Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You can't build without the benjamins--bidding and negotiation, Part 2

Design-Bid-Build is the traditional (20th-century) way of building a project, but two forms of construction have come along in the past twenty years: CM/GC and design-build.

CM/GC (Construction Manager/General Contractor)
This method is somewhat similar to design-bid-build, but it brings the contractor into the picture much sooner. Usually after schematic design or early on into design development, the call for a CM/GC goes out to construction firms. Firms review the drawings and provide bids, as they do under design-bid-build. The difference here is that the contractor is now a project team member early on, and s/he can review the drawings and look for ways to save time and money during construction. In this way, the contractor is the construction manager, the CM of CM/GC. The CM may figure out that bringing the mechanical subcontractor onto the project before CDs are finished could save money by locking in that fee, or perhaps by having the architect produce a structural and foundation package before the rest of the CDs could shave time (and therefore money) off the project. For example, on one project I worked on a few years ago, the CM/GC figured out that if we went to a precast concrete structure and exterior instead of a steel structure with brick exterior, we could save $200,000 plus two months off of the construction schedule.

The CM/GC can put the DD set out to bid to various subcontractors (playing the part of the general contractor, or GC), which can help the owner and architect figure out if the project is under budget and where VE might need to take place. This process can be helpful ultimately; because the costs and budgets have been reconciled before the end of CDs arrives, then construction can start on time (granted, of course, that the project makes it through the building department in a timely fashion). CM/GC gets used on a lot of big institutional projects, such as schools/colleges, hospitals/healthcare, and large multi-use buildings (with retail, hospitality, and residences in them). Sometimes, though, when the budget is really tight, CM/GC can feel like design-build.

In both design-bid-build and CM/GC, both the architect and the contractor are separate entities that work for the owner--they each sign a separate contract with the owner, and they get paid by the owner. However, in design-build, the architect works for the contractor and is paid by the contractor, who has one contract with the owner for design and construction services. This arrangement takes the CM/GC arrangement to another level, in which the contractor and architect are working together from the start to make sure the project is buildable and on/under budget from the start. Some owners like the idea of just having the one contract; in a way, it's like one-stop shopping for a building project. Some design-build firms are the product of working with a developer. In this way, if a developer wants to build a neighborhood or a mall or an office/retail complex, s/he can do so very easily with his/her design-build firm quickly brought on board. Sometimes, architecture firms and contractor firms will go after large institutional projects with each other as a one-time design-build group, again in order to show the owner that they can get the job done quickly and on/under budget. The downside of the design-build arrangement that I've personally seen happen is that a dissenting voice during construction is missing. When the architect is beholden to the contractor (because that's who's cutting the architect's checks!), it's a lot harder for him/her to speak up about a badly-built detail or a short-sighted VE decision. In a good design-build relationship, the contractor isn't afraid of hearing "yow, that's a bad idea" from the architect. Sadly, I've yet to see firsthand (or even secondhand) a good design-build arrangement, but I'm sure they exist.

In both CM/GC and design-build arrangements, the bidding and negotiation happens in two phases: first, the contractor bids on the overall project; and second, the contractor gets bids from and signs contracts with the various subcontractors. I highly recommend getting a copy of the project estimates from a contractor on whatever project you're working on, as they're quite educational. Contractors generally break down the costs of a project by CSI spec division (concrete, masonry, steel, doors and windows, drywall and interior framing, painting, etc.) It's pretty informative to see what it costs to build a building, and you can ask your manager or the contractor directly if these costs are line with what they're seeing on other projects.

Monday, April 26, 2010

You can't build without the benjamins--bidding and negotiation, Part 1

I had a request recently to do a post on bidding and negotiation, and I'm embarrassed that I haven't done one yet (or if I have done one, I can't find it in the Intern 101 archives). Bidding and negotiation is probably the hardest category in which to get IDP experience, though it probably vies for that top spot with the on-site CA category. There seems to be some mystery involved in how the process works. That's due in some part to architects being cut out of the process more and more, which is a side effect of changes in how buildings get built in the first place. So in order to understand how bidding and negotiation works, we need to understand the three primary ways in which buildings get built. It revolves mostly around the role of the contractor, and at which point the contractor joins the party.

