We’ve all heard the expression “Don’t sweat the small stuff” which is good advice for daily life, but is it appropriate for us as design professionals to apply this to our professional lives? I would argue that this advice can’t apply to our work. All too often, documents are released for construction with dimensions missing, slopes that don’t work 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, particularly within a profession that has a reputation for being more concerned with aesthetics than functionality. Overlooking these issues can result in unnecessary expense during construction or liability on the part of the design professional.
Over the years, I’ve seen multiple coordination errors between disciplines such as site plans indicating backfilling against a framed wall, slopes that do not comply with accessibility guidelines, pavement that is too flat to adequately drain. I have also seen multiple cases where structural drawings didn’t reflect what was indicated on the architectural and similar issues with HVAC, plumbing, and electrical. In other cases, headroom over stairs and similar issues have been ignored by designers not thinking the design through in three dimensions. And I haven’t even mentioned the project manuals produced by repurposing the previous project’s specifications that may or may not be 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, but in grading parking lots, avoidance of birdbaths because design slopes are too flat becomes a problem, especially in freezing weather. Ensuring the integration of ductwork and plumbing with the structural system becomes an issue when the budget requires a low floor to floor height.
Use of 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 that Owners often do not want to pay sufficient fees to support this level of detail, but better to spend the money on document coordination than on demolition and replacement of components in the field.
Bottom line is this, every one of us on a project team needs to be diligent in coordinating the documents. I would encourage design professionals to do their due diligence in coordinating the documents 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.