Design Build Part 3: Design & Communication
I'll never forget taking this photo. Seemed appropriate somehow that the first signs of habitation were an office chair and drafting table. And though this image captures one of the early days of this endeavor, it can't be understated how much effort it took between digging the hole and getting the first few footings set. Once I had my site lines marked on the land, digging the hole was easy enough to do on my own with the help of a backhoe. However, I was going to need help getting a foundation done and that meant I was going to have to communicate what I wanted to others. My blueprints got me through the permitting process without much effort - surly it would be the same with construction helpers... right?!?!
Rule 1 in a Design Build project is to design first then build. This is paramount and I can not emphasize this point enough. As an architect, I was incapable of doing otherwise. Aside from the furniture I was to someday design and build, I had the construction of my house worked out completely before I broke ground and that is essential to reasonable construction progress. Design decisions require careful contemplation and a lot of planning; especially in the effort to design a unique custom home. When you are out in the field sweating and exhausted and your elbow is sore from swinging a hammer for months and your helper didn't show up and your delivery is late and material costs are escalating and your banker is calling about progress and your backhoe blows a hose and a freak late freeze is coming the day you scheduled a concrete pour, it is not the time you want to be making design decisions. Design first then build. If you can't design but you know what you want then call me or your favorite architect and get a design that you love drafted before you break ground. Unless you are Antonio Gaudi, you do not go into a design build project without a complete set of plans.
If you've been following my posts then you know that the planning and design process includes physical model building and that's exactly what I did in the case of our project. Actually, I built two models for our house. The first was done early on as a basic structural model. The second model was more of a three dimensional instruction manual for my occasional helpers. That’s right. I built a model for the construction guys. Trying to find affordable help is difficult when the design is unique. However, I learned from working with Bart Prince that if you are thorough and can communicate what you want done in a way that others can understand, you can avoid scaring contractors into overpricing due to unknowns. My plans were thorough. Permitting was free of incident. However, the more I talked to potential helpers the more I realized that my plans were not enough to convey what I wanted to build. There was nothing truly complicated about how the house was to be built but it’s unusual/organic shape was giving builders pause. Additionally, many of the builders I was talking to were Hispanic and spoke little English. So, I built them a model. The reaction from construction helpers was starkly different. Once they could see in three dimensions what the plans were illustrating, they understood exactly what needed to be done and I was quickly able to enlist their help at a reasonable price. Whenever a complication or question arose, I would pull the model out of the trunk of my car and show them what to do. I was not excited about loosing time by building another
model after I had already broken ground, but the amount of time I would have lost fighting the communication barrier for the next few months would have been even more costly. The moral of the story here is, if you want happy and productive builders then you must do whatever it takes to communicate your design and well. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a model is worth a thousand pictures.