This is the way buildings have been built through much of the architecture/construction industry, though it's happening less and less these days. In design-bid-build, the architect develops a design with the client, then s/he completes the construction documents. At this point, a list of contractors is assembled. These are the contractors that will be allowed to bid on the project. However, up until the past twenty-five or so years, this process could simply be accomplished with a notice in a construction trade journal or even a public newspaper: "New 30,000-sf elementary school for Blank County, construction to begin in July 1970. Contact XYZ Architects for documents," or something like that. Bear in mind that the past quarter-century has seen a major increase in the number of architects as well as in the number of contractors and other construction tradesmen. In previous eras, the limited amount of contractors meant that they would self-select for projects--there weren't that many around that were big enough and skilled enough to handle a 30,000-sf elementary school, so the architecture firm would only get a few inquiries in a smaller market and maybe five to ten in a larger market (like Chicago). Now that there are so many contracting companies in existence, the owner will either have a few companies that they favor (if they've done projects before), or they'll look to the architect (if they have no experience with contractors) to come up with a list of invited bidders. This keeps every Joe Schmoe with a truck and a ladder from trying to go after work that they clearly have no business doing.

The architect traditionally handled the design-bid-build process, though now and then the owner would run it. At the start of the bidding period, the architect provided all the contractors with copies of the drawings, and the contractors were all given X number of weeks to review those drawings and create an estimate of what they thought it would take to build the project. During that time, if any contractor asked a question about the drawings ("what is this entryway made out of? there's a dimension missing on this elevation...? Can we substitute one material or product for another on the drawings?"), then the architect had to provide that information to all the contractors. Because of this, architect would sometimes provide a Q&A period, at the end of which the architect would issue a list of all the questions and answers to all the contractors. Then, no more questions--go price the drawings! At the end of the pricing period, all the contractors turn in their bids (their estimates for what it will take for them to build the building) to the architect, sometimes with the owner present. Sometimes, the bids were opened in front of all the contractors, and sometimes they were opened and reviewed with the owner in private. The architect then suggests to the owner which firm should do the construction based on the bids.

And it's not just the final number, mind you--if the contractor with the lowest bid also included a bunch of stipulations in his estimate, they may decide to go with the next-lowest company that had fewer or no stipulations. Also, the owner and architect may open all the bids only to find that all the bids are somewhat (or waaaaaay!) over the owner's budget. At this point, the architect and owner need to take a step back--were the drawings incomplete or unclear? Is the project underfunded? Are there too many bells and whistles in the project? It's at this point that a project undergoes value engineering, or VE, as it's known in the design and construction industry. The point of value engineering is to take cost out of a project without taking the purpose or usefulness out of a project, but I've seen it get pretty out of hand, to the point that finishes get really cut down to nothing, or even entire rooms get shelled in a project. (Note to self: VE is worth at least one post on its own.) Either way, after any budget issues are ironed out, a contractor is selected, and the owner signs a contract with the winner.

In design-bid-build, the architect works for the owner through the entire project (project planning through end of construction), and the contractor works for the owner throughout the construction process. Hence, the architect gets to know the owner a lot better than the contractor does in this process, and it's the architect's job to be an advocate for the owner and to watch out for their interests during the construction process. Some smaller projects are still done with design-bid-build, but more often these days we see CM/GC and design-build, especially with larger commercial, educational, and institutional projects.

In the next post, we'll talk about CM/GC and design-build construction processes. In the meantime, if you have a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed here, feel free to leave it in the comments or email me in the sidebar. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lulu's Mailbag: Why don't more resumes use images?

