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“Designing and constructing buildings, civil structures, industrial facilities, interior design projects and other structures and facilities is one of humankind’s most difficult endeavors in spite of the fact that it is a common activity” 1

In the last couple of posts, I’ve discussed the importance of construction document coordination and the importance of mentoring relative to the construction process. The time has come to consider the logistics of project delivery.

Arguably, the best source of knowledge on this topic is the membership of The Construction Specifications Institute. The best tool for measuring this knowledge is the CSI Certification Program which grants one certificate to and three advanced professional certifications of construction professionals who have demonstrated a high level of expertise within the construction industry.  The CSI Certification Program dates to the 1970’s with the establishment of the Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) program.  Since that time, the CDT Certificate Program and two other advanced certifications have been added for product representatives (CCPR) and construction contract administrators (CCCA).

With this post, I will focus primarily on The Construction Documents Technology (CDT) Program. The program is aimed at anyone who writes, interprets, manages, or otherwise utilizes construction documents.  The CDT is a prerequisite for CSI’s advanced certifications, but is an important accomplishment on a stand-alone basis.  The certificate is a useful tool to all parties to the construction process including, but not limited to, designers, constructors, material sup[pliers, product representatives, and more.  The program is useful to owner’s representatives as well, particularly if they are responsible for developing multiple projects.

In general, a CDT has knowledge of project delivery methods, design and construction processes, and construction documentation. With this knowledge, a CDT is able to perform his or her job more effectively because he/she understands the roles and relationships of the participants in the construction process and also understands what constitutes effective construction documents.

By understanding what is required by the construction documents, a contractor who holds the CDT delivers a project more closely resembles what the designer intended. Design professionals who hold the CDT are more likely to produce cohesive and coherent construction documents.  Product representatives and material suppliers are more likely to propose products that are compliant with the drawings and specifications.  The result? A better project for all parties.

It is for this reason that I prefer to do business with individuals who hold the CDT.

 

  1. The Construction Specifications Institute, Project Delivery Practice Guide (John Wiley & Sons)
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With my last post I spoke of the necessity of members of the AEC industry to sweat the small stuff; to consider all of the issues related to putting a project together. This week, I will explore the best way to accomplish this.

We often hear about how graduates from architecture and engineering programs have very little practical/technical knowledge in their field. The complaints seem to be loudest from seasoned professionals such as myself.  In response to this, I concentrate on mentoring young professionals in an effort to pay forward the mentoring I received in the late seventies and early eighties as a young professional just getting into the field.

That said, new graduates and young professionals come armed with the most recent thinking on theoretical issues and solutions to some of the issues we all face. They have so much to offer, that we need to listen to what they have to say.  We need for mentoring to be a two way street, as we can all learn from one another.  Example: the seamless transition of our practice from hand drafting to CAD back in the nineties was made possible by a young professional with knowledge that I didn’t have.  She made it possible in a two week time span to have our electronic drawings look like our hand drafted work.

The best way I know of to make the two-way intentional transfer of knowledge happen is through CSI. In order for the two way exchange of knowledge to take place, we have to make certain that we get the young professionals to our meetings.  The invitation needs to be made on a personal basis, regardless of how the invitation is delivered (face to face, e-mail, social media, or even (gasp) a phone call.  The future of the industry depends on it.

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.

Recently, a product rep friend of mine posted a tweet with the hashtag #justasalesperson. Because this individual is a CSI member and a CDT, the hashtag should have read #TrustedAdvisor.  She exemplifies what a product representative should be, and therefore, qualifies as a Trusted Advisor.

What qualifies a product rep as a trusted advisor? To begin with, a product rep that holds a CDT or CCPR knows what the design and specifier communities are looking for: expertise.  They know their product, construction documents, and they understand the construction process.  A good product representative makes the effort to know her/his competitor’s product as well.  They meet regularly with their clientele and thus forge an ongoing relationship.  Occasionally, they may need to advise that their product is not the appropriate one for the job and need to send me to their competitor.

It is out of this long-term relationship that trust emerges. As a design professional and a specifier, if I don’t know the product I’m specifying, I will contact someone I know that has experience with the product.  Preferably, this would be the company’s local representative, but I don’t always know who this might be (shame on you absentee reps that never show up).  Chances are that I know someone with a connection to the product I am looking at through my connections made over twenty-eight years of CSI membership.  Often, that contact may be in another part of the country.  I know I will get a correct answer through this network.  Additionally, they will usually put me in touch with the local rep and I am able to forge yet another relationship.

In general, if someone comes to see me with CDT or CCPR on their business card, I make an effort to make time for them. They will usually be knowledgeable and know where to find answers that may not necessarily be on the tip of their tongue.

