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ONE PIECE OF ADVICE

What one piece of advice do you wish that you had received as a young professional?

I struggled with the answer to this question, because I was blessed with several great mentors in my years as a young professional. The advice I received was sound, and I gained a great deal of sound technical knowledge in the process.  Clearly their advice helped me to become who I am today.

The bit of advice that I was missing from my early mentors was that no one ever told me that TO BE A LEADER IS TO SERVE.  Got that?  To be a leader is to serve others.

It took me years to learn this truth. As a youngster, I pictured a leader as something of a drill sergeant; telling others what to do and how to do it.  Through the school of hard knocks, I learned that being a leader often means leading by example.  In order to do so, one must lead by doing.

When we chartered the Central Virginia Chapter of CSI in 1990, I was in the midst of raising a family. During the pre-charter meetings hosted by then Institute Director Byron Dickson, I realized that if I expected an organization that benefits me to exist, I’d better be willing to assume a leadership role, and became the first treasurer of the chapter.

Fast forward about 15-20 years and I watched my three daughters take on leadership roles in the organizations they belong to. I did not deliberately teach my children to be leaders, but as they say, your children don’t do as you say, they do as you do.

Somewhere between my misguided high school days of envisioning a leader as a drill sergeant and the time I was participating in CSI leadership, I figured out that in order to lead, I must be willing to work hard and be of service to others.

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Today I wrote Field Report #1 for another project. My observations were limited to walking the property lines and ascertaining that the corners were properly marked and that the wetlands on the property were still flagged.  While this isn’t a lot of progress, what it represents is a new project has reached the Construction Phase.  The beginning of a project carries with it a special sort of excitement.  This occurs with each new project, road trip, another year at Construct, and the list goes on.

I also experienced this feeling when I left my first architectural position after three and one half years of working for a difficult boss who happened to be a great mentor. In spite of distancing myself from my mentor, I found myself looking forward to the next step, a four year term running construction operations for a local general contractor.  My time spent as a member of the constructor team became a large part of who I am as an architect and contributed heavily to my technical expertise.

So as I contemplate my new project, I can’t help but think about our younger colleagues whose careers collectively constitute new projects. I feel an obligation to give back to the profession as a mentor to these folks.  After all, there were many people who did the same for me.  So as I observe the beginnings of people’s careers, I share their excitement as they submit Field Report #1 on their careers.  I look forward to intentionally sharing knowledge for years to come.

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I was disappointed to read a recent local newspaper article about the settlement of a lawsuit surrounding a local project that is the winner of multiple awards.  According to the article, there were more than 400 RFIs (requests for information) submitted by the contractor.  The article also states that there were several design features that were poorly executed or simply didn’t work as intended.

I have to say that the building in question is quite beautiful and has been honored as a green structure, but 400 RFIs?  In my mind, 400 RFIs on a project this size is an inexcusable number and makes me question the adequacy of the construction documents (which I haven’t seen, by the way) to convey the design intent.

Successful, timely, and cost-effective construction relies on appropriate communication of a project design by the design team to the contractor and supplier team on behalf of the ownerFrom project conception through design and construction to facility management, effective communication of the project requirements depends largely on having complete and coordinated construction documents.”

The quote above begins the introduction to Chapter 11 of The CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide (PDPG).  The PDPG is the primary source document for the CDT exam.  The CDT is the gateway credential into the CSI Certification Program.  All CSI certified professionals (CCS, CCPR, and CDT) hold the CDT credential, as it is a prerequisite to the certification exams.

Holders of the CDT have a working knowledge of construction documents and procedures.  They are aware of steps in the facility life cycle, have some knowledge of the legal issues associated with construction, and can assist an owner with the construction procurement process.  As holders of the credential, they know what information should be included in a set of construction documents and, more importantly, can recognize when it is missing.  Including pertinent and appropriate information in the CDs will minimize the number of RFIs on a project.

Registration will be opening soon for the spring certification exams.  Because of the time necessary to absorb the material, candidates should begin studying now.  Study materials are available from www.csinet.org/certification .

