Communication Matters In Architecture & Construction

I first saw this “Tire Swing” graphic when I was in my 3rd year as an Architecture student. The head of the Project Management department used it in one of his lectures in a mandatory course to “subtly” recruit students into the field. By the way I’d like to give a big shout out Dr. P. I wouldn’t be in this -disastrous, finger-pointing, money talking, butt-covering, yet morally, emotionally and financially rewarding- field without you luring me into it. (In case you are wondering, I really love what I do, despite all the perfect imperfections).
The graphic always stuck with me so I decided to repurpose it here, but made it so it’s a bit more applicable to Architecture and Construction. The main message of this post in a nutshell is this: It’s all about communication.
This is a lesson I first learned as a student, but it really started to ring true as I gained more experience in the field. Let's take the case of one project I was involved with not too long ago:

The client had approved a building elevation that the architect designed, and the drawing was accepted in the Site Plan Approval by the city. As far as all the stakeholders are concerned, this elevation is how the building will be built. Our project team went on to get the budget approved, tendered the project, and awarded it to a capable general contractor. All shop drawings were approved, and construction was making great progress. We were able to start the masonry work in only 13 weeks with the project's percentage of completion at 80%. While laying out the brick, we found out something that made us all cringed... The structural design (and built) and the approved architectural elevations didn't match!!!


Picture showing what the approved elevation should look like. Notice how the parapet is not designed to span between gridline 1-2 and again on gridline E-F.


Picture showing how the structural engineer had designed the tower feature spanning between E-F, making the parapet 6 feet longer than the designed architectural elevation.


This sketch showing what the elevation should look like. Note the tower feature features a dark brick colour and the other wall has a light gray brick finish, effectively creating a heavier accent on the tower parapet.


This sketch shows the impact this will have on the building elevation, where the 2 brick colours adjoin. As you can see, either option works and the emphasis on the black tower feature has now been taken away.

Our project management team quickly brought this up to our client and they were nice enough to let us know that they hesitantly will choose option #2, but they also told us that they were not happy because this is not the product they asked for. Seems like the problem is solved?

The city rejected this change because this is not what their Site Plan Approval shows and to be brutally honest, it looks horrible! Furthermore, this project belongs to a very important client to us and we want to make sure they are happy. In the end, we decided to rework the structural steel, cut it back, remove the parapet framing, insulation, roofing, weather barrier, blue skin, etc... and made sure we maintained the original design, while ensuring the structural integrity of the building.
The cost to fix this issue totalled up to $15,000 and delayed construction progress by 2 weeks. Luckily we were still able to deliver the building on time, and correctly in the end. This discrepancy between the architect and engineer's drawings showed us how important effective communication is when an issue arise.

Could this whole thing have been avoided from the get go? Yes. But mistakes happen. What would have been worse is if we failed to admit to our mistakes, or attempted to cover up the issue. Instead we decided to address things as soon as the problem came up, with all stakeholder (including the Municipal Authority) being part of the conversation. If we hadn’t done that, the project would have suffered from a far greater loss.
So when it comes to communication, always remember; Let’s keep it concise, and most importantly, maintain an open relationship between all stakeholders and team members. With the way our industry works today, open and honest communication is the key to overcoming any challenges as a team.