So, for those readers that are product representatives that are not CSI members, you need to join. Being active in the organization puts you in contact with a large and professionally diverse pool of potential customers.  You can further step up your game by sitting for the Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) exam during the examination windows each spring and fall.  Obtaining this credential indicates that you possess knowledge of construction delivery methods and processes, construction documents, and building life cycle activities and needs.  The CDT is also a prerequisite to all CSI certifications including the CCPR (Certified Construction Product Representative).

All of these things qualify you as a trusted advisor, and assuming you are active in the organization, you would likely be the first one I would call for product information and advice. With that said, when registration for the Spring Certification Exams opens in January, I would strongly encourage you to sign up.  After all, you don’t want to be just a salesperson.

Several years ago, I received a binder from a window manufacturer in response to a contact I made at Construct. The size tables in the catalog indicate which window units are in compliance with emergency egress and rescue requirements.

Fast forward to last week. Because of the age of the binder, we went to the manufacturer’s website to ensure that the sizes we are looking to use are still available.  What we found is that there are a wider choice of sizes available than there were eight years ago, but several of the windows that were labeled as egress compliant in the old catalog did not bear that designation on the website.  This is complicated by the fact that with the 2012 edition of the IBC, Exceptions 1 and 2 to Section 1029.1 have been eliminated.  Put succinctly, fully sprinklered buildings and buildings with two means of egress are now required to have emergency escape windows that were unnecessary under the 2009 IBC.

We contacted the manufacturer who steered us to an obscure feature on the website that allows the user to check the clear opening of each window size. The user is then left to make his/her own determination of whether the window complies with Section 1029.  Yes, this information is available via the website, but it is not readily apparent to the first time user.

So Mr./Ms. Manufacturer, please consider this your wake-up call. If the information is available, please put it where we can find it on your website.  Otherwise we will likely go to your competitor who has the information in a readily accessible location.

I’ve spent this week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week of R&R. While walking the beach, I’ve observed how the forces of nature have left their mark.  There are water marks left at high tide and ripples in the sand deposited by the wind.  The fiddler crabs left myriad tiny footprints in the sand as have the marine waterfowl.  Multiple animals deposit their shells on the sand following their passing.  We are admonished to leave only footprints and take only memories as we leave.

Like the natural forces on the barrier islands, those of us that are design professionals are obsessed with leaving a mark. Hopefully that mark constitutes a beneficial impact on the community that is the world.

We need to leave functional infrastructure, architecture that provides shelter, and somehow with both of these, we need to leave a beauty that users and observers will appreciate. Easy to think of this from the standpoint of monumental architecture, or a Golden Gate Bridge, but something as utilitarian as the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge that connects Hatteras Island with the rest of the US has a certain beauty in the rhythm of the pilings and the stantions that support the guardrails.  The built legacy should survive us and benefit society for generations to come.

In the process of creating the built world, we have a far more important obligation to leave an intellectual mark with the younger folks that work with us through the intentional transfer of knowledge. This takes place through mentoring, networking, associations, and certification programs.  Experienced professionals such as myself need to make certain that when we leave our professions that we don’t create an unfillable void.  Our professional legatees need to be ready step in and fill the space.  It is our obligation to make certain they are.

Likewise, we have much to learn from the younger professionals in our lives. They are full of energy and new ideas.  New ideas are worth our time, attention, nurturing, and even of our championing.  Pay attention seasoned professionals, as your young colleague may provide the idea that makes something work in a new and wonderful way.

So a quick memo to my younger colleagues: I want to spend time with you.  You have the capacity to make me better, and we can make each other better.  The best place to find me on a first Tuesday is at a CSI meeting.  In that venue, we can both learn something new.

My membership in CSI paid for itself again last week.

“I can find the information on the internet.” I hear this statement often, and to a large extent, it is true.  But not all of the information is necessarily in one place, and it can be very difficult to connect the dots.  To my point, yes the information is there.  But knowing where to find it and what the limitations of said information are is not necessarily discernable from a single website or multiple websites.

With that said, I ran across an issue last week where a client was looking to do something that was apparently a code violation. Given that the issue involved electronic access/egress control and related fire safety issues, I reached out to a fellow CSI member and CCPR that I knew would have the answer.  Of course, he was eager to take my call and discuss how to meet my client’s intent.

As I suspected, the client’s original suggestion turned out to be explicitly prohibited by the International Building Code. As the conversation progressed, I was asked the appropriate questions about the client’s specific needs, which we discussed at length.  The response was immediate, as this particular issue is often a problem within my client’s industry, and my colleague often has to address this issue.  The solution to my client’s problem involves integrating my colleague’s product with a product of a different manufacturer, as neither company’s product would solve the problem in isolation.  By combining the two systems, the issues of security and life safety are both addressed and the client’s needs are met.

You would not find this information on a manufacturer’s website. Had I not been an active CSI member, I would not have been aware of who to call to get the needed information.  With apologies to Mastercard, the information available from a CCPR is priceless.