I have another resume to redline and post soon, but I wanted to post this excellent email from a reader. N. asks a good question about text-only versus graphics formats for resumes, and he and I had a good (email) conversation about the topic. (Again, the email discussion below has been edited for length and anonymity.)

The absolutely striking realization I’ve had is how many people applying for architecture jobs prepare their resume in a text-only format! We live and breathe in a Photoshop world, why are our resumes in DOS?

Very good question! Here's the thing: Using graphics and images in a resume is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we work in an inherently visual profession, and it does seem absurd that a resume wouldn't include some images or at least a hint of the notion that the applicant can design. But on the other hand, having weeded through stacks of resumes myself, the graphics thing can get overused. It's often newer folks with less experience who are doctoring up their resumes and filling in all the blank space with images and fancy graphics because they have little to no relevant experience. When I did my first resume back in 2000, I did a text-only resume and a separate (but included) image sheet describing a few recent college projects I'd worked on, including my thesis project. It didn't cross my mind that I could combine the two, but at the time I also had enough generic work experience (including a stint at my local AIA chapter) to fill my resume. I've since learned my lesson; my more recent resume (which I have created just in case I were to get laid off) includes a few more images of my built work. If graphics get included on an intern's resume, they shouldn't be graphics for graphics' sake--they really need to tell a story and explain what kind of work you can do. It hints at the creative mind I might be hiring.

For now, text-only resumes aren't the kiss of death. People who made it their whole lives with text-only resumes are still the ones doing the hiring at a lot of firms, so they're not offended by text-only. But I think in the next few years, folks will have to start setting themselves apart more in a graphic way. The Photoshop generation (of which I'm at the very back edge, being 34 years old) will begin to do the hiring, and as the economy sloooooowly trickles back to a good place, then folks will have to set themselves apart even more.

N. responded with an excellent point that I'd like to share with the rest of you. Keep this in mind as you prepare your resumes this spring:

One thought on the hiring process in architecture firms: I've learned that architects who hire care a lot about design sensibility and people skills. Offices (and I) have seen lots of great renderings and "expert knowledge in xyz software" to only find out they added some photoshop trees in the foreground. Design sense and people relations become part of you and are difficult to teach; Software, anyone can learn. I've critiqued resume's and portfolios at (a local AIA chapter) and one question unanswered across the board is "how was the project better because of you?"

If you have any questions you'd like to ask, topics you'd like to see covered, or resumes you'd like to have reviewed and shared on the blog (with identifying details removed, of course), feel free to comment below or email me in the sidebar. Thanks!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lulu's Mailbag: Should I go back to a firm that laid me off?

Today's question is from Vida, who asked the following via email (which has been edited for length and identifying details):

I'm a 23 year old female currently finishing up my fourth year in a B.Arch program. I landed a pretty good internship at a 40-person architecture firm last year through one of my studio instructors (he was the head principal of this firm). I really enjoyed working there, however I got laid off within seven months (May of 2009). It was a "soft" layoff, as I understand, since they just asked me and the other interns to go "on call". I was really confused since up to that point they were pretty satisfied with me and the principal himself had even told me that he wants to hold on to me and offer me a full-time position upon graduation. The layoff was a big shock to me probably because it was my first internship and I didn't see it coming with the principal's big promises. I felt like I was led on.

I have not held any other internships since then because the job market has just been awful in this area. I have held on to a retail job, but I'm looking to get back into the architecture industry to start my IDP training.

On one hand I'm thinking I could potentially go to my old boss and see if he would re-hire me. But I'm afraid he'll re-hire me only to lay me off again - and I just can't afford that (financially). Plus, I'm not sure about going back to the same firm that laid me that a bad idea?

On the other hand, I have made a few connections at this firm who might be able to help me get a job at another specific firm. Although this other firm is larger and doesn't seem to be hiring at the moment. I figure it'll be pretty tough to get an internship with them, but it just might happen with the help of my connections.

