform
For some groups, this just means projecting bulletins or song lyrics for the congregation to read. Others are looking for words or graphics to be projected throughout the service to enhance the congregation’s experience. Filming the proceedings for projecting close-up images on the screens and/or to produce for later distribution is a further step we have seen growing interest in.
One of the more interesting things I have seen lately is the concept of environmental projection. In this case, images are projected throughout the space on the walls, floor, and/or ceilings to really bring the congregation into the presentation. Since projectors have gotten much less expensive and since these images don’t necessarily have to be as crisp and sharp as the main images, projecting on other surfaces is a very exciting concept—especially since you can control exactly where the image appears on a surface (for example, you can mask out the bottom of a picture so that it is not shining on people). Below is a quick example I found on YouTube showing one simple concept. If you look around the Internet you can find some pretty interesting photos (to which I don’t have rights) and videos to pique your imagination.
This is a very simple (I am sure not simple to get the technical issues done) instance of environmental Projection I found on the web. Other instance were too long to add but involve a lot more of the space used for projection.
No matter what you are trying to do with a projector, light, whether natural or man made, is an issue. The brighter a space is, the brighter the projector needs to be. If you are just projecting words (with a high contrast), it is not as big of a deal as it is with images. Any light source that is actually illuminating the area where you are projecting will make the image appear less bright. This is why theaters and auditoriums are dark—they only want light from what you are looking at to be present so they have the maximum amount of control. Many apply this to worship spaces, as we often see worship spaces with no outside light at all.
However, natural light has a place in worship as well. Stained glass windows would not be nearly as interesting without natural light (although now it is possible to project images of stained glass windows). We feel that connection to outdoors through windows or skylights provides a connection to the outside and God’s creation. Natural light makes spaces brighter and livelier than is possible with the light sources we currently have. Bright spaces also allow people to see each other clearly and feel more a part of the service than watching the service.
St. Albert of Trapani Catholic Church, Houston, TX -- Simple Video Projection in a Bright Day-lit Worship Space.
So how do we deal with this conundrum? First, it is very important for the church leadership and the music/video ministry to have had enough discussion so that they know what they are trying to do and how that might change in the future. We recently visited a facility that had been designed for a capella worship but was now used for amplified music (amplified and a capella music have similar incompatibilities to video and natural light—perhaps a later blog post), so it is important to try to understand what may come in the future. Second, make sure you involve your architect in these conversations, as some very subtle changes can either make it really difficult for AV or allow the AV to integrate seamlessly into the space.
Finally, we look at where and how much light will be used. Man-made light is pretty easy to control, and the issue is making sure that any lights that could shine on the projection area are controlled. Natural light is harder. One solution is to have natural light and then use stronger projectors to overcome the ambient lighting conditions. Another option is to use light controls such as operable screens, which can filter or even black out the natural light. These can get expensive and do require some maintenance over time. Windows are much easier to control than skylights; even so, if you want true black-out on the windows, the shades will have to have channels on the sides so light can’t leak around the edges.
First United Methodist, Temple TX -- Praise and Worship Center Incorporates Video Projection and Cameras in Darker Space with Windows only in Rear.
Another possible solution is to have a light-filled entry foyer and a darker worship space. We did this at First United Methodist in Temple, Texas. Here, we do have some glass between the foyer and the worship space, but it does not affect the front screens. One issue we run into is that we like to have glass in worship space doors so you can see through them as you open them and thus avoid hurting someone with the door. You can put shades on doors, but they do tend to get beaten up. I have recently seen some doors with shades inside the glass, which certainly would be an option.
First United Methodist, Temple TX -- Day-lit Foyer Provides Bright Gathering Area before Entering the Darker Worship Space.
Screen placement and window placement are critical, especially if you plan on using cameras. I know of a local church that had gorgeous windows behind their platform that, while beautiful, made filming events on the platform next to impossible because everything was backlit. Also, keep in mind that you want your screens and the action of the service relatively close to each other. It is really can be awkward when the angle of view for the screen is significantly different from that of the platform. This in turn brings up another complication; the ideal place for a screen based on viewing angle is back center of the platform, just high enough so the people on stage don’t block or shadow it. However, many of our clients like to have a large cross as the centerpiece, which means we either project onto the cross (I have never been in favor of a screen that comes down in front of the cross) or have two screens.
