Part 3 of a 4 part Series
For the third article of four on construction drawings, we move from External forces to Internal Issues in the construction industry.
Today, we will examine how internal forces are impacting the quality of construction drawings in the architectural, engineering and interior design professions.
As a reminder from Part 1, construction documents are an essential part of any project. The quality of construction documents impacts a project’s schedule and cost and also creates goodwill and trust among the project team. It can free up time for the project team members to focus on other issues to move the project forward more effectively.
In discussing construction drawings with owners, facilities managers, public agencies, engineers, architects, contractors, project, and construction managers, it was interesting to hear them cite one or two leading causes for the decline in construction documents quality.
Architects, Engineers, and Interior Designers have been doing this for a long time, so what has changed?
Here are the reasons:
- An Added Step: There is a technology gap between the recent graduates and those that have been in the A/E/C industry for a long time. The industry began to shift to computers in the 1980s, so recent graduates are now more tech-savvy. It’s a subtle difference, but quite significant. There are hundreds of computer commands for the brain to locate, test, and work through before being remembered. Thus, it takes a while before these commands become second nature for those who have been in the industry for some time to create the work product.
- Design Changes: One engineer mentioned that changes are easy with computers. However, since the changes are easier, they occur more frequently. For example, an architect would create a site or floor plan, also known as a “background drawing,” and then distribute it to the consulting team, such as civil engineers, landscape architects, and building engineers, to create their work product. During the days of hand drawing, this event would occur three to five times during a project. That number has changed significantly in today’s industry. An engineer I spoke to tracked the number of times that updated backgrounds are issued on each project. This number is now between twenty and twenty-five times! That is an incredible number of changes for the design team to manage and coordinate.
- Visual field: The area of a drawing that is seen and legible on a computer screen is small. Zooming in and out is the most frequent activity on a CAD Plan. “Out of sight out of mind,” things get lost or forgotten. In order to adequately review plans, they must be printed out to where the whole picture can be read.
- Cad and 3D programs and old information systems: New computer programs and updates have generally promised a lot and have delivered in some cases, but not all. Thus, most architects still employ the old method of keynoting their plans. This is where a numbered keynote is “keyed” to an object on the drawing. Then a corresponding keynote list is placed on the drawing that has the written description. The information is encoded with a number and then decoded with the keynote list. This information delivery system was created decades ago during hand drafting times to reduce hand drafting costs, yet it is still employed in drawing sets frequently. Engineers also seemed to be locked into the past hand drafting conventions in that they still show beams, ducts, framing, large conduit, and pipes with single lines. CAD could show actual duct widths, beam widths, electrical equipment sizes to help project teams visualize the project more accurately.
The A/E/C industry is looking for technically inclined people interested in how things go together. However, because there are more industries for graduates to choose from, only a few join the A/E/C industry. There could be a few reasons for this. Often, CAD work demands much attention in executing commands, getting things to show up in the right location, linking files, file structure, line weights, layers, colors, and file naming. CAD is a complicated program to learn and takes time and knowledge to perfect, and entry-level CAD operators who understand what they are drawing are valuable.
Drawing Composition and Graphics
Often, a set of coordinated, well-organized plans and concise information happens also to be presented well. The plans “read” quickly, meaning the information is easy to find and is in logical locations. The graphic representations draw the eye to what is a priority. The print is not too small, as a readable font is used for text. Call-outs are aligned, bold headings are employed, there are not numerous overlaps of lines, objects, and symbols. Various line weights are used to aid in understanding the picture. Such was the art of drafting.
Project Pace and Shortened Schedules
In some cases, schedules are compressed, and some design companies find themselves always behind. This issue leads to submitting incomplete plans to governing agencies and, of course, pricing or bidding plans before they are ready. It requires much more management of changes and updates. As design plans require more information than ever, there has not been a lengthening of schedules. One architect compared two very similar projects (both were eight-building business parks of nearly the same size) that had been completed ten years apart. The production schedules were the same, but the number of drawings required for the new project was about 15% more than the older project.
Shotgun starts are another method that has been employed during hectic times. It involves having the entire project team begin simultaneously without a typical progression of the work. The idea is that everyone will communicate and coordinate their work with one another, and changes and updates are perceived as easy to implement.
It seems that there is an influence on the design profession to give minimal answers to questions about their plans. This event can occur during the design phase or construction phase utilizing an “RFI” (official request for information). The limited answers can lead to the perception that architects are just trying to get by, not being helpful, or their plans are not high quality.
Although both internal and external issues affect the quality of construction documentation, it is still possible to restore quality. The solutions rest with each design professional and training and leadership in the design and engineering firms. These solutions will be discussed in the last part of this series.