sweat the details…part 1
11 January 2011
I have always been a “detail guy” so it’s no surprise that I would be writing about details, but a recent event sparked my rant and motivated me to write about it. Late last year I began working on the initial phase of a project when I was handed a report from a client that was generated earlier by an engineering firm (long before I was involved). I cannot mention any more than that for good and obvious reasons. At first I questioned if I was performing work that had already been accomplished. I felt that way until lunch time that day when I had a break to read this report more carefully. At first it started out acceptable with information that was generally useful, but I noticed the writing was poorly done and very uninteresting to read (sorry engineers). However as I progressed through it, I realized that it was not getting any better. The information became more vague and a few statements were actually inaccurate or were recommendations above the building code limits yet stated as minimum requirements. In addition, some of the graphics were inaccurate, overly simplified drawings made presumably with haste due to the available fee. Since they were drawn with a computer, no one would suspect the error.
I thought about this in the back of my mind for the remainder of the afternoon on how the professional who produced this simply did not address the necessary detail, for whatever reason. It frustrated me because it is possible my client did not know the difference and could have made decisions based on incomplete information.
Now I am not looking for perfection in anyone. We all make mistakes. However, I do expect professionals, in my case, design professionals to get the details right. (BTW I also appreciate when doctors get it right too…my appendix was not on the left side, my scar is on my right). Now I don’t mean to be pejorative when I say the report was generated by an engineering firm. I have known both architects and engineers at times to gloss over details that they did not find important. Regardless, as architects, I do expect us to get the details right. We are the ones that orchestrate (or ought to at least) the entire project. We need to be sure that all of the components of a project come together to make a complete project. All details are important regardless of how mundane we think they are.
Perhaps affinity for details is not relegated to a particular profession like architects or engineers, but more to personality types. However, since I am an architect, I speak on behalf of architects since I have high expectations for my profession.
Between the two sayings “God is in the details” or the “devil is in the details” we can conclude that there is power in details despite whom you prefer to credit or blame for such effort. It is the detail that makes or breaks a project. It is often the detail that gets overlooked, but without it, we all would find disappointment in the absence. By the way, please don’t come to me with statements like “yeah, that’ll hold ‘er” or “she ain’t goin’ anywhere now” when it comes to structural or construction type issues.
Pay attention to the built world around you. Look up at pre-modern buildings and notice the detail placed up high that is only enjoyed by the birds and window washers. Find a well crafted modern building and see if the materials come together nicely or are put together in a clumsy fashion. Run your hand over a wood surface and see if the craftsperson took the time to finish it properly. Take notice to the work done by others around you and complement them when they go the extra mile to do things well and care for the details, even if it is your waitress. Notice the freckles on your kids’ faces or smile if they have one crooked toe.
“I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.” – Barbra Streisand
“Beware of the person who can’t be bothered by details.” – William Feather
the cover photo is Guaranty Building, Buffalo, NY from BuffaloChuck photostream on Flickr (used under creative commons license)