Any advice on how to get an internship when no one is hiring?! I figured even though they say they are not hiring, they could probably squeeze in an intern if they wanted to, right? Plus, I've never seen a firm announce that they are hiring for interns (unless it's a specific summer internship program...)

This is a good question, Vida. I'm betting you're not alone in your situation. Here's the thing about work, especially during the last 18-24 months: lots of really good people have been let go from firms, and it's not an insult to be let go during this economy. If you were laid off in May of 2009, it had everything to do with how much work they had available for you to do, and nothing to do with how good you are. Firms don't like to hire people and then lay them off shortly thereafter, because it gives them a reputation like the one you're considering might be true of your old firm. I really think few if any architects saw this economy coming, as it seemed to me that even very conservative firm owners are still hurting even now. If the economy hadn't grand-mal tanked the way it did in the fall of 2008, you might still have a job.

That being said, you may still have a job if you go back to your firm--they seemed to like having you work there, and they know how good you are. If they don't have a position available (which is entirely possible), then ask your old boss and other former supervisors to provide references for you. That way, you'll have a good testament to your character and work skills when you apply somewhere else. Bear in mind that the economy hasn't fully recovered, so you may indeed have a hard time finding a position right now. Would you consider moving out of state? If so, you might have more luck finding somewhere to work. And as always, if you do find a position, make sure that you're getting paid. It's illegal not to pay interns for work, period.

If you have a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed here, please email me in the sidebar or leave it in the comments. Thanks!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The labyrinth of building codes, Part 2

My last post on code issues prompted this response, from poster Bronwyn:

"Another thing I have wanted and should make for myself next time around is a code review guide. Start by figuring out my occupancy, construction, number of floors, and all that. Then, based on those numbers and what is and is not in my building, what do I need for exits, travel distances, fire rating, and more. Then for all the stuff that is the same for any nonresidential project. And finally, are there any niggly specific bits about particular functions, exceptions to general rules...

"Having a guide like that, that says what to check thoroughly, and what you can safely copy from a stock code review, would save a lot of time."

Bronwyn, you've got to be psychic, because that's exactly what I was going to do today. Well done!

Creating a code review template is a great idea and a time saver. I use one myself, written as a Word document, to remind me of all the information that I need to look up and check for each project. Whenever I write down something in the code review--a calculation, a direct quote, whatever--I include in the document the code and the section/line number (i.e., "2006 IBC, 1008.1.1 Exception 2). Making notes of each issue that you research and where you found the "proof" of your result will help you remember later why you only had to have one exit out of a suite, and it will help anyone who works on the project after you to understand what you did and how you "got away with it." (It's not that you're actually "getting away with" something, but sometimes people will look at a plan and think, "wow, that's a huge suite and there's only one exit out of it--is it under 5,000 sf or something?")

To describe the kind of code reviews that I do, I'm using the 2006 International Building Code (IBC) to do the review. Let's go section by section through a code review for a new building. To start with, Chapter 1 is some administration info and Chapter 2 includes tons of definitions, either what a phrase means or where to find the definition of said phrase. They're worth skimming and knowing, but not necessary to comb through for each and every review. Here's what you want to see in a code review and what you want to review each time.

Chapter 3: Use and Occupancy Classification
Review this chapter closely to confirm the occupancy of your project. Bear in mind that you might have more than one occupancy type in your building. For example, I've done hospitals that are part I-2 occupancy and part B occupancy. If you're doing a multi-use high rise, you might have B occupancy (business, like offices), M occupancy (mercantile, like retail stores), and R-2 occupancy (residential, like apartments/condos). If you have more than one occupancy going on in your project, you'll need to check out the mixed occupancy sections in Chapter 5. At any rate, note the occupancy(ies) in your project along with the section number from which you got the definition (i.e., 2006 IBC, 310.1). Remember this info, as it will affect tons of what you end up doing throughout the project.

Chapter 4: Special Detailed Requirements Based on Use and Occupancy
Review this chapter to ensure that you are aware of (and note) any special requirements for certain occupancies. For example, I use Section 407 a lot because it includes many provisions for I-2 (hospitals). Note anything that applies to your project and include the section number.