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It never ceases to amaze me how many construction proposals contain the very short specification “to code”.  What amazes me even more is that there are actually consumers who believe this statement or some variation thereon assures them of a quality project.

Wake up folks!  The building code is the crummiest construction that is legal.

So you ask: “How can I get better than the worst that’s legal?”

Better quality construction starts with better construction documents.  Good construction documents are usually produced by a licensed design professional.  For certain occupancies, a licensed design professional is required to seal and sign the construction documents before a construction permit can be issued by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).  In such cases, simply having the seal of a licensed professional on the drawings is in the same category of “built to code”.

Better quality construction documents often involve the services of a Certified Construction Specifier (CCS).  The CCS is a certification issued by the Construction Specifications Institute more commonly known as CSI.  Holders of the CCS are required to have a minimum of five years’ experience preparing construction documents and at least two years of writing construction specifications.  In addition, a CCS will have passed a rigorous exam to receive the certification.

Unofficially, a CCS is an experienced professional with a vast body of technical knowledge.  As a member of the building team, the specifier will often prompt the other members of the design team to think about issues such as constructability, compatibility of materials, water-tightness, and similar issues.

Once a project is documented, it will need to be constructed by a qualified contractor.  One characteristic to look for in the course of selecting a contractor is whether or not he/she has a CDT on staff.  A CDT knows his/her way around a set of construction documents.  They understand the information presented and know where to look for certain information within the set of documents.  Additionally, a CDT has a basic understanding of the relationships called for in a set of construction contract documents.

With this in mind, when shopping for construction services, hire someone who holds a CSI issued certificate or a CSI certified professional.

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Did you ever spend time pondering facility life cycles?  Do you know who is on a typical construction project team?  Do you know which construction documents are contract documents?  Did you ever wonder how projects get built?  Do any of these questions keep you up at night?

If you are a member of the AEC industry and don’t know the correct answers to these questions, they should keep you up at night.  If you are employed in the AEC industry, you should be a member of CSI, and you should hold the CDT.  CSI is the one place where all members of the project team can sit down together as equals and discuss matters of mutual concern.  The Mission of CSI is to advance building information management and education of project teams to improve facility performance.

The CDT is the entry level credential offered by CSI.  According to the CSI website,  “the CDT Program provides a comprehensive overview for anyone who writes, interprets, enforces, or manages construction documents. Project architects, contractors, contract administrators, material suppliers, and manufacturers’ representatives are all realizing the advantages of being Construction Documents Technologists”.  “By being able to understand and interpret written construction documents, CDTs perform their jobs more effectively. By understanding the roles and relationships of all participants, CDTs improve communication among all members of the construction team”.  The credential is beneficial for architects and engineers, construction administration staff, construction product representatives, constructors, and professionals in other construction occupations.

The CDT Exam is administered each year during set periods in the spring and fall.  Because the exam is not an easy one, the time to begin study for the Spring 2016 exam is NOW.  Study materials are available from the CSI website.  The CDT Candidate Handbook lists the domains covered by the exam and the proportion of the exam dedicated to each.  It also lists the source materials that are to be studied by the exam candidate in order to pass the exam.

The CDT is the gateway to CSI’s Certification Program, and is a prerequisite for all of the advanced certifications offered by CSI.  It is a lifetime achievement and use of the letters CDT on your business card will gain you recognition within the industry as an individual who is knowledgeable in the construction process and documentation.

Watch the CSI website for when the registration window opens for the exam, but you should be studying now.  The information you need is available at http://csinet.org/main/certification/CDT .

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I have written multiple times on the transfer of knowledge. Most of the time, I am talking about transferring the knowledge my contemporaries have accumulated over many years of experience, and most people understand the phrase to mean exactly that.  The primary reason for concern with this topic is that if we don’t mentor the next generation(s) the knowledge will eventually be lost forever.

Transfer of knowledge doesn’t just flow from old to young, but the reverse is also true. I believe I would be totally lost if not for the knowledge I have been given by young people.  Often times, as I pointed out in my last post, this occurs during the course of a conversation when something will be said that causes me to connect the dots differently and enables me to look at an issue from a new perspective.  Without this learning, I would still be in the 1970s or ‘80s.  (My staff and daughters constantly tell me that I live in the 70s!).

