Ask Matt

Friday December 30, 2005

Dear Matt, 

I enjoyed your article in the Nov. 25 East Bay Home & Real Estate. I wish you titled the article “A Short Course in Tragedy for the Inexperienced Architect.” You cite some excellent examples of the pitfalls of our profession and as such, many architects get a bad rap due to shoddy work by our peers or lack of attention to detail or the inability to provide basic professional service to our clients. I am now nearing 20 years in the business and I’ve seen all of those horrors you mention and more. 

I’m not sure that the rules of the game place an enormous emphasis on “A”rchitecture so much as the emphasis on the bottom line. We are always rushed to do the work, but our firm will always set aside the time to review each others work which results in a thorough and, more importantly, a well coordinated set of documents. The cost of errors and omissions is too high to not do a peer review, and as I tell my colleagues, it helps everyone continue to get better because we are focusing on finding the missing pieces, and then passing it along as knowledge from each others experience in the tradition of the Intern/Mentor relationship that is the foundation of our profession. It sounds corny, but because we are diligent about it, I sleep well at night. 

There are plenty of architects out there doing shoddy work. Earlier in my career, when I was an intern, I was told to release drawings that were not reviewed by my employer prior to going to bid. That is not to say that the design was not code compliant and safe, but the resulting change orders during construction because of notes such as “TBD” or “VIF”....well we verified, and it won’t fit! See what I mean...the bottom line and compressed schedules have great impact on a project and it is up to the professional to diligently schedule their time and their staffs’ time to maintain project deadlines & quality control from day one. 

In closing, I agree that on most projects, except for the most high profile buildings, cheapness wins. Cheapworld, USA, my home town, and yours too, but need we accept it? I’m working hard to change it by closely managing our aspect of the project, though once the construction starts it’s mostly up to the builder...maybe you can do a follow up story about the fresh high school graduate (or not) doing waterproofing work on his 61st of 200 track homes being built somewhere in Cheapworld titled “A short Course in Tragedy for the Young Contractor”! 

Paul McKenzie  

San Francisco  


Dear Paul, 

I’ve been picking on contractors all years. It was time to take a shot at the “A”rchitecture world. Contractors are, after all, expected to follow the instructions of the architects and the bar should be at its highest when the plans are drawn, assuming that it will sag quite a bit during the following exercises (commonly known as construction). I genuinely feel that the architect should try and include as many specific details as they possibly can in their drawings despite the great likelihood that there will be a range of changes as work proceeds and including the reality that some of the details simply won’t work. The more you try and conceive and plan, the better you end up. I agree that cheapness is much more the problem than the artistic aspiration, but I do think that the latter plays a role in the former. If there were less of an effort to appear as bold, new and thrilling, there might be more energy spent on making thing work well and last. One man’s opinion. 

I’ve very grateful for your response and hope you’ll keep reading. I’m sure that you’re part of the solution and not part of the problem. 

Best of luck, 

Matt Cantor