Let me begin by telling you a story.
It’s the story of a typical building “transaction.” It may sound painfully familiar to many of you.
You are making an addition to your home. It has been discussed, designed, permitted. Construction is already underway. During a walk-through with the architect and builder, you mention that you have picked out a beautiful new sink for the wet bar in the corner of your family room. But it is 22” instead of 18” deep. This casual comment unleashes the following chain of events:
1. The wall will need to be relocated 4”.
2. The HVAC return, supply ducts, water lines and waste lines need to be moved.
3. An electrical conduit needs to be relocated.
4. And, by the way, the new wall location overlaps with a structural steel beam
below. So, re-feeding the mechanical systems will require additional re-
5. In order to accommodate the relocated mechanicals, we will need to build new soffits in the ceiling below or increase the wall depth.
Cut a head off the Hydra and two more appear in its place—or five.
Who ultimately pays for this work and how does it impact the budget, schedule and quality of the project? Usually, it is equitably worked out via negotiation or (not so equitably) argued out until an agreement is reached. Now, multiply this single, simple request by the dozens or hundreds of similar requests that inevitably arise during the course of any given building project… you see my point.
Say you strolled into a car dealership and said: I love this car! I’m ready to buy. Will you do me a favor and just move the transmission over 2’’? Then it will be perfect. Can you imagine the change order you would receive?!
Building is really a very large-scale prototype business. Every building project occurs within a context of unique conditions—environmental, material, etc.—that make it a one-off effort.
Moreover, almost all building “transactions” take place over a long period of time. Transactions include anything from actual contracts to the purchase and transport of products and services, scheduling individual events, budgeting, issuing requests for information (RFI’s), drawings, specifications, addenda and more. All of the above are subject to change during the course of a project. Further, the relative importance of any individual team member varies with the current phase of the project. Finally, the client’s satisfaction with the project is also in a constant state of flux.
This situation generates contradictions, friction and conflict throughout the supply chain. The worst consequences, however, are left for the end consumers. In building, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is an apt caption for the everyday experience of the consumer.
Today, there are powerful forces that are changing how we transact our daily lives, both professionally and personally. What those changes will ultimately look like remains to be seen. As an agent of change in the world of building, I am certain of just one thing: change will come. It will come as inevitably as the next generation. When the generation Cyborg develops sufficient experience—say within 10 years—the way we do things in the world of building will undergo a “paradigm shift.”
It should be exciting and fun! I’m just hoping the young leaders of tomorrow will let an old man like me tag along for the ride.