Chapter 5: General Building Heights and Areas
Now we can find out how big your new building can be. Table 503 tells you how many feet tall, how many stories tall, and how many square feet total your building can be, depending on its construction type. Construction type is covered in Chapter 6. (I know, I know...the code kinda acts like a snake eating its tail sometimes.) This chapter also discusses a variety of special provisions regarding building height, size, and how close new buildings can be to old buildings. Area Modifications, Section 506, talks about how you can increase the height or area of your project (if it's got some space between it and other buildings, if it has sprinklers, etc.). Section 508 discusses mixed occupancy and mixed uses in a project, and Table 508.2 lists special areas, called incidental use areas, that need to be rated and/or sprinklered. Table 508.3.3 tells you what kind of rating is required between different occupancies in a building. Review this entire chapter closely--it can affect the size and rating of your building.

Chapter 6: Types of Construction
A short chapter, but a very important one. This chapter discusses what kind of materials are acceptable in different construction types. Remember the construction type Chapter 5 told you your building needed to be, depending on its size? Table 601 tells you what kind of fire protection needs to be on the building elements (like the structure, roof, floors, etc.) in your building. As usual, make note of this in your code review.

Chapter 7: Fire-Resistance-Rated Construction
All this business you've been seeing in Chapters 4, 5, and 6 about rated walls and smoke partitions and so on is explained here. Each section explains what is required in a fire wall versus a fire barrier versus a fire partition versus a smoke partition as well as other special types of fire-rated construction--where you need to use them, what's involved in using them, and so on. This chapter also tells you in Tables 715.4, 715.5, and 715.5.3 what kind of ratings are required of doors and windows installed in rated walls. Get familiar with this chapter, especially sections 701 through 719. Review the rest of the chapter, but you'll use 701-719 most often.

Chapter 8: Interior Finishes
The main thing you'll need to document from this brief chapter is what class or classes of finish materials you're allowed to use in your project, primarily from Table 803.5. Review and note anything relevant from this chapter.

Chapter 9: Fire Protection Systems
This chapter talks a lot about sprinkler systems, what's required in what occupancy types. Review the chapter in full, as your project may require other special fire protection systems, like standpipe systems, detection systems, alarm systems, venting systems, and the like.

Chapter 10: Means of Egress
This is the chapter I probably use the most--I could do an entire post on Chapter 10! First off, get really familiar with the definitions in section 1002, and refer back to them as you read the rest of the chapter. This chapter tends to really do the snake-eating-its-tail thing, and the language can get dense. This chapter is where knowing the square footage of each occupancy and each type of project use comes in handy; you'll be doing a lot of calculating numbers of occupants (Table 1004.1.1), the required widths of doors and stairs (Table 1005.1), and you'll be doing a lot of measuring on your plans--stair widths, ramp dimensions, exit travel distances, and so on. Get really familiar with this entire chapter, and take plenty of notes--you'll likely revisit this a great deal.

Chapter 11: Accessibility
Section 1101.2 indicates that buildings must be accessible (by mobility- or ability-impaired people) in accordance with this chapter as well as with ICC A117.1, which is often called "ANSI" around our office. These accessibility codes are different in some ways from the 1994 ADA Standards of Design, so you need to look at all of these codes. Having said that, review this chapter and note anything that relates to your project. For example, I make notes of section 1107.5.3 because I work on Group I-2 hospitals. Section 1108 discusses accessibility requirements for special occupancies, such as assembly occupancies (theaters and stadiums, for example).

Chapter 12: Interior Environment
This is good to review in case you have special situations going on inside your building, such as under-floor ventilation (like you might see in a tech-heavy office), and it also indicates minimum interior space dimensions.

Chapter 13: Energy Efficiency
This chapter is only a few sentences long, and it just tells you to refer to the International Energy Conservation Code (IEEC).

