When I started my career with a concrete forming contractor over 35 years ago, I discovered the hard way how quickly miscommunications can cause big headaches for a project. My job as a concrete form detailer was to interpret structural and architectural drawings and incorporate them into one set of drawings to be used in the field. On this particular project, the drawings I received had conflicting dimensions for an elevator shaft pit. Rather than point this out on the drawings I compiled, I simply went with the structural dimensions. Big mistake. The elevator was erected with the wrong dimensions, which resulted in having to demo the concrete elevator pit.
It was a costly mistake that opened my eyes to how different it is to build something on paper versus building it in the field and how vital it is to get things right before the concrete gets poured. When important details are lost in translation between architects, engineers and contractors, a project’s schedule and budget can be quickly derailed. As the Director of Production for Watry Design, my role is to live in those details and help produce drawings that minimize the kinds of errors and omissions that can slam the brakes on construction.
It’s a challenging problem to navigate, even with years of experience behind you. After all, architects, engineers and contractors all approach the goal of delivering a successful project from a different place, in essence speaking different languages. Architects see a project in terms of appeal and function, engineers think in terms of compliance and stability, contractors in terms of means and methods to deliver on schedule. Parking design adds another layer of complication that requires additional expertise. Parking structures are a unique building type, designed for both vehicles and pedestrians with traffic, modal and ease of flow considerations that must be taken into account, making experienced parking planners a vital ingredient to a projects’ success.
However, understanding the priorities and mindsets of each discipline and finding a “universal language” that allows them to communicate effectively on paper are two different things. Because most firms only specialize in one of these services, it’s a challenging goal to achieve. This is what makes Watry Design so unique: by offering architecture, structural engineering and parking planning all under one roof, we have a unique advantage when it comes to producing drawings that speak that universal language. Instead of one discipline sending their design to the next, we work in a parallel process by sitting together, brainstorming, discussing and solving parking with all systems in mind. To consistently achieve high quality CD packages, we cross-train our entire staff in architecture, structural engineering and parking planning. Our structural engineers know parking layout and our architects understand structural layout elements. By putting everyone in the same room, we can identify potential problems and solve them before they actually occur.
My experience on the contractor’s side gives me valuable insight when it comes to integrating each of these disciplines into one set of drawings to be used in the field. For example, a team on site dealing with noise, commotion and active equipment may respond differently to a set of drawings than an architect or engineer working in a quiet office. Therefore to avoid complications that can cause costly delays, we strive to produce high quality drawings that can be easily interpreted by busy construction crews in the field.
Maintaining this level of quality requires that we continually learn and evolve our process. Each time we learn a new lesson, whether it was during the design process or an issue that arose on site, we strive to share it with our entire team and find solutions to reduce the same problem on future projects. Each time we design an elevator shaft, we utilize the latest and most current knowledge of our architects, engineers and parking planners to determine where it should be located, whether to connect it to the structure or use expansion joints, and whether it should be concrete or masonry.
By speaking the language of each discipline, we maximize value for our clients by creating an environment in which we can deliver more projects on time and on budget with minimal complications. For me, that first disastrous mistake led to a thirty plus year career emphasizing quality construction drawings designed for effective communication with the entire team, from concept to completion.