Bridging the Gap

A Purely Integrated and Collaborative Process While Working Separately

The specialized Architecture/Engineering industry has become so practiced, it many times becomes insular to what other disciplines are doing.  As an Architect and Engineer, bridging that gap between disciplines has always sparked my interest. Simply put, this effort means; reaching out from your discipline and giving great consideration to all others. It has been my experience that there is a direct correlation between the amount of “gap bridging” of other disciplines and the success of the final completion of the building. The more integration, the better the final buildings for clients, occupants, owners, and ourselves.

Planning

  • Traditionally, the engineer isn’t the lead at the coordination meeting or call. However, that shouldn’t let us of off the hook to prepare for the meeting. Take time to prepare for this meeting, and make sure to get on the agenda for an opportunity to speak.  If you go to a meeting and don’t have anything to discuss, you probably shouldn’t be there. Likewise, don’t wait for the coordination meeting to take place to collaborate! In an ideal world, seamless integration would occur, and this would negate the reasoning behind weekly/bi-weekly coordination meetings.

Communication

  • Integration of a design team, can’t happen without communication. Although it’s a given, great communication is a prerequisite to having a fully integrated team. A good thing to remember is that communication is not just about listening, it’s more about understanding. Listen then understand exactly what someone is saying. Then intelligent dialogue with a few questions results in mutual agreement.

Understanding the entire team’s capabilities and expertise

  • Learn about who is on your team, what’s their expertise, and make sure to share yours. Each one of us is unique and has our own talents. Dig for more information than “Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m doing the structural design.” Understand why Joe was chosen for the team, what he’s good at, what he’s most looking forward to with the project. It is much easier to do this with repeat clients and partners because you can learn over the course of multiple projects. If you don’t have the luxury of a repeat client then take the initiative and gather information! It will pay off throughout the project.

Selfish thinking – only considering one’s own discipline greater than the others

  • It’s inevitable that during the process of designing a building there are times when we think that some other discipline’s work is less critical than ours. I’m embarrassed to say, I’m guilty of doing this. What I’ve learned is, take a civil engineer out to lunch and ask them what they do. Where there is overlap between the disciplines, each project is likely to be a little different, anticipate the needs. A successful project in our field is one where the entire building works for the owner. Notice I didn’t say a successful project is a working mechanical system or electrical system. If the drainage on the site allows water back into the building, nobody would consider this a successful project. We have to remember that a mechanical or electrical system is just one part of the whole building. If the rest of the systems in the building don’t sing, then our project wasn’t a success. I encourage all of us, myself included, to first remember that our discipline is just as important as all others, no more, no less. Secondly, remember that if we aren’t contributing to the overall success of the building, then we aren’t fully doing our jobs. That may mean that you sometimes have to work and think outside of your discipline.

Comfort in the “what we’ve always done” and spotting wheels

  • Doing what we’ve always done can be a good thing many times. It can increase efficiency, it reinforces the right way to do things, and it can allow you to precisely tweak a design until it is perfect. On the other hand, reiteration can squash creativity, can produce inappropriate design solutions, and can create overall monotony that hurts the occupants, owners, clients, and ourselves. There’s a tough line between reinventing the wheel for no good reason, and reinventing the wheel because the wheel isn’t as good as a better wheel. Ask yourself this question:
    • Why am I doing it this way? If you can’t say with certainty that you’re doing it because it’s the absolute best way to do it then question it. If you can’t give a reason why you’re doing it, it’s likely in need of some greater reflection.

If we treat others better than how we treat ourselves and remember the “Big Picture” approach to a project our clients will have great things to say about our work.

The microphone is yours, what would you say?

 – Author Miles Dake, Associate | Mechanical Engineer/Energy Modeler