So here’s the deal: We hire younger people because they bring a lot to the table.  Yes, they are obviously more up to date on technology, but this isn’t my point.  Our younger hires are creative.  They come out of school with fresh ideas and strong opinions.  What they have already learned and the ways that they learn compliments our knowledge.  With them, we are better.  The relationship is mutually beneficial.

So to my younger peers, we the Boomers salute you.  I am not alone in this.  My older friends often acknowledge your contributions, and frequently talk about the rising stars in our midst.  After all, you are the future.

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One of my friends and mentors passed this past week. He was one of those people that whenever we had a casual conversation, I would learn something.

Dick was a retired police officer and an experienced volunteer firefighter. It was from him that I learned much of what I know about how fires behave in buildings and also what extinguishes them.  This has served me well as an architect over the last several years.  I’m not sure if Dick realized that I was learning anything from him or that I consider him a mentor.  It was more about making friendly conversation about topics in which he had a wealth of knowledge and interest.  I will sorely miss the warmth and fellowship of our visits.

With that said, this is very much a reminder that members of my generation need to be focused on transferring the knowledge we have amassed over a lifetime to younger people. Being a mentor involves sharing our knowledge or, better still, sharing the means to acquire the necessary knowledge.  This may be a simple matter of answering a well placed question, or being there (hanging out) when the protégé isn’t aware that a question needs to be asked.

By all means, we should take a younger colleague under our wing and share the resources we have developed over the years. I don’t need to be in younger folks’ shoes.  I was there once.  I am eternally grateful to Dick – and Tom, Sandy, Roxanne, and Sam.  I have learned so much from these five people, that I would not be the architect I am today without their willingness to mentor me.  It is my intent to pass it on to whoever is willing to listen.

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After returning from Construct 2015 last week, I asked one of our younger employees what she liked about the conference, and she didn’t hesitate to respond “The people”. I pressed her a little further and asked if she had learned anything, and her response was that the education sessions were great, but the people she met were the greatest value to her.  I was pleased to hear this, because I owe so much to my CSI friends all over the country.

I should clarify that even as a seasoned professional, I still run across questionsSTL Construct Banner for which I don’t have answers.  This is particularly true in this day and age that there is so much new technology out there and so much new information.  I consider myself fortunate that when I run across something I don’t know related to the AEC business, there is generally someone in my professional network who knows the answer.  That professional network includes the trusted advisors I know through CSI.

My network of professional peers includes, of course other architects, but it goes much further than this. I consider design professionals in other disciplines, product representatives, contractors, subcontractors, independent specifiers and other allied professionals to be my peers and trusted advisors.  It is through CSI that I know hundreds of these folks and have access to thousands of others through their contacts.

I have often said that my CSI membership pays for itself every day, because rarely does a day go by that I don’t communicate in some manner with other CSI members outside of our firm. Sometimes, it is as simple as a “good morning” on Twitter, but often it will be a personal e-mail or telephone call with a pressing technical question.  Over the years, the answers to these questions have at least made me a better architect and specifier, and perhaps, they have kept me out of court.

So this is only a small part of my CSI MVP: Member Value Proposition.  There are many other opportunities that membership presents.  These will be the subject of future posts.

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I recently had the opportunity to travel Route 66 between Mitchell, Illinois and Catoosa, Oklahoma. This was my fourth trip on this particular stretch since 1998. I have to say that the experience was bittersweet.

My melancholy over the trip has to do with those original highway businesses that have disappeared since I was last down this way in 2007. At least four have been demolished and there is no sign of their ever having been there. Some of the bridges have been closed or replaced, presumably for safety issues. Other restorations are showing their age and need some TLC.

The trip was not a total downer (how could it be?). Most of the original pavement that was there eight years ago remains. Additionally, the signage has been upgraded along the way, so use of the map turned out to be unnecessary (I still refuse to use GPS). This was true in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Illinois has had a good signage program for years, and what I saw is still looking good.

