Most buildings are unique, but the processes used to manage, design, and document them are mostly the same – or should be. These practices are open to improvement, and in many cases, drastic improvement.
Architectural production practices should not be confused with assembly line manufacturing as we are not making identical widgets. Project delivery typically entails managing a lot of subjectivity as we are working with people and organizations. Nonetheless, much can be learned by observing the thinking behind good manufacturing procedures and applying the ideas and practices to the more repetitious aspects of our practice.
Buildings and the documents that describe them (whether electronic or on paper) are an "Organized Complexity", consisting of overlapping building systems and components, logically arranged and coordinated with each other. Well-designed processes can aid in the planning, design, integration, and quality documentation of building systems and make the deliverables easier to understand and follow.
- Develop well thought out methods for getting work done rapidly and consistently with accuracy. Identify and memorialize productive work methods and then teach your staff.
- Create tools that facilitate organized client interaction and information gathering during the design phases and then document it back to them in an attractive, easy to understand format.
- Utilize prototypical drawing systems to simplify and streamline documentation. Elements such as partitions, doors, cabinetry, building accessories, and yes, handicapped accessibility clearances can be easily scheduled using drawing methodologies that cover a majority of situations found - with additional notes or drawings for atypical situations only.
- Building Systems Sheets comprised of well researched and coordinated reference details for roofs, exterior skin systems, stairs, etc., provide a ready resource to be used over and over again.
- Design buildings that are uncomplicated to construct. This requires architects and engineers to know about each other’s work as well as how to put building together. The 1980’s Japanese automakers approached the design, engineering, and manufacturing very differently than their US and European counterparts. They endeavored to create well designed automobiles that were very straightforward to build. By utilizing consistent and flexible manufacturing processes and always, always, always looking to improve, their cars became famous for their reliability.
- Treat consultants as partners. If you help them to do better work, you only stand to benefit. An architect’s work is generally perceived as the sum total of the architectural, MEP, Structural and other disciplines. Understand the information they need and see that they get it in a timely manner.
There is no time savings in thinking through the issues affecting a project but there can be a reduction in the documentation effort. Mies Van der Rohe famously observed that “Less is More”. We think of his comments with regards to design, but should also consider their application to document preparation and presentation.