Trouble with the (Learning) Curve

Recently, I have had the privilege to experience a project from beginnings to final permit drawings to construction. This multi-acre, multifamily project is designed for low income families and underserved seniors. The hundreds of units will add a much needed housing typology to the area and create a vibrant new neighborhood for those in need. At least, these are all the things that we say throughout the process in order to justify the long hours and endless headaches. While they might be true, by the time the last unit receives it’s certificate of occupancy, this project will have lasted over three years, seen it move from sketches to full construction documents, and gone through hundreds of hours of back and forth with contractors, consultants, clients, and internal vetting in order to realize this project through to the final product.

This is the first large scale project that I have been part of from inception through completion. Currently the first few buildings on this very large site are nearing the point of being completely framed out which, as most will agree, is one of the first points on project where a person really starts to feel like the things that they sketched months ago are starting to become realities. However, to get to this point, and especially at this point, the questions and shortcomings of our documentation process are being highlighted and pointed out to all parties involved. This won’t be news to anyone that has been practicing for years and it wasn’t especially surprising to me once it started happening, nor is this an indictment of other team members on this project, but this is a brief “lessons learned” bit for those about to embark on a similarly long project venture.

Every project that anyone ever works on will have its fair share of “what were we thinking?” moments. No one is perfect and no project will ever be perfect. Coordination can always be tighter and decisions more thoroughly vetted. However, there are always opportunities to learn; where we think to ourselves “I will never do that again” or “hey, that was a good idea and I should remember that for the future”. Whether that be a BIM coordination issue, initial decisions that were held on to for far too long, or just general project structure and management style, these lessons will resonate with me for the entirety of my career.

Among the countless lessons I have learned throughout the process, one particular aspect that has had an incredibly lasting impact on me is the value of the people that we work with on a project. It would be easy to go on incessantly about the merits of working with a housing authority and those that we serve with the final product, but instead I would like to focus internally. I had the privilege of working with a team that showed me the importance of working with others and valuing one another not for hours worked or documents produced, but more for how various individuals can work towards a common goal.

Ultimately, the value of the architecture that we produce stems from a team of people with wide array of principles and goals. We cannot assume that all people have the same values and are striving to reach the same end. However, I have learned that it is crucial to view team members as people first and not as a means to a production end. Managing various personalities and sets of values, and above all else, viewing one another as people first will lead to a successful project and team dynamic.

The team that I worked with taught me the value of viewing one another through the lens of treating one another first and foremost as a fellow team member that I would go out of my way for. Ultimately, we are all pulling in the same direction and when we are presented with the opportunity to help one another, whether that be with BIM issues, picking up some extra slack, or recognizing that people have lives outside of the office, it is crucial to the success of the project to be there for one another and help others whenever the opportunity presents itself. This not only leads to a more successful and thoughtful project, but also allows those relationships to resonate throughout our careers.

Everyone will have different project/CA experiences and maybe no one else will take these same lessons away from theirs. I could have spoken for pages and pages about the merits of early coordination, constant vetting, and being overly critical of execution and decision making, but ultimately it is those around you that will get you over the finish line. If we look out for one another, the project will look out for itself.

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