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Lean Building Blog: Some of my best friends are architects and engineers — really!

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Lean Building Blog: Some of my best friends are architects and engineers — really!

April 27, 2012

They say a writer never “makes it” until he gets hate mail. In at least four blog posts this year, I have expressed my frustrations with architects and engineers in this country and those posts have invited a few terse replies, one of which appears below. My rant is that either through lack of care, concern, understanding or education, these professionals rarely recognize the critical link between their work and a builder’s ability to produce a high quality house at any price point in the most efficient, cost-effective, value-producing manner. And that costs us all. If you’d like to refresh your memory, here are the links to those posts here, here, here, and here.

I am an admirer of great architecture and had the privilege of taking a year-long college course on the history of architecture & design, normally reserved for architecture majors only. It was one of the most influential experiences in my college career, business career and life.  Designing something beautiful is one thing and in some situations, designing without regard for cost or practical building considerations is entirely appropriate. Yet, I’d say from experience that applies to about 1% of residential construction as even very high end buyers will totally obsess about cost. My sister, a high-end custom builder in Texas can attest to that. If I did not know some fantastic architects and engineers who truly get it and prove every day that you can produce fantastic product with the lowest possible cost and still meet both the building code and the “customer code,” perhaps I would not be so tough on this issue.

In the defense of architects & engineers who relate their frustrations with builders who will not pay for detailed working drawings or for a thorough analysis of loads to optimize truss, flooring, walls and foundations – I feel your pain. Not long ago a builder tried to tell me that not only do detailed working drawings not pay off but it was a waste of time to produce mirror images of plans. He was perfectly willing to spend the thousands of dollars per house in errors, omissions, administrative time, phone calls, faxes, emails and mostly buried rework with his  suppliers and trades, but he was not willing to pay the hundreds of dollars per plan it takes to get them 100% right, detailed, site specific, the first time. So yes, there are valid complaints about builders and I have written about them for years.

In response to the last blog, I received this note on housingzone.com from Don Lee, Architect, City University of New York about my frustrations with architects.

Scott.  Funny, I could very well write a parallel rant about builders from the architect's viewpoint, although I'm not sure how productive that would be in the end. While I am not defending deficient drawings, you mention incorrect details (by count), but never discuss the important qualities of the architectural designs.

You fault a "staffer" from the A.I.A. who was unwilling to engage you in a fight after your repeated challenges and you make gross and disparaging assumptions about architects in general.

Rather than "whupping people upside the head" I would suggest you visit some architectural schools and volunteer as a guest lecturer. I think that you would be surprised at what you find. Maybe you could contribute something positive to the student's education.

I am guessing that post is the first one Don has read of mine, because I have been writing about builder deficiencies and how builders need to improve for 15 years. I would love for Don to write his parallel post on builders as long as it was filled with the kind of corroborating examples that I have included in my many articles and white papers on the subject. 

I think it would be enlightening and would be happy to post it in this blog. (BTW, if you would like our White Paper on Lean Design, please email me to scott@truen.com and indicate such in the subject line.)

The one thing that I’d like Don and everyone else to know is that I have travelled this industry continually since the late 80’s and have worked directly with more than 200 building operations in the US, Canada, Australia and Mexico. There may be folks who have covered more ground with builders in that time frame, but I have not met them. I offer that as evidence that I have never in my career made a “gross and disparaging” assertion about architects and engineers. To do that, what I write would have to be false, misleading or unfair. I have always provided detailed descriptions and photos of the issues I find. I challenged the AIA staffer to come up with specific examples of my “disparagement” and offered to debate him in a civil manner anytime, anyplace, any format. I never received a response even to my direct emails. I take that to mean he could not provide examples.

Shoot the messenger? If goading architects & engineers with specific examples into learning the principles of Lean and applying it to their practices and product constitutes disparaging their professions, then I must plead guilty, after all. To those whose feelings I have hurt, I suggest you grow some thicker skin and get to work.

I do appreciate Don’s sincere response, and I would love nothing more than to be invited to guest lecture at schools of architecture. If you know of one that would like to hear the message of Lean Design & Building and how the Profession of Architecture needs to respond, please pass my name on to them.

As always, your feedback is welcome.


written by

Scott Sedam


Scott Sedam, president of TrueNorth Development (www.truen.com), spends most of his time working in the trenches with builders, suppliers and trade contractors. His Lean Builder blog appears weekly at HousingZone.com. He welcomes your feedback at scott@truen.com.

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