Chapters 14 through 28 are the kinds of chapters that you might refer to on occasion, or your engineers will refer to them. The next chapters you'll need are Chapter 29 (Plumbing Systems) will help you calculate how many plumbing fixtures your building needs, and Chapter 30 (Elevators and Conveying Systems) describes requirements for elevators, escalators, and other conveying systems.

In each of these chapter descriptions, you'll notice that I recommend that you read the entire chapter. If you're still learning about a code, it's a good idea to review it a few times, even if all the sections don't relate to you on this project right now. You'll eventually get a feel for the code's contents, and when you need to find a particular section (where the hell's that part about door ratings in a rated wall?), you'll be better able to do so. Ultimately, the more time you spend getting familiar with the code, and the more you perform code reviews, the more comfortable you get with codes overall.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lulu's Mailbag: The labyrinth of building codes, Part 1

Okay, after all my deadlines and a weekend of nothing but rest, I've found a little energy to tackle some questions in the mailbag. Here's a question from R. regarding codes:

Hi Lulu,

Your blog is fantastic. I enjoy every post and they are very helpful in most instances, even if you are not in the field of architecture. Its just generally a good blog for young professionals. Now to my question. Its code related and Ive had discussions with a few people in my office which have given me contradicting answers. The question is about common path of egress travel. Exactly what is it? How do you measure it? Im doing a code analysis of a hospital and I know the length has to be 100 feet if sprinkled but it seems as if there is confusion as to exactly what that is. The code has a weird way of not making sense 98% of the time. Some of these things are just hard to explain anyway. I sometimes wish they had a code for dummies book that basically explained the whole code book in laymans terms haha...but its a serious thing none the less. Im hoping thats how others feel as well. Code issues seem to be what nab me the most. How long did it take you to really get a good feel for code stuff. Maybe a post or two about this would be helpful for others as well. If not, then just an email response would be too. Ive told many people about your site. Its really a great resource. Thanks for reading.

First off, R., thanks for the props! As to your question, I think it will take more than one post to address the matter of codes in an intern's (and an architect's) daily activities. In school, we design these amazing flights of fancy and talk about form and void and material and blah blah blah, and we never know or realize that what we just drew pass few if any of the building and accessibility codes in force today. That's not a bad thing, per se, but it sure is a shock to walk into a firm and see that two-inch-thick copy of the IBC, knowing that what we've drawn has to follow everything in there...whatever the hell it says. Code books frequently don't make a ton of sense--you read a passage, wondering how you're supposed to know if this applies to your building, wondering if this part of the code nullifies that other part of the code, and so on. The whole thing can leave you with your eyes crossed and ready to pass out.

First things first: building, life safety, and accessibility codes are complex and take time to learn and get comfortable with. I didn't get fully comfy with codes until I'd been working for about seven years, which is a year after I passed the ARE. Give yourself time, and ask plenty of questions of others. At the same time, be wary of those who would make big broad pronouncements about codes, such as:
  • "If you have sprinklers in a B occupancy building, it gets rid of all your rated walls and rooms and you're good as gold--nothing to worry about!"
  • "When in doubt, just make the walls 1-hour rated and the door 45-minute rated. Done."
  • "I know all about codes. I can quote it all--ask me anything!"
That last one is my favorite (if by favorite, you mean "causes me to roll my eyes in disgust") because no one knows everything about codes. To say that you know and understand the entire 2006 IBC is an insult to others' intelligence, and it's vain (unless you're one of those idiot savants you see on TLC, then you get a pass on this one...but I'm betting you need help getting dressed in the morning and you don't understand what others' facial expressions mean). Even the code consultants, who know the code for a living, know when to look at the code and be sure and not just spout something from memory. Furthermore, all of this code knowledge--by you, the code consultant, or the office blowhard--is worth a tenth of nothing if the local authority having jurisdiction reads and understands the code differently from you. (I've had just that happen on projects--the architect and even the code consultant who checked the drawings understood one thing, and the local inspector flat our reads the code differently, so differently that they insist that extra doors and walls be added to a project that clearly aren't part of the code. It's cruddy, and you just have to live with it.)

