As you might imagine, it depends who you ask! Conventional wisdom and most contractors will answer a definite NO! Ask the man on the street and the answer will be “they must….how ever would they know how to draw it if they couldn’t build it!”
I decided to explore this question for myself and took up a professional colleague’s challenge to manage the renovation of a 3,400 s.f. townhouse in beautiful Sandy Springs, Georgia. Of course I knew the answer to this question would be yes; being the confident senior architect with thirty-seven years of varied project experiences under my belt. The opportunity to live in a wonderful setting – the Chattahoochee River out my window and Sun Trust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, just down the street probably played into my decision as well. So I arrived in the early spring of 2018 not fully aware of what I had committed but ready to go.
Although, I did not design the project, I would have to figure out how to manage a team of sub-contractors and complete the project in a 4 month period within a fixed budget while keeping an owner, design team, proactive neighborhood association (not experienced with major renovation and construction processes) informed and satisfied. And did I mention in a location that was unfamiliar to my colleague’s construction company?
I will spare you the many and varied details and offer some observations that came to mind after being on site for 10 long months. I gained a greater appreciation for those men and women that make their living in the building industry. Anything that can go wrong probably will. The unexpected is leering around the corner. The best and most complete plan of attack often will leave you wondering how it went wrong. Managing unrealistic expectations is expected.
I rediscovered the pain of splinters, got better acquainted with Blue Emu and remembered that looking someone directly in the eyes and offering a smile and a firm handshake will overcome many barriers even if you don’t speak Spanish, Portuguese or Georgian. Finally, when the end of a twelve to fourteen hour day rolls around, you are ready for a shower and a really cold beer.
A year later with a completed project and a happy client, I can reflect on my experience. I gained many new relationships during that ten months and most importantly, learned a lot about my own humility. The demands of architecture and construction both require long hours, a constant attention to detail, and a unique ability to adapt and overcome any and all problems that arise. My architectural training and experience was a great asset but to actually live each day with all the minutia that come with executing each step of the construction process will remind you that being a contractor is challenging at best and demanding at worst.
The challenge of walking in a contractor’s footsteps, putting one’s self on the front line and turning the construction drawing into a physical reality is well worth the experience for those that are serious about what they design.