Cut and Paste Architecture

Charles Mahaffey

November 2006

As you could probably guess from the title of the article, it is time for another rant about the state of architectural design in this country.

About two years ago, I wrote an article titled The Clairvoyant Estimator. The gist of the article was how we as estimators need to become clairvoyant to be able to comprehend the pathetically inadequate architectural documents produced by the architects today.

I received a number of e-mails and phone calls about the article. What I did not receive was any communication from anyone who wanted to take issue with the article’s content.

Well, since that time, I can tell you firsthand that things haven’t changed for the better.

Actually, I believe the clarity of construction documents provided to us by the architect is continuing in a downward spiral that reduces the perception of the architectural profession to that of a cartoonist. I would like to apologize to the cartoonists for that analogy.

Even jigsaw puzzles with the thousands of odd pieces will eventually fit together. However, the building plans with a thousand odd details, combined with the elevations and floor plans from another job will not come together without the skill of clairvoyance, an economy-sized bottle of antacids and the dogged determination of a Jedi Knight!

I was asked recently to provide an estimate on a strip-mall in the Atlanta area. This project consisted of four separate buildings. You might think, as I did, that the architect would at least have a one-in-four chance of having one building without significant design errors. Wrong!

The first building did not have a single section that was indicated correctly. Two of the remaining four buildings had significant errors and ambiguities. The fourth building had all of the same problems of the other three, plus none of the elevations or column lines was correct. Sometimes when you are having difficulty getting yourself oriented to a building plan, you can cross-reference the column lines from the floor plan to the elevations.

You could not rely on anything for this project. North wasn’t north, it was west. South wasn’t south, it was east. The column lines on the floor plan for the longer side of the building were labeled numerically—1, 2, 3, etc. The elevation had the column lines for that side of the building shown alphabetically—A, B, C, etc.

Needless to say, these plans left me in a bit of a lurch, and they put me in a really bad mood. I know … some of you who know me think that with my personality disorder it wouldn’t take much to put me in a bad mood anyway.

What could I do to vent my frustration? Should I go home and kick the dog? No, I couldn’t do that, I don’t have a dog! I know: I’ll fire off an e-mail to the architect.

I did, without any hesitation, draft an e-mail to the architect. I was not insulting; I did not use profanity or call him anything but a child of God. Admittedly, those other thoughts did cross my mind. Actually, I wanted to try to establish a dialogue with the architect to see if he really even realized just how deficient these plans were.

Be sure to read next month’s column and I will provide the architect’s response to my e-mail. I might even continue to rant a little more. You know, there is probably enough material to write an architectural rant column every month.

About the Author
Charles Mahaffey is president of Accuest, LLC, Marietta, Ga., and The Academy of Construction Estimating in Atlanta.