The Sawyer Report is a stream of consciousness-style, tongue-in-cheek, OP-ED from Los Angeles architect Robert Sawyer. He is the founder of Architectural Business Magazine which is the first desktop publication to ever be printed commercially (*Garner News, 1986.) The publication originated from a small town in NC and is now permanently online to a global audience.
Interns Interns Interns
Many times have I asked myself why do I insist on taking a young mind with no experience and put them to work, only to become frustrated when they ask what a building section is? I know full well the young intern has no experience. Frank Lloyd Wright said that a young mind is a terrible thing to waste. He preferred to use unskilled labor. He must have been a very patient man!
How many times have I asked my young intern to fill out her time card? Almost once a day I check in to find the calendar says she’s working when she’s been out to lunch for over two hours. Settling disappointment begins to rise. My entire firm is going to pay for this. We might even go broke.
Interns spend a fortune on their educations. They expect a high paying job when released from the hatchery. Does this mean they are qualified to work in your firm? Probably not. Just because they have an expectation to impress their friends with the salary quota does not mean it is your obligation to fund it. This is the part that I always seem to forget. Experienced workers are almost always cheaper. There is no more control over an intern in fact there may be less.
Think about the times you’ve spent running through drawings and finding error after error. The late nights you’ve spent changing details that just don’t work right. Expensive? Not even the half of it. Last year while working in the field with a general contractor, I realized that my young intern mis-measured the entire footprint of a house: none of the dimensions added up. Where was she when I needed her to correct? Gone girl.
Besides the hefty salary, I was now paying myself to go find the mistake, make the corrections, and explain it to the owners. Happily the overage resulted in a huge windfall profit in the millions for the client. But it could have been worse, and it some ways it was. It always is.
My experienced friend in the community who’s always willing to learn new things, is humble, and listens is usually half the price when I get quotes for drafting tasks. I’ve learned that most always this is preferred for a small business. Not that interns are that expensive, that’s not my point. It’s the carrying cost that bugs me. How many times have you looked over to see what your young intern is drawing have you said to yourself, what the hell are you doing? Drawing execution that would normally take just a few moments are drawn out into all day affairs that you’re paying for. Ouch.
Then the time card comes back and it isn’t even filled out correctly. Now you have to pay for the accounting to set it straight. $^%&! I’LL STICK TO A PROFESSIONAL NEXT TIME! At least I’ll get a bill for time that makes sense. I’ll know what the job will cost. I won’t have to pay for someone to learn what ctrl right click alt option means. I’ll sleep better knowing competence is running concurrent with respect. Plus, with such high standards, it’s just easier to draw everything myself!
Saturday March 25th, 2017 – Los Angeles, CA
Yesterday I read about digital addictions, iPads and smartphones. Steve Jobs recognized it – his kids were monitored on their usage. Really? That’s something worthy to discuss; mainly because we have been using digital technology since before the invention of the wheel. Mouse wheel, that is.
They said we were digitally unemployed. Draftspeople who were set aside due to the advocation of AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, and all the other iCADs like Intergraph, and the like. Wow, we had some high-tech plug and play monitors that were bigger than your grandmother’s TV set. Internet? Hell yes. Dial-up had 28k baud modems. You could actually take your phone handset and lay it in the cradle. It was the bomb.
By the time I spoke to Arianna Huffington in 1989, and told her how to do everything, based on Jeff Sawyer’s BBS online we had progressed to 128 baud, but I digress. Digital addictions? Forget about it! This was full-on hardcore smack. Input coordinate one, x.x. Next input coordinate number two, y.y to the third decimal. 1985 was the year windows intervened. The smart template went bye-bye pretty fast. Ushered in with windows was the ability to navigate. The rest is all history.
We went from making small Key Plan references in the bottom left corner of our plans to actually scaling full-sized floor plans printed to scale. 1986 saw the first printing, for us, of plans that were so scaleable that that alone changed the industry. We were treading on the wave of technological advancements. Having plans that were labeled not scaleable but that were scaleable, and exactly to scale – changed everything. All of a sudden our firm Boisseau Design Group Architects, in Raleigh, NC had something nobody else had. That made us a commodity. 4-5 guys and a girl or two doing what we estimated at the time was the work of 15-20. Using CAD.
While Madonna was singing about prayers, we forged ahead with technological unemployment. Not that I was unemployed. I was, for a time however, until the digital applications I found inside NCSU’s School of Design Lab. My unique position as publisher of Architectural Business Magazine gave me access to every manufacturer in the world, all eager to hock their wares. Suddenly 305 became the address where the entire world turned to give products geared to architecture. Friends who were in the know called frequently for review copies.