One of the highlights of the trip was the restoration of the Boots Court in Carthage, Missouri which has been restored to its original appearance. The unsightly gable roof has been removed, and the façade is sporting pristine white paint with red awnings. The neon sign has been restored and repainted in (original?) red. IMG_2869This building is a gem that is worthy of maintaining.

Another highlight was entertaining old friends at Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard on Chippewa Street in St. Louis. This establishment remains unchanged from my first visit in 1995, and is well maintained. There were thirty or forty people there even after 9:00 PM on a late Tuesday evening in late September. I am certain that as long as they want to keep it open, this business will continue to thrive.

In the category of reasons for optimism, There was a vintage bridge east of Vinita, Oklahoma that was bypassed by a newer structure, but given the way the road was realigned, it appeared that the old bridge will remain in place as a part of history.  I was also pleased to see that a couple of the spans of the westbound Vertigris River Bridge near Catoosa were relocated near their original site and can thus be preserved without creating a hazard to the traveling public. IMG_2878 The eastbound bridge is still carried by steel through trusses.

In the category of tired restorations, the Chain of Rocks Bridge could use a bit of paint again. The restoration of the late 1990s is showing its age as it approaches its late teens. It is clear from the fact that a parking lot has been constructed at the east end along with some signage placed there by the Route 66 Association of Illinois that there is a commitment to keeping the bridge alive. I look forward to walking it for years to come.

I’m not sure of the eventual fate of the truss bridge over the Gasconade River near Hazelgreen. The bridge is, of course now closed, and the rust on the superstructure is visible from the interstate. The first time I crossed this bridge was on a Sunday morning, and the minister was just climbing out of the river following a baptism. The memory of that occasion will keep this bridge on my mind in the future. I can only hope that there is some effort underway to preserve it.

There was one section of the bypass alignment around St. Louis that I hadn’t been on since I was five years old, so this was the first time driving it. Believe it or not, I still remember coming off the Chain of Rocks Bridge and making the right and left turns that put us on Dunn Road. Because of the construction of I-270 and all of the development that has taken place, most of this alignment looks quite different than it did 55 years ago.

There are only a few hundred miles of the old road that I haven’t traveled, and I’ve only been able to string together a few hundred miles at a time. I look forward to the time when I can string together a few weeks to drive the entire route.

 

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We all remember the Rolling Stones Song which states “I can’t get no satisfaction”. I’m here to say that they were wrong, or at least not completely correct.

I had the privilege of attending a grand opening party at one of our projects Tuesday evening. The guests gathered in and around the clubhouse at The Apartments at Goose Creek in Fishersville, Virginia. The building proved to be exactly the right size for the gathering and the design was well received by the guests as they wandered around checking the place out.

It would seem a no-brainer that this was a satisfying experience to the architect of record.  Seeing people’s reaction when they entered the building where they could immediately see a panoramic view of the Alleghenies in the distance and the half dozen geese hanging from the ceiling makes what we do worthwhile.

As the evening wore on and the sky made its transition from day to evening, the exterior lights came on and changed the building to its nocturnal persona which was also well received by the guests and confirmed that the design lighting levels were correct. The use of photometric software proved to be valuable, as the lighting levels made the trek between the clubhouse and the model apartment comfortable for the guests.

I have to admit that I received a lot of complements on the project as the evening progressed, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the team that made the vision a reality. Goose Creek is the second consecutive collaboration between the three participants. I have to acknowledge our client, Denise LaCour of Denstock LLC whose vision over our 25 plus year collaboration has changed the landscape of our community in very positive ways. I would also like to acknowledge our contractor, KBS, Inc. that transformed our documents into reality. Their management and on site teams were top notch. My partners and staff were instrumental in producing the design and documentation. This collaboration bears out the quote attributed to Tony Bennett of the University of Virginia Men’s Basketball program which states “If you want to do something fast, do it alone. If you want to do it well, do it together”.

So as our practice of architecture continues, it is impossible to avoid the feeling of satisfaction that comes from watching the work of a great team perform well.

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