Monday, October 29, 2012

What you should know about your engineers

I recently spoke at a large engineering firm here in Denver about what projects are like for architects, and I provided the engineers with ideas on how to help the architect help them (a la Jerry Macguire).  But I came away with some new information myself, and I wanted to pass some of these helpful hints to those of you just starting out working with engineers.

  • The average intern works on 1-4 projects at any time, while the average engineer works on 10-15 projects at any time.  If they don't respond to you immediately, there's a reason why--they're effing busy. Give them the benefit of the doubt and a gentle reminder that you need X by Y because of Z.  And when you email them, make the subject of your email clear: Instead of "RFI 4", write "Elwood College Lab Building, RFI 41".
  • They need space in your building too, not just in the mechanical room.  Electrical and IT need closets and small rooms throughout really big buildings (say, more than a 20,000-sf floorplate).  Give them an additional 8'x10' room for IT and an additional 9'x12' room away from the main MEP spaces--they'll be your friend forever and maybe even take you to a bar one day.
  • What happens inside the space is more important than the size of the space.  A 400-square-foot operating room has very different HVAC, electrical, and structural needs than a 400-square-foot MRI scanner room than a 400-square-foot storage room than a 400-square-foot conference room. Accurate naming, explanation, and descriptions of equipment help your engineers plan and size their systems properly, which helps the contractor price it more accurately.
  • Revit was made for architects, not engineers. While that doesn't excuse them from using it or doing BIM coordination, just realize that changes and tweaks that are easy for us in Revit can be a nightmare for engineers.  Ask them what views and settings work best for them, and find out how often they need a new model that still allows them to be productive.
  • Engineers need as much information as possible as soon as you can get it to them. The type and size of equipment, future expansion needs, program, and so on affect so much on the front end.  Knowing as much as possible up front can help the engineers do it right the first time, which saves everyone time and trouble ont he back end of a project.
Most of all, remember that your engineers are human, just like you.  They get busy, they get tired, they forget...but they care.  The engineers I spoke and met with care about how well buildings work, and some of them even really care if a building is attractive.  Make them your team members, not just your consultants, and you can do amazing things with the people that know their way around a steel beam or a boiler or automatic transfer switch.

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