On Veterans’ Day, I was thankful that I’ve had freewill and free choice in my life. I started working in an architect’s office when I was 17 years old; this was afforded to me because I a) asked my high school guidance counselor to arrange my Junior Shadow Day at an office that was biking distance from my house and b) I managed to collect enough credits (thanks to summer school and On-Job-Scholastic for my part-time job) which allowed me to graduate from high school a year early. They hired me to start the Monday after high school graduation. I was hired as a gopher…this was when only a few offices had fax machines. I would drive around (in company cars; remember, I rode my bike to work?) and deliver memos, transmittals, drawings, field reports, etc. I asked tons of questions. I watched, I asked, I thought, I learned.
I noticed that over those first 3 years while I was working and attending community college that the architects were increasingly excited about the “Field Inspections” becoming “Field Observations” for fulfilling contractual obligations. The crusty old field inspector who worked at the architect’s firm was a wealth of knowledge and, I’m positive, made sure all those buildings in southwestern Florida were constructed in strict compliance with the contract documents. Howard was nearing retirement, and didn’t get too ruffled when his job position was on the verge of being eliminated, due to a change in the contract requirements. He stayed on and performed the field observations; the new form notes weren’t as enlightening to my understanding of design and construction. All in all, it seemed like the firm was “happier” being released from inspections by performing the observations.
As time when on, I went away to the university (go Gators!) and would return home to work summers at the firm. There was a definite shift in how/what was included in the CDs when the inspection was changed to observation. After a few summers, it became obvious (to me… still watching, asking, and learning) that there was a new little burr under the saddle in that the architects had less “teeth” to make the contractor do what they were supposed to do via the inspection process; after all they are only observing.
In the time since finishing my degrees, fulfilling my internship, completing the exam process and starting my own firm, I have heard references back “to when we could really inspect our projects” and do some good. I have heard lamenting on “Oh, why did we ever give up the right to inspect our own projects?” An old-timer told me that our profession was forever changed with the shift in releasing the inspections to give way to lower liability exposure; that was a watershed moment in the worth and value an architect brings to the project. We were reduced. He added, just in case I was too young to understand, “We never should have given up that right, don’t let your generation do something stupid like ours did.” Sothat last horse left the barn and we tried to close the doors. . .too late dudes, they were gone.
I wonder if the design-build delivery method would have grown the legs if that didn’t happen. I ponder if BIM and integrated practice would be on the verge of taking off like they apparently are if inspect was still mission critical to what we do. These could be good “watersheds,” but it seems like architects are trying way too hard to put themselves back in the process. So I’m adapting my revised business strategy of what I’ll do (differently) to manage my practice while trying to learn from the past. I want to thrive (not just survive) the next 4+ years.
To my view and comprehension of all factors architectural and not, it does seem like there is something currently great here and now that is on the verge of being lost forever. I’m looking harder at my contracts, office processes, and services I offer to do all I can for my clients, their projects, and their constituents. What other opportunities might be in front of us in midst of this new watershed? I need to read Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Atlas Shrugged again.
—Lisa Stacholy, AIA