Some never came back. Some are still being used. At one time as my brother Jeff will attest we had the entire basement of the house filled with Architectural Business Magazines and products. Stacked to the roof. Delivery trucks had run over the hedges so many times they had to be removed. Jeff’s bulletin board service was the model for what would later be called The Huffington Post.
Our digital addictions occurred long before the iPad, and the smart phone. It doesn’t take a theoretical physicist to determine that we have not only been relying on digital technology as a source for our livelihoods, it has become an integral tool. That tool has just been minimized. I was on a date the other day and to be polite I told her I had to take a call on a flooding emergency and that I’d be one minute. She pitched a fit that I was more interested in my iPhone than I was in her (I was) but again I digress, when I got back to the table we talked about the interuption and addiction to the iPhone.
I saw her point but explained that I own my own businesses. By taking a practical approach to the technology it allowed me the freedom to even be on a date. Without the ability to stay in touch microscopically the ability to run my operations becomes more flexible. It’s like having my MacBook Pro on the job-site. Or a hotel in Albuquerque. I can draft details while in Oregon and my client thinks I’m in LA. Doesn’t matter because it’s all about focus.
While the world focuses on digital addiction, and the lack of concentration it demands, I suggest a rethinking of the debate. It’s like doing calisthenics, it’s a tool. Do you really want to limit your tools? You might want to set some interface ground rules. But limit the use? That just takes longer. I think we need to educate balance in the use of digital applications. Make plans to get out of the house. My calendar rings at 2:30 – time to go for a walk.
We have this beautiful world out there which is just now being discovered by young kids in a new way, in school, on iPads, running AutoCAD LT. My feeling – just like when I started – is that you have to put the tool in their hands. They will use it. You can’t limit it. You can educate that there is a need for balance. That balance is informed by planning. Instead of letting technology bog you down let it free you. It frees me constantly. Without it I wouldn’t be the grand Poobah of architecture. I never could have published a magazine.
Leash. Poop bags, Dog. Check. Oops, drone, there it is! Nice. Get out!
The Huffington Post sold in 2011 for just over 1 billion. No acknowledgement has ever been given for the role the Sawyer brothers played in it’s concept and implementation. Screenplay? Architectural Business Magazine was founded at the Design Lab of North Carolina State University School of Design. The best school for architecture in the world. Period.
Construction Guide 101 - Forward
by Robert Sawyer
Architecture is a profession that requires an innate skill coupled with a good dose of educated know-how. Practical and artistic considerations are married to form a model of convention. This model is delivered via a standardized selection typology. The architect chooses the delivery method for your particular project type in the initial phases of conceptual planning.
Let’s start by defining what an architect is:
An architect is essentially a scribe. In fact, this early definition from ancient Greece still applies although much has changed in the way of technological applications, codes, materials, legal requirements, and financial considerations.
An architect is an interpreter of vision. Owner’s visionary needs and representations are conformed by the architect. These conformities by definition include the following:
• Architects do not control the means, materials or methods of construction.
• Architects’ drawings show the final results, and any intermediary details that need to be known to make it so.
• Architects are vital to all projects in determining and defining scope, limiting liability, excising cost, defining structure, coordinating elements, and owner representation both to contractors and municipalities.
• Architects’ fees are generally inclusive of the cost of construction. Projects utilizing the services of an architect generally have fewer problems during construction but also are cheaper to build when supervised accordingly.
• It is the responsibility of the General Contractor to provide the final building which meets all of the code provisions, some of which are not shown on the drawings. Such standards are known as conventions, these are standards that are well known enough to be considered common knowledge.
At RSAC we aim to provide a well conceived design which is executed squarely in construction documentation. We’ve learned that sometimes less is more: details which define the means or methods, are best left off of the drawings. Construction can proceed diligently without the expensive inclusion of unnecessary sheets, or endless instructions of conventions.
There are many reference materials available online including the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Association of General Contractors (AGC), the State of California Contractors License Board (CSLB), the interior design association (IDA), and the city of Los Angeles department of building and safety (LADBS), among others.
Download the entire revised edition of Construction Guide 101 by Robert Sawyer by logging onto www.rsarch.org
by Robert Sawyer
Contemporary methodology is always a waxing and waning algorithm. We’re given the context of budget, site, scale, space, and what do we do with it? We constantly eschew the facts in an attempt to obtain a higher order. An order, we hope, will bring about a revolution of context. The perfect project. Never before seen, form following function or vice versa.
