Heritage Restoration, Inc.

The Trades and Design Should Get Along Better

Last week I attended a conference combining the trades and the design field.  The collaboration of two independent organizations brought together designers, planners, conservators and architects who completed digital presentations, and the traditional trades demonstrated their skills and use of materials in hands-on presentations.  This event was critical in many ways, the most important was how the fields compliment each other, rely on each other, and how they need better coordination.


The fields of building maintenance, retrofits, and construction require close collaboration for right balance of design and execution.  Yet the industry has developed a stigma towards working together, causing many projects to fail in the responsibility of giving the best product for the best price.  The convergence of the trades with the design field is essential in providing the best work for the consumer and the building.


Getting a project done is straightforward enough, right?  You have two fundamental choices; hire someone in the design field or hire a contractor.  The design field may be an architect, engineer, design consultant or someone that can provide analysis, design and specifications.  Their goal is to understand your intent and provide a prescribed path towards getting the right cost and a smooth execution.  Their training, education, and experience provide them the expertise to develop design and products towards creating a final product.  They rely on the trades to interpret their plans and complete the work.


A contractor’s goal can vary greatly, from a quick survey that leads to an estimate or a more in depth analysis and steps to resolve or make your goal or meet the building’s needs.  Their training, education, and experience enable them to develop solutions, substituting design and specifications with a scope of work and an estimate.  There are times when a design is not necessary, although any alteration beyond cosmetic may require an architect o engineer.  Design build companies combine the two fields wearing the hats of design and contracting.


But why is it so important they work together?  One designs, the other builds,  simple, clean cut.  But what if one does not use the other and a problem occurs?  Undersized beams, poor function, poorly conceived use and movement; these are all results of a lack of coordination.  The disconnect occurs when design or the build apply only their field of expertise, not relying on those who can develop a wider influence of expertise.


The collaborative event was about the design field experiencing the means and methods of the crafts, and the crafts sitting in on presentations about project design, or trades and design collaborations.  Collaboration is not new to the world.  It happened for hundreds of years through the master builder or designer who most of the time was also experienced in craft, until the 19th century saw the evolution of the engineer and the architect.  These new fields grew in part from the need to protect building users from the rapid growth of technology and construction pushing the limits of new products and materials to the point of being unsafe in their application.


A better approach may be an integrated design process.  This process requires multidisciplinary collaboration, including key stakeholders, design, and trades from conception to completion. Decision-making protocols and complementary design principles must be established early in the process in order to satisfy the goals of multiple stakeholders while achieving the overall project objectives.


The disconnect between design and building industries happened many, many years ago.  It has festered into a genuine mistrust and a perceived (or real depending on your perspective) degrading of the craft trades.  The event really dispelled this animosity, where the design field was genuinely excited about interacting with a skills demonstration, and the crafts were relieved, and sometimes shocked, on their enthusiasm to want to know how things are done.


There is hope for the building industry.  Many have great collaborations with the design field; using combined expertise to achieve the goal of sustainability and best practices throughout the process, instead of a design, then build.  So if you are planning a large project, consider the value of integrative design process, where projects are not just design or product based, but collaborative solutions based.  It not only saves money in the short term, but the long term as well.

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