I can remember as a young child growing up in a very small town, going downtown (which we did by walking) and visiting the candy store.
Now the downtown in this small town was a single street; however, I wouldn’t consider the area a suburb. In fact it was very walkable for the several hundred or a thousand residents that lived there. Most people would walk to the downtown hardware store, which was also a general store, and it’s also where we bought candy. This was the early 1970s but in context for some of you, I was a small child of five or six years old. But I remember walking down the hill with my sister and perhaps some of the other neighborhood kids because we had some loose change and we wanted to buy penny candy.
These are the days where the clerk was very helpful and we would set our $.17 or whatever we had on the top the glass counter. We reached up there and gazed through the glass case and spouted off to the clerk what our candy requests were. It typically sounded like ‘one of those’ and ‘two of those’ and so on. The clerk was kind enough to count down and let us know when we only had a few cents left. He scooped up the candy into a small brown paper bag and handed it to us. We were happiest kids on earth that afternoon. We didn’t really know how much we could get for the few pennies we had, yet we just kept choosing until someone said we had spent our money.
Flash forward a bit to another town; my current one. I’m guessing I was seven or eight years old. I can remember going to very small grocery store with my mother and sister in the days when people only paid with cash or occasionally with a check. Credit cards were pretty rare. I recall my mother having a little handheld plastic device that would count up dollars and cents for the things she put in the cart. However, there was occasionally a time when somebody would get to the cash register and find that after adding up the groceries they did not have enough money in their purse or wallet to pay. They made a mistake.
After the embarrassment, the person would have to decide which items they would have to put back until the total was lower than the money they had in their hand. Nowadays it seems that doesn’t happen. People swipe their card and somehow buy things whether they have the money or not.
I know it’s not that simple, but occasionally I see similarities in architecture. Owners slap down all the money they have on the counter and wait for someone to tell him it’s all the building they can afford without thinking through the ramifications. All too often the scenario is like my second story where we get to the checkout aisle thinking we have calculated things properly only to find out that we missed something along the way; something has to be put back on the shelf. Just like that frazzled mom scurrying to put back several things that she felt she needed and then in her mind altering her menu or her plan to do without those few things.
The process that we all disdain, called value engineering comes to mind whether you’re an architect, building owner or engineer because we know that process is rarely either one of those two things. It seems that this method of achieving budget should go the way of plastic adding machines.
In recent years we’ve been reading about a concept titled integrated project delivery. I have a bit more experience with design-build, but in my parts these contemporary concepts are still a bit futuristic unless one is working in a larger firm or on a larger building. What do we do for the multitude of small projects and small business owners who find themselves with their money on the counter waiting to be told that’s all they can afford? Will they find themselves putting things back like my checkout aisle incident?
Wouldn’t it be nice if buildings were like everything else that we buy and we could know ahead of time exactly what everything costs?
I’m not naïve; I understand that it is impossible to put a price tag on something custom or unique with seemingly infinite number of variables that is not streamlined in the manufacturing process like a car or a couch or groceries.
I find too much frustration with a process where naïve but good-intentioned owners find themselves embarrassed at the checkout aisle searching in a panic for an answer. It would be better to have a smiling clerk there counting down before the final transaction. They’d discover a candy bar may be out of reach but they could have a few Tootsie Rolls and a couple of Smarties.
IPD and design-build sounds great; it’s evolving. It needs to be in reach for all people and all projects, all budgets, all regions and all contractors. Policy needs to change where a certain number of bids are required to a selection that takes place earlier based on other factors.
I’d rather have the candy store experience than the grocery store.