The whole propaganda behind architecture is dependent upon this trickle down theory: starchitect choices become trends. Trends become norms, and we adopt those norms for a period of time until there becomes a collective rejection, and the cycle continues.
The public actual believes that only a handful of chosen few can execute great works. Almost nobody knows that pretty much any and all architects are capable of doing gesamntkunstwerks. A gesamntkunstwerk being German for any project that takes a really long time to finish. In our office that’s anything over three weeks.
But lately here in LA we are witnessing a trend that I like to call Shadow Boxing. There are a lot of new homes going up devoid of color. Now, there are foundations such as The Siquieros Foundation who’s mission is to bring color into a concrete world. And, they’re doing a great job painting transformer boxes, and murals throughout the city. But just as foundations are devoted to cleaning urban blight, this new trend of specifying well, nothing, has me concerned.
It’s these shadows which reflect our imagination as a silhouette that cast long swaths of grey into dark abyss. This, in my mind, deserves to be countered with intelligence, color, and light. Inappropriate as one might think, actually painting the outside of a project a bland mix of the same color isn’t good. It’s horrifying.
Are choices of bland becoming the new normal? Does good taste give sway to zero imagination? Do I need to worry that a new client will demand that my new cedar cloaked gesamntkunstwerk will be primed and painted in a bath of whitewash?
I suppose that those of us who hope the trend isn’t going to last will be the most disappointed.
Senator Cardin Reintroduces Bill to Increase Employment and Improve the Energy-Efficiency of Commercial Building Roofs
Bipartisan Energy-Efficient Cool Roof Jobs Act expected to create up to 40,000 jobs
Bethesda, MD, June 9, 2014 – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), has reintroduced the ‘‘Energy-Efficient Cool Roofs Jobs Act,” S. 2388, which would boost job creation in the construction industry and significantly increase the energy efficiency of buildings throughout the U.S., lowering energy costs and saving money. The bill would improve investment returns on building energy-efficiency improvements by shortening the tax depreciation period for the installation of new roofs on existing buildings that meet certain thermal performance and “cool roof” requirements.
“We don’t need to choose between good jobs and helping the environment – we can do both with the same policy,” said Senator Cardin. “Cool Roofs provides an opportunity to reduce energy consumption and add nearly 40,000 jobs to a sector of our economy that still has not felt the full effect of our emergent recovery. It’s no wonder this bill, which provides incentives to install energy efficient roofs and simplifies the tax code, has such broad support across industries and labor.”
S. 2388 is co-sponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). Senator Cardin also filed the Energy-Efficient Cool Roofs Jobs Act as an amendment (S. Admt 3186) to the EXPIRE Act (S. 2260). U.S. Representatives Tom Reed (R-NY) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) have introduced a companion bill in the House (H.R. 4740).
The bill reduces the depreciation period for commercial roof retrofits, lowering the current 39-year depreciation period in the current tax code to a 20-year depreciation period for energy-efficient cool roof systems. To qualify, roofs must include systems with insulation that meets or exceeds the ASHRAE Standard 189.1-2011, a model green building standard, and have a cool roof surface in climate zones one through five.
“Congress recognizes the value of commercial building roofs in terms of both national energy policy and providing an incentive for owners to increase the thermal performance of their buildings,” said Jared O. Blum, President, Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), a supporter of the bill. “Most buildings in this country were built before modern energy codes were in place, so upgrading the performance of those buildings with more energy efficient roofs can save lots of money.”
“The legislation also offers a more fair treatment of roofs under the tax depreciation system. As currently structured, the tax code has created a disincentive for building owners to upgrade their roofs,” added Blum.
The Energy-Efficient Cool Roofs Jobs Act has attracted a wide range of supporters, including PIMA. The bill would create nearly 40,000 new jobs among roofing contractors and manufacturers; add $1 billion of taxable annual revenue in the construction sector; make the tax code simpler and more equitable for small businesses of all types; reduce U.S. energy consumption and save small businesses millions of dollars in energy costs; and reduce carbon emissions by 800,000 metric tons – an amount equal to the emissions of 153,000 cars. Additional supporters include:
- Alliance to Save Energy??
- American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)
- Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA)
- Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)??
- Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA)??
- Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing (CEIR)??
- Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI)
- Global Cool Cities Alliance??
- Institute for Market Transformation (IMT)??
- Joint Roofing Industry Labor and Management Committee??
- National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA)??
- NAIOP: The Commercial Real Estate Development Association
- Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA)??