Finding the combination of natural light and video projection that is right for your worship spaces is extremely important. Working with an architect who knows the issues really helps. You also need to make sure you consider where the worship service is going to be in the future. With good discussions and forethought in the early stages of the planning, a great solution can usually be found to satisfy all parties. If you wait till the end when you are buying AV equipment to furnish the recently completely building, you are going to have problems.
This past weekend, I was digging up tiny trees out on the family farm. The overgrown clump near the tennis court had swallowed one too many tennis balls. Two weeks ago, a crew consisting of my brother, my brother-in-law, my sister and their son initiated a massive hacking and clipping in order to thin the thicket. But this weekend, I returned to claim my bounty for a free landscaping idea - salvaged plants! I dug up shovels full of young plum trees, bagged them up and headed for home!
Salvaged Chinaberry Tree In Front Of Garage Apartment
I've blogged about salvaging buildings, but one additional trick was to do the landscaping using mostly salvaged plants. That means our yard took a lot of hard work, but cost us almost nothing! I can't say the work was entirely free; we did purchase two shade trees and some bushes, and I bought some extra hours of labor from our yard crew. But for the amount of planting we needed on two lots and over 15,000 total square feet, we couldn't have afforded a fraction of the landscaping. With some time, some vision, and some creative salvaging, we've established a credible garden and yard using mostly salvaged plants.
Our project began when we decided to rescue the two houses from demolition. The houses were on a site that still had remnants of an old garden. Since the property was going to be completely torn up, we began an earnest campaign to dig up any of the plants that we thought we could save. Most of the yucca in our new location came from the original site. Some interesting kinds of sedum also were saved.
At the same time, we were involved with another demolition / redevelopment project in an adjacent neighborhood. That property yielded several surprising plants, including a striking taro plant that is established so well on our new site, it grows nearly 10 feet high in the summer. Later, we salvaged stone pavers from the same property, which have continued to provide stacking and edging stones for our planting beds.
One of the best sources for salvage was the new property itself. When we decided to save the old barracks, we also noticed the overgrown mess of a chinaberry tree. With some creative pruning, the tree is now a great shade canopy against the western sun. The sickly oak tree in the front yard just needed some coaxing. In the past four years, with proper care, it has almost doubled in size.
When we sold our old house, we brought along clumps of plantings that we hoped would readily propagate. We were delighted to be able to use our familiar river ferns and purple hearts in appropriate beds. We'd been nursing several specimen plants at the old place. They were so anemic looking, we realized the new owner would either yank them right away, or they'd die without the constant care they required. Surprisingly, the rosemary bush and the acanthus both took immediately to the transplanted location. We speculate that both plants were in beds that didn't drain very well, so the replanting actually saved them.
A last surprise was the number of plants that friends, neighbors and family gave us once they heard we were salvaging. My wife's mother had purchased too many golden euonymus, so she gave us the extra. They've grown slowly along the side property line, and now stand smartly in front of the decorative fence we've recently constructed.
Probably the most dramatic gift plants were the blue agave. A neighbor gave us several small pups as we moved into the new house. We placed them with plenty of room to grow in the front bed. In a few short years, these incredible plants have transformed themselves into spikey sculptures. Against the bright colors of the house and the rustic stone steps, they create a timeless landscape next to the front porch.
Using salvaged planting has some significant benefits - we've had very few failures. It occurs to us that, with some exceptions, the plants we've been using have all proven themselves in our local climate and soils. Many of the plants are natives, but even those that aren't are generally well established and therefore very likely to thrive.
The other surprising benefit of using so many salvaged plants is that each one comes with a history. When I tend to the yucca, I'm reminded of the houses in their derelict condition back on the original site. The whole history of the project can be told with one stroll through the garden.
And the plum trees are for the next round of landscaping with salvaged plants. Sadly, the bottle brushes, some of the few plants we'd purchased, froze completely this winter. Tom Spencer, of the Central Texas Gardener, confirmed my worst fears. "The hard freeze probably killed them, they're not coming back," he told me recently. So, what to do? Salvage some trees, of course! What better trees to salvage than ones that are so overgrown. My only question is - why I didn't think of the plum trees sooner!
