As usual I am writing as a reaction to the events that occur in my day-to-day life as an architect.
Call this a rant, but I’d like to think my reactions can educate as I share information. This profession seems to be far too enigmatic or mysterious for those who would want or need the services of an architect or a design professional. Let’s not keep people in the dark to how things work.
Before we begin, let’s set aside a few thoughts because I know they’re true and they can muddy the waters of today’s argument.
People don’t always listen to directions
People don’t like the rules, so they choose not to follow the rules
People don’t believe all of the rules apply to them
People hear what they want to hear
Now, with that understanding, let’s proceed.
It is common for us architects (or at least me as an architect) to get phone calls from frantic building owners or agitated prospective tenants that were led into the local building department (by choice or after a friendly letter threatening to shut down their operations) but not knowing why they have to go through a process for what seems like a simple thing to them. With assumptions stated previously, today I will focus on our side or the side of the building officials and making the process of code approval clear to building owners and tenants.
So in the case of my frantic phone caller, I conclude one of two things has happened. Either the local official does not understand or was willing to explain the nuances of the local building code or it never occurred to the person calling me that their occupancy of a building triggered any municipal regulation intervention (i.e. codes). Either way when they engage with their local municipality, I find it extremely important that they are given clear information on why they must comply and how they can comply with the building code.
By the way, I wrote about the other perspective back in 2013 when building owners do not want or are deliberately trying to avoid hiring a design professional.
Here’s an example of what I’m discussing today. A prospective tenant called me last week and relayed to me that the local officials told them they needed a ‘drawing’ with a seal on it before they could occupy their space – more specifically “take down the existing drywall in the space.”
If I was that tenant I would have no clue what any of that means. Frustration is one of three major sources of anger by the way.
I have gotten similar calls where someone stated “I need a drawing, I need a drawing, THEY told me I need a drawing.” However, this person does not know WHY they supposedly need a drawing, nor why is a drawing of their building necessary. What is so magical about a drawing?
My request to all municipal officials is this say nothing or say everything. Don’t be lazy. Explain things in non-industry jargon.
Say nothing: This can be effective if you simply say you need to hire an architect to evaluate your situation and guide you through this process before you come back and ask for a building permit. You’ve liberated yourself from trying to explain things to someone who might not understand or might not be listening (or might not care). You relieve yourself from what could be a long and painful discussion. Merely give them a direction and it’s up to them to go that way. They know they need an architect to assess their situation.
Say everything: If that is not an option, then say everything. You don’t need to take the place of being a design professional and I can appreciate that you don’t have all day to explain things. But the middle ground is dangerous. Applicants, building owners and tenants will take your word verbatim (or in some cases they will not hear you clearly), but they will assume that what you say is exactly what they must follow as opposed to the minimum amount in this process. All too often I hear “they said that all I need to do is…” Then I tell them that the code requires more. There’s that frustration thing again…and red faces with steam coming out of ears and…
When someone tells somebody they need a drawing with a seal on it, what does that mean? A drawing of what?
First of all, a drawing or a piece of paper or some graphic depiction of existing conditions is NOT what they’re looking for or at least it is the least of what they’re looking for in the submission. What they ARE looking for are documents (drawings), primarily graphic in nature, that demonstrate that your tenant space or your building or construction will be in compliance with the current building codes and regulations of that municipality when the project is complete.
Prior to making any drawings, the architect will need to assess your situation and determine what alterations or upgrades are required (or triggered) for your space for your use. The drawings or documents indicate the required changes that are derived from an evaluation or assessment. Consider it like a diagnosis, comparing the existing conditions against the building code. So a drawing that merely shows the building as it currently stands is not enough.
These construction drawings will include notes and details that reference applicable parts of the code or stipulate a construction minimum that must occur based on an earlier evaluation. Therefore, the term drawing is a gross oversimplification of what one needs. Used alone, it is quite confusing.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has called my office looking for that magic drawing as if it was some type of key to get to where they want. This is why I believe people often interpret this situation as a demand to spend money on something they really don’t want or don’t think they need, all in order to satisfy the government.
This is not healthy nor is it good for our profession.
I’d like to think that if an architect were given the chance to explain to such tenant or landlord or building owner the how and why of the situation, frustration would be reduced and we’d get another chance to demonstrate our value. We would also have a chance to demonstrate that we offer so much more – and that’s another post. For others, they won’t buy into it and that’s just too bad.
To the building officials who are explaining things well, thank you. But if you do work in the building department or are in a position of dealing with people who are needing to work through this process, my suggestion or request is say nothing or tell them everything. The rest is up to us architects to do our jobs to guide people on the path in a manner that is economic, efficient and hopefully enjoyable.
We all learned in Kindergarten that everyone must follow the rules…or you don’t get your snack.