Coordinate your drawings

Architecture has been called an old man’s game, because it is believed by some that it takes many years for a person to get it right. And a career in architecture is often referred to as the “practice” of architecture. So it should come as little surprise to most practitioners that mistakes can, and sometimes unfortunately, occur.

Any list of the most common architectural mistakes will undoubtedly vary depending upon the unique nature of each design. But one of the more frequent architectural errors involves a lack of coordination between various drawings. For example, the architectural sheets may show a water cooler and the plumbing sheets might show the cold water, vent and waste lines, but the electrical sheets don’t show a connection for the unit’s compressor. 

Replacing the words “water cooler” with “under counter refrigerator,” “hot water dispenser” or “dishwasher” will leave you with the same problem. It isn’t that the electrical engineer is less competent than the other members of the design team; it is simply that no one told him, or he was told and forgot, that there was a need for an electrical outlet at that location. The same can be said of a missed floor drain, condensate line, telephone jack or any number of devices that require a combination of blocking in the walls, electricity, water, sewer or other infrastructure element in order to function.

Specifications should not be forgotten in this coordination effort. Drawings referring to specification sections that don’t exist are as problematic as drawings by different consultants who don’t work together.

Commercially available guidebooks that incorporate standardized checklists for systematically reviewing any set of documents can be helpful, but are by no means foolproof. In the end, it comes down to the competency and dedication of the quality assurance reviewer. Therefore this function should be overseen by experienced members of the staff who have seen many of the more common mistakes and can quickly zero in on the top 20 items that often are uncoordinated. To enhance long-term business success, the quality assurance reviewer also should be tasked with the responsibility of tutoring junior staffers in this process. This will enforce retention of coordination skills long after the senior employee has retired.

Another common architectural problem is the tendency to reuse standard details or canned specifications on multiple jobs that are not fully tailored for the project at hand. In the age of CAD and word processing, it often is expedient, but generally perilous, to pull together construction documents from archived drawings and specifications. I have even seen an instance in which an elevator specification was included in a project where the building was one story tall and thus had no need for an elevator! 

Not only is a mistake like this an embarrassment, but it does little to reassure the builder or the client that the rest of the documents are not fraught with errors or omissions. The fix is again the use of a senior reviewer who can spend a significant amount of time focused on quality assurance.

With constantly rising labor rates and shrinking profit margins, there is an increasingly strong push to cut production costs and hire less experienced employees. When this approach is combined with a rigorous quality assurance and coordination review program, it may be sustainable. But when this effort is done without quality assurance oversight, the end results can be disastrous. If we architects can improve the quality assurance and coordination processes in our businesses, it will go a long way toward resolving the common mistakes found in the architectural profession.