Having said that, some of the major codes, such as the IBC (International Building Code) and the NFPA 101 (a major life safety code) have handbooks that can help you understand the intent of a code or even how to calculate something the code requires, such as how to measure the travel distance out of a suite of rooms: where to start the line of travel, how close to obstacles you can get as you draw that path of travel, and so on. If a firm has a copy of the code, they should ideally also have a copy of the code's handbook. It can save you some time and headache when performing code studies. The code handbook is the closest thing to a "2006 IBC for Dummies" book, though I'm of the opinion they should just write the code clearly and not force me to buy two books just to know what the one book says, but that's just me. Maybe someone at the IBC committee has a brother who runs a paper mill or a printing company or something.

Next post, we'll talk about a variety of applicable codes, from the most to least general, and we'll discuss what belongs in a code review and on a code plan. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line with a question or issue you'd like to see discussed here, either in the comments on via my email in the sidebar. Thanks!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I deeply apologize for the lack of posts lately, folks. I've been getting through my four-deadlines-in-eight-days, and the last one is tomorrow. I can see the finish line from here....

Few if any interns are ever told that the deadlines and work schedules in practice are just as bad if not worse than they are in school. Really, the only difference is that you get paid for the work you do in practice, whereas you pay tuition for the work you do in school. However, there are times where it's long days and nights and even weekends for a couple of weeks to even a few months in a row. Some firms are guilty of basing their salaries on a 40-hour workweek while providing an environment that encourages or even requires a 50-hour workweek, but all in all every firm has its moments when one or more project team(s) is/are working like they were still in college. It's just part of any workplace, not just an architecture firm.

After I've had some rest this weekend, I'd like to address some questions I've received recently on getting a job at a firm you've been laid off from, answering RFIs and shop drawings when you're not fully allowed to do so, and handling code reviews for projects. Thanks to everyone for staying with me during a rough two weeks!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Managing Up: I'm the Intern, You're the Architect...right?

An intern in my office, whom we'll call K, recently commented to me about an architect with whom she was working on a project. She was helping this fellow with a DD deadline, and she began to notice over a short period of time how disorganized, inaccurate, and inattentive this fellow was. For example, she wasn't sure what to call a large concrete wall with an open grate on it that looked down into a pit that had mechanical equipment and pipes in it--she had never seen this sort of thing before, and the architect never mentioned any nomenclature for it when giving her some very loose directions on the drawings she was to do. In a pinch, she named it "Mechanical Access Well and Grate". Upon seeing this, the architect exclaimed, "Yeah! That's perfect!", as if he'd had no idea what to call it either. She thought (but didn't say out loud), "I'm the intern and you're the architect--how is it that I'm coming up with this stuff and you can barely put two thoughts together to tell me what you want me to do?"

Here's the unfortunate and yet hope-inspiring truth: the ARE only tests candidates for minimal competence. It doesn't test someone to see if s/he will be an amazingly awesome architect, just a barely competent one. And people who test well aren't always good at their jobs. (Likewise, people who are very good at what they do aren't always good test takers.) This is unfortunate news, because it means that there's a good chance that every intern out there will work for someone who is disorganized, volatile, lazy, inept--in short, a walking dumpster fire. The reason that this is also hope-inspiring is that you really have nothing to fear when it comes to taking the ARE. Just study and give yourself time to prepare, and you can pass it as well. As my husband sometimes says, "Remember that half of everyone is below average." That includes architects.

I'm not done waxing philosophical or practical on this topic, but I'll at least wrap this post up with the truth: you will sometimes work for people who aren't very good architects, and doing so will force you to be a better intern (and therefore architect) because you'll have to be on top of things to which s/he won't be paying attention. I've done a few posts on managing up, namely here, here, and here, but I know this won't be the last word on the subject.