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Archive for June, 2009


Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Recently it was discovered that some candidates for the national Architectural Registration Examination had improperly shared information on the content of exams and basically cheated on the test. This is the exam that qualifies an architect to be licensed to practice in the states. The announcement regarding the action taken by the national board is found here:

Now one might say this is an isolated event and we should not draw broad conclusions. But hearing about this got me thinking about the continuing erosion of honesty and ethics in our profession, all professions and society in general. Notice an interesting observation made in AWAKE! magazine:

Older persons can remember a time when, in many places, people did not lock their doors. They did not think of stealing from others or of cheating them. If they borrowed money, they felt honor-bound to repay it. And their word was ‘as good as gold.’ True, there was dishonesty, but it was not all-pervasive. Today, however, stealing, lying, and cheating are commonplace throughout the world. And many dishonest acts originate with so-called respectable people who live and work in nice neighborhoods, dress well, may have a religion, and consider themselves good citizens. Indeed, dishonesty has become notorious among officials of government and business. (Nov. 15, 1986)

The Apostle Paul wrote:  “We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things”.  (Hebrews 13:18)

It seems everywhere one turns today we must navigate through a dishonest world. Owners that don’t want to tell the truth on permit applications about the construction cost. Clients who want to pay cash or use other means to bury money so they don’t have to pay taxes on it. Clients who offer us cash if we keep accounts off the books thinking we would likewise not report the income for taxes. Owners and contractors who don’t want to take out permits for the construction. Employment candidates who inflate their credentials. I could go on and on.

Architecture is a noble profession but it does not appear that it is any more noble than others when it comes to ethics. How many architects have read the AIA Code of Ethics or the rules of ethics written into their state’s practice regulations? What meaningful education on ethics, honesty and honorable practice is really given to architecture students? I just make a random check of the listing of courses for a prominent university’s school of architecture. Not one class on ethics in practice or honesty in life. That says plenty.

Why has honesty and ethics in society and our profession become so unimportant? We create environments to promote the well being of humans, to lift their spirits, and bring them comfort combined with guarding their health, safety and welfare. How could we cheat on anything having to do with our profession?


Thursday, June 4th, 2009

What is being an architect all about? That question could illicit a myriad of responses but an appointment of mine today brought it home to a very simple answer.

This afternoon I had an appointment with a prospective client at his home in a suburb of New Haven. They have lived for five years in a nondescript ranch built in 1963 with 1,400 square feet in a lovely quiet neighborhood of similar homes. Nothing very exciting or sexy you might think and you would be right.

Here’s the good part. They need more room. The bedrooms are small for their family and they share one bath. They simply want to get a larger master bedroom and master bath along with another bath for the kids and some additional living space. The constructed project probably won’t cost more than $200,000. What did they do? They didn’t call builders or remodeling contractors. They didn’t call an unlicensed residential designer. They call an architect!

Why did they call an architect? Because they felt they had the best shot of getting comprehensive advice from an architect. Which way to expand- up or out? What range of construction cost could they expect? What implications might there be with zoning regulations and their old septic system? Is their house structurally sound enough to carry a second floor? Could an appealing exterior design be devised?

Now this is not a project that I am going to get rich on. I don’t believe every project has to be a home run. If I can get to first or second base on every time at bat do I win the game? You bet I do! I usually do much larger projects, but frankly my profit margin on the small ones is often better.  Very often when I meet with prospects like this one they tell me they called other architects before me and the architects would hang up when they find out the size or budget of the project. Too bad for them. Good for me!

But it doesn’t help dispell the notion that architects are elitest snobs who can only be bothered designing for the rich and famous or when they can rack up a big fee on a big budget. Why are more architects not happy with the notion of ordinary mid-middle class folks calling on them for help? More architecture is seen in ordinary middle class working neighborhoods and some of that is bad architecture simply because architects hung up the phone on the homeowners and so they called contractors who hashed something together or remuddled.

This is what it’s all about. Not masterpieces or monuments. Simply good design for ordinary folks who appreciate it and know it will enhance their family life. There’s a lot that being an architect means but this is actually as good as it gets. What do you think?

HOW DO THEY GET AWAY WITH IT? Some Architects Really Tick Me Off!

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

The facilties manager for a Connecticut school district contacted me and said I was recommended and he needed a proposal to consult on a failing school roof. So I agreed and met him at the school. The building looked like a nice example of educational architecture. It was designed by one of the largest firms in the state and they do a ton of schools. The building was only 8 years old. Fortunately, he also had the plans and specs for me to review after the tour.

The roof was a gable design of about 6:12 pitch. The roof covering were top-of-the-line architectural grade asphalt shingles with a “lifetime” warranty. The shingles had been installed over felt underlayment, plywood sheathing over air space spacers, polyiso insulation board, gypsum board, and steel decking.  Gypsum board ON TOP of the steel decking! The roof structure were engineered light gage steel trusses.

Now here are the problems:

  • Leaks all over the place. It’s nice to see buckets on counters and floors and water stained ceiling panels in a relatively new building.
  • Nail heads backing out and coming up through the shingles.
  • Ice dams galore.

The shingle manufacturer has walked away from the warranty based on the design and construction of the roof.

My quick review of the plans and specs revealed the following:

  • No mention anywhere of the required thickness or R-value of the insulation. It appears to be about 2 inches for an R of maybe 10 to 12. 
  • No explanation of why one would put regular gypsum board (Sheetrock) on top of the roof’s structural steel decking.
  • The spaces for the vented air space under the plywood sheathing are shown 90 degrees to the way they should run for the ventilation to work.
  • No detail to prevent the attic within the thermal envelope from letting air escape through the ridge vent, which it does.
  • No detail to show how the soffit vents will work seeing that it doesn’t appear air can travel up from the soffit to the ridge.

I can’t wait to delve into the causes and cures of these problems. But I would love to know how an architectural firm gets away with such shabby drawings and specifications. A lot of it looked “boiler plate”, like they probably repeated these over and over in so many of the schools they design. I would never do this, especially for what they get paid. But, of course, they get so much of the work in school districts through “Quality Based Selection (QBS)”. Basically if you are a big firm and have done a lot of a particular building type you keep getting the work. Sadly when problems like this creep up they don’t get known because the client goes and hires another architect to fix it or the statute of limitations has passed by on being able to sue.

There is way too much information available to design professionals so that there is no excuse for that kind of practice. Their managing partners should be a little more aware of the legal phrase  “standard of care”.

Feel free to comment on your opinion why the “big guys” or “starchitects” can get away with this.

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