Early in my career, I discovered my passion is in the construction administration process. I thrive in seeing the components of a building come together and in the excitement of solving problems in the field.
It is hard to believe, but I have been in this business for more than 20 years. When I graduated college, I quickly realized I wasn’t a typical architecture student—one who was ready to take on the world and make my mark with buildings that bear my name. I am a technical architect and a problem solver; I like figuring out the details and understanding how structures are built. Honestly, had it not been for my first boss “pushing me off the pier” week one of the job I would not be where I am today, and for that I am forever thankful.
I was lucky to be given the opportunity to get involved in every aspect of architecture and the project delivery process from the start of my career. I was encouraged to attend client meetings and interviews, work on drawings and manage my own projects. Through this journey, I found my passion in construction administration and to this day it remains my favorite part of the design process. That is not to say there weren’t a few bumps along the way—a contractor asking me to take notes and get him coffee, another who did not believe a woman should be in the field, etc.—but overall, it has been a rewarding experience. My coworkers and friends referred to me a the “Project Princess,” which is not exactly politically correct in today’s world, but at the time it defined my projects. I had wonderful clients that I enjoyed working with, projects that were both challenging and satisfying, and contractors that taught me a lot along the way.
The construction process inherently brings together a collection of firms and group of individuals who have no prior history of working with one another. Through my experience, I have learned a few key tactics to foster teamwork, collaboration and camaraderie for the betterment of the project and the overall experience, including:
- Problem Solving
1 – Organization is key. While actively working on projects that are under construction, I also concurrently have projects in all phases of design. This is required when seeing a project through from start to finish, schematic design to close-out, and it can be challenging to keep things progressively efficiently. So, how does one prioritize what tasks get done first and what can wait? As a former boss used to say, “Construction waits for no man (or woman), it should always come first as it is the architect’s job to keep the project moving forward towards completion.” Project delays can cause problems for the owner’s or the contractor’s schedule and may incur additional project costs, depending on the nature of the issue.
The construction process includes a plethora of paperwork—submittals, requests for information (RFI), proposed change orders (PCO), construction change documents (CCD), etc. Several years ago, logs were used to track forms, distribution and responses. Today, there are database programs that can store and organize construction documents efficiently and allow the entire team to collaborate in real-time. The benefits of these programs are far reaching. They help to save time by automatically logging and time stamping documents, by keeping everything in one secure place and creating a story of everything that transpired during a project, available for future maintenance and facility needs.
2 – Problem solving is paramount. There is no such thing as a perfect set of drawings, everyone is human and makes mistakes. It is how these issues get resolved that matters most. At Studio W Architects, we call overlooked items in contract documents “opportunities.” It takes a skilled problem solver to figure out a resolution all the while keeping a project moving forward. There are times that making a change to a product during construction can improve the project. For example, at the Westmore Oaks School Homecoming Project in West Sacramento, the project documents originally called for a true fade glazing, but the sub-contractor suggested an acid etched glazing that helped to save time and money. This change also accomplishes one of the District’s directives of no window shades in the classrooms, by allowing light into the spaces but no vision from the exterior in case of an emergency lockdown.
Westmore Oaks School Homecoming Project | Washington Unified School District
3 – Compromise is integral to team work. Compromise doesn’t start with construction administration, but rather the project owner and the A/E team make compromises throughout the design process, long before the contractor comes onboard. Project metrics can be broken into three categories: schedule (time), cost (budget) and quality (materials and workmanship). The categories affect each other and must be in relative balance for a project to be considered successful. Therefore, compromise is inevitable. If a decision is made to keep the schedule and the quality of an item, then the cost goes up. Likewise, if the cost and quality are prioritized, then the schedule is affected. A common issue in construction is long lead items, such as HVAC equipment, windows, etc. When there is a condensed construction timeline, long lead items significantly affect decisions by the architect and owner. At Paradise Ridge Elementary School, the team decided to continue moving forward with installation of casework even though the storefront systems and glazing would not be available due to material delays. This is not typical; however, to meet the goal of project completion in time for the start of the school year, this was one of the compromises made by the team. Every project is different, but the outcome is the same—there will be compromises for the overall benefit of the project and the end users.
Each and every one of my construction administration experiences is unique and has valuable lessons learned that I’ve carried forward to the next project. While technology helps with organization, we must still be diligent about the paperwork and the process to ensure successful completion. Each project has given me insight on how to create better documents, for the owner, the contractor and the project—problem solving before there are issues on future projects. The different personalities of the people involved has helped to hone my interpersonal skills and learn to work together for the successful resolution of conflict. I may not get out to the job site as much as I used to, but those past experiences shaped how I do my job today.
Blog post authored by Michele Gargano, Client Leader & Associate