I did not do my normal Friday post because I spent all day Friday working in Fayetteville, Texas, where we are designing a house for a long time family/friend. We had a lovely family dinner where I was delighted to see my two children pair off with our clients' two children. They played in and around the farmhouse and ran free all night long.
I should give you a little back story on Fayettevile. Clovis and Maryann Heimsath starting coming to Fayetteville some 40 years ago as a country retreat from the hectic life of Clovis' Houston Practice. Over time, they moved here permanently, and have become part of the interesting mix of long-time farming families and transplanted farmer/ranchers/vacationers, mostly from Houston. Clovis and Maryann have a great compound of restored farmhouses with names like the Hundred-Dollar House (which is how much they paid for it -- before moving it to their land). My family loves to come up here and experience aspects of what life used to be like (but with electricity and Internet access).
The One-Hundred-Dollar House
It is tantamount to the process of designing good client-driven architecture to really get to know who your client is, what they are trying to do, and where they are going in the future. With our church clients, much of this comes from our Community Forums, Design Retreat Workshops, and focus group meetings. With our residential clients, it comes from meetings and discussions, and it is especially helpful when we discover the house 'vision' together. (This happens as we explore images of houses, rooms, and details that resonate with our clients.)
Sometimes, however, the bond can go even deeper. As I have mentioned before, my wife and I are building a house for our family, and of course that is extremely personal. But these bonds can form in other ways, as well.
Architecture becomes even more special when you have a close relationship with the client and the contractor. In this case, the Contractor, Alvin Minarcik, who has built a number of projects for us in the Fayetteville area, is the son of a local contractor, and whose family went to school with Ben and his siblings. There is a great sense of old-fashioned trust and family even in the owner-contractor relationship.
View from the Bonus room above the Garage
We love doing work out here. Even at lunch yesterday, I had a chance to move over a table and sit with a potential client we are interviewing with next week.
Working in Fayetteville has been a wonderful experience, in part because of the history of relationships and community. But the sense of family we experience is not limited to Fayetteville; part of it comes from working together with our clients toward a common goal. Buildings create bonds -- not just between the people who come to live and work in them, but between the members of the team who work to make it happen.
Many times over the years, we have had the privilege to work with our clients over many phases of a building program. These relationships grow and deepen just as the building does -- and is part of why we love what we do.
Salvage or demolition? Too many times we've encountered the owners of an old building who tell us that some expert (engineer, contractor, architect) said the structure couldn't be saved. The fact is, there are very few buildings that have been so neglected or deteriorated that they truly can't be saved. There are many inventive ways to re-use or re-purpose a building. You just have to stop and properly evaluate a building's potential.
There are lots of reasons to look seriously at rehabilitation. From a sustainability perspective, the more an existing structure is salvaged, the less waste goes into landfills. A deeper analysis of the carbon footprint strongly suggests keeping as much existing building as possible, in part because fewer new materials means fewer carbon emissions.
My wife and I took on an ambitious project recently, which illustrates some of the best practices in bringing derelict buildings back from the brink. In the process of saving two houses from demolition, we found an even bigger opportunity to make something incredible from a neglected old structure.
When we started the project, the challenge was finding a place move the two houses. We found a great site with two adjoining lots. However, right in the middle of the property was a horribly run-down shack. I was certain we'd knock it down, cart off the rubbish, and then start the move.
But a closer inspection revealed a complete surprise. On the surface, everything in the old wooden hovel was cheap and poorly built. But the structure underneath was massive, and still in great shape. Someone had built the shack out of 2x12 lumber. They had spaced the joists and rafters at one-foot intervals. For comparison, even well built wood construction these days is made of 2x4's or 2x6's. Joists and rafters are commonly spaced at 16- or 24-inch intervals. This made no sense. Beneath the trash, garbage and rot was an amazingly strong and durable structure. We couldn't throw all this in the landfill!
A neighbor finally helped solve the mystery. Right after the Second World War, the local air force base decommissioned all the wooden barracks. They sold them in 50-foot lengths to anyone who could bring in a flatbed truck. Our shack was one of those barracks, and yes, it was exactly 50 feet long. The 50-foot dimension gave me an idea. We could cut the structure in half. Each of the sections was about the length of a two-car garage. We wouldn't park in them. My idea was to lift up the sections, build new garages under them, then a garage apartment upstairs.
