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Never the Twain Shall Meet (Part 2)

Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you, and I’m wonderin’ what it is I should do…—Gerry Rafferty

Last month we pretty well exposed the clearly antagonistic relationship between architects and engineers. In fact, given their differing schools of thought (mathematics versus art), we made a pretty good case that pragmatic number-crunchers and aesthetic dream-doodlers could hardly be anything other than natural adversaries. But of course the intended outcome of combining the talents of each school to design a building is a “perfect marriage of form and function.” Anyway, that’s the theory. Unfortunately, from an estimator’s point of view, the actual results of this dubious marriage of opposites are more likely to end in domestic violence, divorce or spousal homicide—much less the perfect marriage.


Consider the example we cited last month, the three-story wall and the two divergent approaches to its construction. Recall that the architect preferred a segmented slab-to-slab approach, while the engineer opted for single-span balloon framing. Recall too that the partition estimator favors the more cost-effective slab-to-slab approach. But since structural drawings trump the architecturals, one would think it’s a simple slam-dunk for the balloon framing, right?


Sadly, I’ve seen several cases in which the architect, not to be outdone by a sprocket-head, aggressively turned the issue into a vicious dogfight. Now, even though the estimator has a vested interest in the architect’s approach, he tries to keep an objective distance. Unfortunately the entire dynamic is one that puts the unassuming quantifier smack-dab in the middle of the fur-flying fray.


The scenario goes something like this: The estimator submits a request for verification to the architect through channels stating that he assumes the architect’s detail showing the expansion joint at the slab edge has been negated by the engineer’s balloon-framing design of the wall. Of course, the estimator’s RFI is the first indication to the architect that he has been contradicted by the engineer, since neither party reviews the others’ renderings. Eager to punish the messenger, the architect retaliates with an answer that the expansion joint stays for aesthetic purposes and issues a new detail that compromises the engineer’s single-span concept by depicting a track-to-track joint in the wall at each slab edge to create a functioning expansion joint—not just a cosmetic control joint. The estimator is now compelled to respond by tactfully informing the architect that his detail is structurally untenable and therefore not constructible, which further enrages the architect, and so on. On goes the back-and-forth battle between form and function, with the bidmeister contending for the Henry Kissinger shuttle diplomacy award while the clock runs up to deadline, at which time our quantifier is left with no resolution—still saddled with the dilemma concerning how to bid the job.


The preceding imbroglio stems from a more common and more basic tug-of-war between aesthete and pragmatist: where to put the wall. Generally speaking, engineers prefer to keep the non-load-bearing skin independent of the structural steel columns and beams, and therefore favor locating the exterior walls outside the edge of the structure. Conversely, architects prefer to place the wall along column lines, hoping to envelope each column inside the wall, thus preserving smooth, uninterrupted planes by eliminating unsightly and somewhat costly column furr-outs (although I must confess that evidence of any other cost-reducing item ever initiated by any architect crossing my long and winding path has completely escaped my notice).


Colleagues have on several occasions shown me sets of drawings in which the dimension plan plainly locates the exterior wall along the column line (therefore under the slab above), while the foundation plan just as clearly shows the wall outside of the column line, creating a slab-edge bypass condition. Hmm. Let’s see: the dimension plan dictates the location of assemblies, so it should be the determinate document. There, that’s settled. But wait, structural plans take precedence when there’s a conflict, so they’re the final authority, right? The cognitive dissonance is enough to send the most even-keeled bidmeister into emotional meltdown. Truth be known, I’ve never seen this much contention over a wall since the ill-conceived decision to partition Berlin.


Anyway, the battle of the moving wall seems to be a perpetual problem that will plague quantifiers from here to eternity, or at least until architects and engineers put aside their petty differences and work cooperatively on coordinated drawings. When will that be? God only knows, but in the meantime, innocent estimators will be stuck in the middle of the conflict.

Vince Bailey is senior estimator at Berg Drywall of Phoenix.

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