It’s Homework Time: Do Yours

Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.” What distinguished Thomas Edison was his ability to put in the hard and often tedious work, whereas others would stop out of frustration, disappointment and exhaustion.

Admittedly, designing and building a house is not quite the same thing as inventing the light bulb. In our case, plenty of clever people have come before us and given us the information and tools we need to do our jobs well. That’s why there is something to Edison’s assertion about work ethic and perseverance that’s undeniable.

I recently was asked to help out on the project management of a whole-house design and build. The architectural and engineering plans were already done when I was invited to join the team. The plans were drawn up based on the needs of the client. For example, the family had two special-needs residents who required an indoor swimming pool.

At first glance, the plans looked like a good design. But upon closer inspection, there were glaring errors: a structural post was smack dab where a bed would normally be; structural lumber was stacked on top of structural lumber; and critical elements were missing from the plans.

By the time I joined the team, the foundation for the pool was already poured. There were three designers for the pool house: the architect, engineer and in-home pool manufacturer’s engineer. The plans looked beautiful, but a problem surfaced because there was a lack of communication among the three vital designers.

The engineer specified structural columns to carry the roof load, and the architect designed column covers for aesthetics. Footings were created for all of the columns. The foundation was poured based on this information. In this case, form won over function and we wound up re-evaluating the requirements for the space.

In the end, there were no columns and no column covers. All the money that was spent on foundation footings was wasted because the designers just piggy-backed off each other rather than do the hard work of evaluating the design and its impact on the final product. If they had actually worked together as a team, the designers probably would have arrived at the same conclusion that we did.

Where I give credit to the architect for hearing the clients’ needs and wishes, I also have to point out his shortcomings in his due diligence. It is not enough to come up with the idea. You must be able to carry through on that idea and work out all of the time-consuming, boring and sometimes irritating details that go into a design/build project.

Believe me, there are times when I think I will scream if I have to go back yet another time and re-evaluate and rework specifications that just don’t seem right. I have found that holding on to information and not sharing it with the appropriate people only increases the risk of compounding errors. In the case of this pool-house project, it resulted in a huge waste of money and time, not to mention material.

Furthermore, it meant that the client had to discharge the original architect and engineer on the job, and that’s always unpleasant to do.
The original architect is very talented. The plans were attractive. But for all of his talent, he did not do his homework. Much of the trouble could have been avoided if there was sufficient attention to detail from the beginning.