As Seen on SGV Tribune
Four score and seven years ago … it was 1930. And that year, although I was not there to experience it, construction started on the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world at the time. At 1,454 feet, it remained the tallest building in the world for 40 years and it is considered to be the granddaddy of all the super skyscraper buildings we have today. It was built in 16 months.
In those days, and still today, most projects were built using the time-tested Design-Bid-Build method. As the name implies, there was a design phase — where architects and engineers painstakingly drew out every aspect of a building. After drawings were completed, the plans were sent out to various construction companies to receive bids for the building of the project.
The bid phase usually uncovered some, but not all, discrepancies in the design or the plans. This process included receiving bids from numerous sub-contractors, from concrete foundations to the roof. Without the computer assisted technologies we have today, each plan change required someone to sit down and draw up new paper plans.
We complain about computers, but they’ve certainly cut the turn-around time on building plans.
After the bids are received in the Design-Bid-Build process, the contract for construction is awarded and it usually goes to the lowest bidder.
The Empire State Building was built using the “fast-track construction method.” Today, we call this the Design-Build (D/B) method.
Instead of having distinctive separations between the design team and the construction team, the D/B approach allows one group to do it all. Sometimes the group is led by the designers, other times it’s run by construction-oriented folks, and often an entirely new team is developed to coordinate the project.
In my experience, this method is particularly effective with projects where owner details are not yet clear. Essentially, the team begins construction while the plans are still being developed. Contractors begin with a goal in mind but without specifics that come later. For instance, foundations and structural steel takes form while designers are still figuring out what carpet will be used. Perhaps that’s an over-simplification but you get the idea.
So how does this help the average homeowner?
Many homeowners use this system of doing home remodeling by accident. They don’t realize they’re using a form of Design/Build and they put themselves, their families, and their designer and contractor under lots of unnecessary pressure.
Here’s an example: A homeowner wants to do a room addition. They meet with a contractor and an architect. They have thought about the need for extra space. They’ve thought about how the space will be used, But they haven’t thought about windows, doors, lighting, plumbing fixtures, heating and air conditioning.
As they begin to get peppered with reasonable questions, they start to get overwhelmed. Sometimes this happens up front during the design phase, sometimes it happens during the construction process, but it’s a common occurance.
As the costs of all these unanswered questions begin to pile up, someone gets the “blame.” Sometimes, it’s a partner who gets the blame for not thinking about something. Sometimes the architect gets the blame, usually from the contractor. Most of the time, it’s the last guy on the scene who gets the brunt of the frustration — the contractor. And, by the way, sometimes it’s well deserved.
A professional design team will work with a homeowner to help them understand the entire process up front. They will explain designs, getting permits and inspections, and working with contractors and trades. Most importantly, they will explain that it’s okay to make changes to plans along the way — like a D/B process, but that those changes will come with some cost impacts and that all of this is put into words in a Home Improvement Contract.
I can say without reservation that every home improvement project I’ve ever seen has had hiccups. Sometimes they end up in court. Sometimes they end in a divorce.
However, if the Empire State Building could be built in 16 months in 1930, there is obviously room for hope.
The takeaway? If you’re considering a home improvement project, try to build a true team approach. Find people who are more interested in your project than their own egos or agendas. They are out there. And approach your project as if it needs to stand the test of time, like the Empire State Building. Even if it’s just a kitchen remodel!
One final thing to ponder: The Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia is scheduled to be completed in 2020. It will be 3,281 feet, making it the tallest building in the world … for awhile.