May/June 2015

Will future computational rules-based models help redefine architectural deliverables in order to reframe the requirements of standard of care? As owners we continue to ask why our teams’ deliverables continue to be so poor. Wasn’t BIM (building information modeling) supposed to help solve that?

Architecture 3.0 should not be about rebuilding existing QA/QC (quality assurance/quality control) processes on an existing legacy framework of design deliverable requirements for the profession; it should be about exploring the opportunities to liberate the profession from the archaic confines of inspection-based quality control.

As an architect (who now represents the owner’s perspective), I admit the profession continually demonstrates its ability to fail in the delivery of construction phase documents. While design teams have embraced building information modeling, as the next big documentation process, to which they’ve attached numerous aspiration goals, these same teams find themselves unable to find and leverage the process quality tools that exist within BIM. I believe that it is because we are blinkered by our legacy master-apprentice based past, and are unable to recognize and abandon the shortcomings of our current inspection quality control efforts.

As construction phase deliverables continue to become increasingly more complicated and regulated; design teams by themselves do not have the expertise to successfully delineate the technical details for complete and coordinated sets of construction documents. While BIM has demonstrated its ability to document and coordinate complex building structures—which would have been impossible in our recent 2D past—we haven’t discovered, created, or leveraged the tools within the software to create and frame a rules-based design deliverable.

It’s still all about the separation of design and production, and the legacy artifacts of the master draftsman’s role in the profession.

Similar to reprography, the architect’s instruments of service are framed by locally defined and specific building-type standard-of-care requirements. These requirements are skewed to past deliverable methodologies. Furthermore, rather than conjuring up images of smiling, jovial, round spectacled design professionals, the three-word phrases “instruments of service” and “standard of care” flash frightening silhouettes of lawyered-up old men eager to file lawsuits against innovation.

What Is QA/QC?
QA/QC began as a formalized inspection activity in the early part of the twentieth century. It was based on product standardization within the manufacturing industry.

Quality control was defined as creating measures for minimizing deviation in the production of readily interchangeable parts and equipment received from manufacturing suppliers. Quality assurance was the manufacturer’s internal inspection of that product, prior to delivery to the customer. The need for creating specifications and standards in order to scale the mass-marketing of parts and equipment began the process of turning craftsmen into assemblers. QC created requirements and specifications for interchangeability and adaptability of parts and systems, and the requirements were applied to the deliverables and service of manufacturers and suppliers.

Since the design team is a key supplier of the construction industry, our deliverables followed the same rules of supplier standardization and quality control.

Inspection-Based Systems
Creating and enforcing internal organizational quality control systems was built on an inspection-based approach. Early in the twentieth-century, most architectural firms organized around design and production departments. The design architect would create schematic level design documents, which were then handed off to the production team who would develop the project through design-development and into construction-documents. The standards for these deliverables—in the past, hand-drawn plans and written specifications—had been internally established by a quality control team and were checked by quality assurance within the firm prior to delivery to the owner of the project. The owner would submit the document package to selected general contractors to obtain a price for building the project. Many times, the general contractor became the quality assurance inspector for the design team.

The process of QA/QC (actually QC/QA), would ensure deliverables were developed through requirements of quality-control, and then accepted within defined tolerances by quality assurance and then released for use to the owner. QA measured and accepted the deliverable against defined requirements and standards. QC was enforced through internal inspection-based reviews and rework, which had naturally evolved from our past apprenticeship culture.

Architecture is not design or manufacturing of a product. And the design profession’s rigid view of this has helped shape the development of deliverables; in that complicated unique projects should not be held to the same quality control requirements as widgets. Recent contractual modifications toward integrated project delivery have helped identify a large percentage of the detailing of our one-offs should be standardized across building types and deliverables. However, more is required.

While the profession may argue there is no substitute for experience and the only way to learn how to produce quality design sets is to work as an underpaid intern for years before becoming licensed, and then to continue to work cheaply through the first few years of your professional career, computational rule-sets can accelerate the schematic and design development process, and autocodes and computational model checkers can enable quality control within a contract document phase model. This will help bring QA back into an internal process and not leave it to the contractor or owner.

Now, the profession will need to embrace and champion the role of quality control beyond inspection and seriously consider the responsibility to its younger design staff to redefine training.


Cliff Moser is a director for Facility Planning and Design, National Facilities Services, at Kaiser Permanente. He is the author of Architecture 3.0: The Disruptive Design Practice Handbook. He can be reached at cliff.moser@kp.org

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