We finished the first apartment in 2007. It was ready long before the houses were complete, but our newly married daughter and her husband had no problem moving to a fancy place in the middle of a construction site. One of the best decisions we made was to carefully arrange the interior so both the garage and apartment functioned well.
Even though it took up a lot of space, we placed the stair on the interior and located the apartment door on the front face of the garage. This has proven to be a very good security arrangement, and it also makes the one-bedroom apartment upstairs feel bigger. To make the downstairs landing feel welcome, we used some of the old 2x12 lumber as stair treads. Those old planks look pretty neat and they make a visual connection to the incredible heritage of what was once a hopeless old shack.
The garage and apartment completed - and transformed into a great asset!
My wife and I have been together for some 15 years and all of that time I have been an architect or at least an intern (Texas licensing laws have some restrictions on when the term architect can be used, perhaps a blog topic for a later date). I know this because it was my then boss and now business-partner’s wife who set us up—not a bad extra benefit from the workplace. Anyway, two recent events have me re-thinking things. No, not about my marriage, that is great and steady, but about my wife’s understanding of what I do.
First, as I have previously mentioned, we are building a house together. As per my usual habits, I have a binder of items that I am coordinating so I can have info on site if I need it. Karen took one look at the binder and said, “What is all this stuff?”
My Construction Binder for Our House
Second, while I was driving home from Fayetteville, Texas, where we are designing a cool updated Texas farm home for a great client, she told me that she didn’t know what I did on site visits. Given that I have been talking to her on the cell phone for years as I drove home from construction site visits for various projects throughout Texas, this really surprised me.
Fayettevill Ranch House--Foundation Underway!
But if she doesn’t know what I do during construction, then I can safely assume that many of you don’t know, either.
First off, throughout the entire project, the architect’s role is part visionary (Howard York) and part coordinator (Peter Keating). It is interesting that Anne Rand chose to separate these two aspects and set them against each other (it has been a long time since high school when I read the book, so I hope I am getting that right), when actually you must do both if you are going to get buildings built that are right for your clients. The architect is responsible for coordinating into the project all the necessary (and often competing) constraints such as client needs, client desires, budget, constructability, code, engineering requirements, environmental requirements, and design.
Roof Trusses at the LDS Kyle Stake Center
This coordination does not stop during construction. There are many different contract models and different ways architects are asked to perform their services during construction, but the basic concept is that the architect is the representative of the owner at the site. Ideally, this means the architect works with the contractor to help ensure that the owner is getting the building they want and have paid for. Of course this can become quite contentious, and sometimes the architect is also supposed to be the neutral party to help resolve issues between the owner and contractor. In our experience and process, the highly contentious issues occur infrequently, so I will focus on the four basic areas of our responsibilities during construction.
Translating Design Intent and Dealing with Unforeseen Issues
Designing a complex 3D building with the tools we have, it is not possible to have every possible detail and condition thought out – well, at least not at a fee that anyone would be willing to pay. Therefore we draw general details and try to get our intent into the 2D drawings as much as possible. This also depends on what level of details we have been hired to complete. For example, ‘builder sets’ for homes have much less detail than a full construction set for a church that will be competitively bid. Even if the set is well-detailed, unforeseen conflicts and issues will arise during construction, so one of the main aspects of architecture during construction is working with the contractor and subs to get the details clarified. Some details are issued as Supplemental Instructions, which mean they are not expected to affect cost, and some are issued as Proposal Requests, if costs will change. This may be slightly less formal in a residential project.
Site Visit at Foundation United Methodist
Whereas it is the contractor’s responsibility to oversee his people and subs and warrant that the building is built according to the documents and good practice, the architect makes periodic site visits – the number and timing of visits depends on the size, complexity, and what is happening on site at the time—to review the work. At the visits the architect endeavors to review the construction to see that it appears to comply with the construction documents. While the architect is not on site as a full time inspector, and as such may not see every potential problem (particularly if it is covered by drywall or masonry), having an architect make site visits during construction is an excellent way to help ensure the quality of the workmanship.
