Throwing down the blueprints in frustration, you growl, “Every architect should have to work in the field a few years before they’re allowed to draw up even a doghouse.” You call the architectural firm to troubleshoot the situation and then you cancel the day’s pour.
Pulling up in his spotless Land Rover, your architect swaggers onto the jobsite looking like he just stepped out of the L.L. Bean catalog. Wiping grime off of your forehead, you spit in disgust. He makes eye contact and now you’re staring one another down like it’s the O.K. Corral. We’ve all been there, but we don’t have to go back down that dead-end road.
If you’re tired of the tension we often have with architects, listen up. Short of freestyling a little backyard flatwork here and there, it’s nearly impossible to pour independent of an architect. Therefore, it makes sense to consider the architect’s perspective. Recently, I talked with architects from across the country to discover what they wished we knew.
Here are their collective responses:
- We’re too shortsighted if we’re only seeing our segment of the project. Architects think holistically, and they say the men placing the concrete need to see the big picture too. Architects say savvy contractors understand the goal/intent of the overall design and know how to coordinate with everyone in advance. Thinking forward and proactively scheduling with the other trades eliminates problems.
- When there’s a complication (architects acknowledge they aren’t perfect) we must call them immediately. Sadly, architects often don’t hear about concrete problems for weeks. Architects actually value our insights at solving problems, but they don’t appreciate our aggression and hostile tone when we call them with a problem. They also need accessible contact information to call us in the field when they uncover a problem.
- Architects are concerned about contractors properly pouring concrete in inclement weather. They run into crews carelessly overloading the mix with too much calcium chloride. One architect recounted a recent pour on a $16 million project. His field-tester said the concrete contractor neglected to use hot water in the mix (the concrete arrived at 35 degrees F), the ground was frozen, and temperature of the rebar in the slab was 22 degrees F.
- One architect pointed out our need for more qualified guys in the field. He noted the skill level of trained concrete workers in his region has drastically diminished over his 45-year career. He also said we have too many guys who grade concrete today and think they are finishers tomorrow. Accurately laying out anchor-bolts was a source of his contention, too. If you want the architect to respect you, then quit blowing smoke and earn your recognition through quality work.
After talking with several architects, I realized our first step toward effective cooperation is practicing respectful communication. This includes having more onsite interaction with our architects, many of whom welcome the invitation to be onsite when we pour.
The conflict between the drafting board and the jobsite won’t be resolved through harboring resentment either. As long as we see all architects as prima donnas, much of this antagonism is our fault. We needlessly put them on the defensive when we call them names. Being more responsible works better than treating each crisis like it’s a competition to prove who is right. Shame and blame won’t fix our problems, so let’s roll up our sleeves and show architects that we mean business too.
Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who is also a writer and communicator. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.