Raymond Gaines, AIA, FCSI, CCS
Everyone has heard the expression, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It is good advice for daily life, but how appropriate is this suggestion when it comes to design/construction professionals in their work? I would argue the recommendation to stop worrying about minor details does not apply to our career. All too often, documents are released for construction with dimensions missing, slopes that do not make sense for one reason or another, unsupported loads, or poor coordination in general.
Within the last hour, I’ve been asked to review center line dimensions on a foundation plan and elevations on a site plan related to accessible slopes. Both are easily overlooked considerations, particularly within a profession that has a reputation for being more concerned with aesthetics than functionality. Disregarding these issues can result in unnecessary expense during construction or liability on the part of the design professional.
Over the years, I’ve seen many errors in coordination between disciplines. Off the top of my head, examples include:
- site plans indicating backfilling against a framed wall;
- slopes that do not comply with accessibility guidelines; and
- pavement that is too flat to adequately drain.
I have also seen multiple cases where structural drawings did not reflect what was indicated on the architectural drawings, and similar issues with HVAC, plumbing, and electrical. In other cases, headroom over stairs and similar issues have been ignored by designers who were not thinking the design through in three dimensions. I have not even mentioned the many project manuals that were produced by simply repurposing the previous project’s specifications—even when they may not have been appropriate for the project at hand.
Granted, it is not at all easy to manage the competing priorities of the various design criteria. For example, it is essential to maintain accessible slopes on a site. This is difficult to do in rolling terrain, but designing for runoff is relatively easy in these locations. On a flatter site, designing for accessibility is easy. In grading parking lots, however, avoidance of birdbaths because design slopes are too flat becomes a problem, especially in freezing weather. Ensuring the integration of ductwork and plumbing within the structural system becomes an issue when the budget requires a low floor-to-floor height.
Using building information modeling (BIM) as a panacea for document coordination is not the answer. The model/documents still have to be checked and carefully coordinated by an experienced professional. All of this is further complicated by the fact building owners often do not want to pay sufficient fees to support this level of detail. Nevertheless, it is better to spend the money on document coordination than on demolition and replacement of components in the field.
The bottom line is this—every one of us on a project team must be diligent in coordinating the documents. I would encourage design professionals to do their due diligence in this coordination process in order to minimize RFIs. Constructors, if you have questions, I would encourage you to issue the RFI or ask the necessary question(s). Attention to detail on the part of all parties will result in better communication of the design intent.
When we sweat the small stuff, the big stuff will not be quite so challenging.
Raymond E. Gaines, AIA, FCSI, CCS, is an architect and a certified construction specifier with the Gaines Group PLC in Charlottesville, Virginia. A Fellow of CSI, he is licensed to practice architecture in Virginia and North Carolina. Gaines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.