- United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers
A significant opportunity to increase building energy efficiency lies within the commercial roofing sector. Waterproof membranes on commercial low-slope roofs (i.e., flat roofs) last, on average, 17 years. When these membranes are replaced, building owners could add a reasonable amount of insulation and substitute a white roof surface (i.e., a cool or reflective roof) for the traditional dark colored roof surface, a practice that would save $12.2 billion in energy costs in just the first ten years. The annual savings after ten years would be $2.4 billion. This activity would also avoid and offset 147 million tons of CO2 emissions, an amount that is equal to the annual emissions of 38 coal fired power plants.
For over 25 years, the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) has served as the unified voice of the rigid polyiso industry proactively advocating for safe, cost-effective, sustainable and energy efficient construction. PIMA’s members, who first came together in 1987, include a synergistic partnership of polyiso manufacturers and industry suppliers. Polyiso is one of the Nation’s most widely used and cost-effective insulation products available. To learn more visit www.polyiso.org.
CALIFORNIA LAND MORE VALUABLE THAN IMPROVED LOTS
Interesting comment from a seller who’s sitting on a redevelopment lot in Westchester, CA yesterday. We stopped at a pair of lots located in a residential neighborhood where the average lot size is ~6,000 sf. and sell for about $120 psf of lot area improved. Amazing, however is that the lots are offered as “Land – only.” The realtor stated this when I first called to enquire as to price. Now, this pair of lots are sub-standard. They’re less than 4,000 sf each, and are less than 40 ft. wide. Not much room for a driveway and parking. Actually parking on that site would be almost impossible at 90 degrees, and far less desirable at an angle. I guess the realtor hasn’t figured that out yet. He’s asking a million bucks for the postage-sized stamp of a lot (each, lol.) This, as he described was just for the land, because it’s in a redevelopment zone. Heh heh, he must not really be looking at the truth of the zone and it’s requirements.
First of all – RD1.5 is a redevelopment zone but you would have to actually build out the parcel to gain any ROI.
Figuring if you purchased both parcels at the bargain price of 1.8 million, then added four units (limited by parking – a determinate of lot size.) You might expect to spend upwards of $240.00 psf on new construction, site improvements, utilities and landscaping – adding another 75.00 psf of lot area. So, let’s figure an FAR of 70% of lot area or 2,800s.f. max per parcel x 2 = 5,600 sf tot. / 4 = (4) 1,400 sf units. Cost projections – however loosely done are 5,800 sf @ 240.00 (minimum new construction finished cost in this area.) = $1,392,000. Site improvements and landscape including utilities will run another $112,000. Most of that as anyone will tell you is spent on the DWP, or waiting for the DWP!!! Oh and of course A+E plus Permit fees at another $100k.
Total costs thus far = 1.8 million Lot cost + 1.392million Construction + $112k + $100K = $3,404,000.00 hard costs not including soft costs such as Hardware, Maintenance during construction, Insurance, and Mortgage carrying costs. But, let’s reduce. The 3,404,000 is an accurate investment – I’d bid that anyway. Divide that number by four to determine unit costs. I get $851,000.00. Let’s divide that by the square footage: I get $607.85 psf. Average new home prices are fetching 575.00 pdf in the neighborhood. So, it looks feasible if you want to work for free, and make ZERO income. What’s happened here?
Basically, the realtor has worked all the special math on the equation. He’s deduced what the property is worth as a finished project, and he’s removed the ability for any developer to improve the property by removing any anticipated profits. He’s sculpted the profits you should make on the project for himself – in advance of selling the lot. And, here we go again. This is year 2004-5-6-7 all over again. If we need any regulation of the industry at all it should not be of the financial services industry – it should be the target capitolists and opportunists who’s money-grabbing sellers should be limited to a percentage of cost at no more than twenty percent profit. In an area where conscience does not govern, it’s the opportunists who create bubbles similar to the cycle that we just completed all over again.
###Robert Sawyer is an internationally acclaimed author and is Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Business Magazine since 1985. He resides in Los Angeles, CA and is the principal partner of Robert Sawyer Architects & Construction. The Sawyer Report is copyrighted and may not be quoted or used without written permission from ARCHITECTURAL BUSINESS MAGAZINE.
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Robert Sawyer is the internationally acclaimed author and Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Business Magazine since 1985. He resides in Los Angeles, CA and is the principal partner at Robert Sawyer Architects & Construction. The Sawyer Report is copyrighted and may not be quoted or used without written permission from ARCHITECTURAL BUSINESS MAGAZINE.