Pay Applications and Changes
The architect reviews the Pay Application—the ‘bill’ submitted monthly (usually) by the contractor designating what work has been completed -- to make sure it s a reasonable representation of the progress made and to make sure the contractor is not billing ahead of what has been done. The architect then signs the Pay Application and forwards it to the owner, who then must pay the contractor directly. The architect also coordinates change order amounts, contingencies, and allowances to make sure that all parties are up to date on the cost of the work.
Perhaps the most important role for the architect is to take all of the issues and terms and concepts that come up during construction and translate them to the owner in terms that make sense to them, which is especially important to our residential and church clients who may not have much experience with the world of construction. The architect represents the owner because he or she is used to construction and understands what the owner is trying to achieve.
Site Visit at St. Albert of Trapani Catholic Church in Houston--Existing and New structure Coming Togther
Now that she’s read this, my wife finally understands why my project binders are so enormous, and why I work so hard at shepherding each of my projects to completion. In short, our role as architects is not only to translate our clients’ dreams into beautiful buildings, but to advocate for our clients and guide them through the complexities of the construction process. Architects do excel at design: but it’s our skills in project management and building that help ensure top-quality construction – and our clients’ peace of mind.
"How I stopped hating the permitting process and learned to live with the codes." I've given this lecture many times in the past. This post is one of a series of articles on how to deal constructively and successfully with building codes.
Recently, I've looked at on-line sites to see what advice is available for getting a project or building permit. I was amused to see some overly obvious answers:
1. Go to your building department.
2. Fill out the form.
3. Pay your fee.
Wow, wouldn't it be great if it really was that simple! It may work for a small project in a particularly helpful jurisdiction, but it's been many years since we've encountered any permit that easy.
So what must you do to get a permit? In many cases, your architect or builder may have the experience necessary for your project. In other situations, an expeditor or facilitator may be helpful. In any case, for a small or large job, I strongly advise owners to educate themselves about the process. Even with an expert representing you, a good understanding of the process can make all the difference.
KNOW THE JURISDICTION
The most important issue, for starters is to know your jurisdiction. When I work in a new area, I like to get a copy of the development codes for a preliminary review. Many cities and townships have their codes on-line. Austin is one of the earliest cities to have its development codes and processes on-line. But not everything is available. In Austin, some critical pieces, including the transportation standards, have only recently been posted electronically.
A local code still can only tell you so much. Various groups, agencies and departments may have specific standards or requirements. Why the agency exists, and what it regulates seem obvious, but they are important to know. I often find useful information by reading the enabling language or a statement of purpose for any new jurisdiction. But often, knowing one jurisdiction isn't enough.
Get used to it, regulatory agencies overlap and at times contradict each other. Generally, most requirements are from agencies or departments at the local level. But some permits come from regional or state agencies. Over the last few decades, even the federal government has gotten into building regulations, most notably with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Don't these agencies work with each other? Some do, but most are organized around the primary issues they regulate. For example, we've had a site reviewer in our city approve a driveway based on the anticipated parking load. The fire department, however, was ready to reject it, based on the size of emergency vehicles. We quickly negotiated a compromise that both agencies would accept.
Many conflicts require a variance, change or waiver to resolve. These may be handled administratively by the staff or require a public hearing. Once again, the requirements are likely to be spelled out in the documents.
Knowing the agency's purpose and guidelines can make a huge difference, especially for a public hearing. More than once, I have listened from the dais as petitioners have made impassioned pleas for something that was simply impossible. They were asking the wrong group! It would have been so much easier if they only had known what was required and where they were supposed to go.
And there are many overlapping regulators, so there are lots variances or waivers. Several years ago, our region studied its jurisdictions and discovered there were up to 60 different agencies or departments that may potentially be involved with a building project. The study noted that in some California regions, there were as many as 120!
Sadly, very few states or regions have a system for dealing with multiple agencies. I was impressed to find clearinghouse systems established in several areas in the Northwest. Our firm hasn't had projects in those areas to test their effectiveness.
It may seem by now that the wild maze of codes it just too much for any mere mortal. If it is any comfort, I believe that a good project, with the right approach will get a permit. The time, aggravation and cost, however, can vary greatly. What's the right approach? How to lessen the risk? That's for a future post.