In 1997, I helped my parents design and build their home. Early in the construction process, I had suggested that the house be built 25 feet back from where we originally had it planned, and that the fireplace be moved to the back side of the living room. We had already put the stakes in the ground and were ready to start digging for the foundation, butnow we had to take the time to move them. Sarcastically, my mother said, "damn architects!"

The house was at one end of a mountain valley in the foothills of Northern Colroado, and at the other end of the valley was Horsetooth Mountain. During the Summer, they could watch the afternoon storms roll across the valley, and would often see heards of elk and deer roaming. The wildlife would practically dine with us, they were so close.

My Mother knew that I had heard that exclamation a lot. Unfortunately, it was (and still is) common to want to point a finger at another trade because a decision they made caused a major change in the overall design and construction. Typically, the root cause of this is a break in communication or lack of an integrated approach. In the case of my parents, we had been working together on design from when the thought of building a new home entered their minds. In fact, we worked together all through construction (my step-father was the builder), and the suggestion to move the house and fireplace came out of a group discussion about how to best take advantage of the view toward Horsetooth Mountain.

Starting the design process with the entire project team working together to make all the decisions can save a project, as well as the sanity and reputation of all those involved. The unfortunate thing is, many buildings are not created this way, and fingerpointing is the least of the problems. It's the homeowner or building owner that pays the price by not getting a building that performs the way they expected.

Our blog is full of posts about how project teams miss opportunities to make a building perform well. Some great examples of this explain where it's not a good idea to put certain light fixtures and duct work. These could have (and should have) been avoided if the project team had integrated their individual roles on the project to come up with a way to prevent failures or holes in the design. Serious home performance issues (e.g. infiltration and heat loss/gain), offensive aesthetic and functional problems (e.g. ductwork through an otherwise perfectly good closet), and major conflicts during the process are usually the result of a project that doesn't use an integrated approach.

Having every member of the project team on the same page and contributing to the design and construction process results in well thought out, comprehensive solutions that avoid compromising the design or performance integrity of the building. Plus, we can avoid having to work with all these "damn tradespeople!"

Tags: Architecture, Building, Design, Integrated, Science

Views: 437

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The most efficient and effective way to create an "integrated" design team is for one qualified master designer/builder to be the "team".

It requires someone familiar with all phases of design and construction, including mechanicals, to do this, but there are instances in which one brain is better than three.

This is the way I design all my homes, and I often do most if not all of the construction, from foundation to finish, including all mechanicals. My projects are 100% integrated, avoid scheduling conflicts, miscommunication, and trade interference, and are less costly than any comparable homes.

Very good, Robert! Becoming my own buidler, too, is where I'm headed. I enjoy the execution so much because it gives me the control of the end result. Too often my designs are not followed through, and it's out of my hands. It's a shame, too. The homeowners are the ones that suffer. They made a serious investment and commitment, and if it's only going to be ignored, than it's all for naught.

I teach at a school whose mission is Design/Build. It was started 30 years ago by architects who loved to build and thought that designers must know the construction process and vice versa. Unfortunately, since the school has always been dominated by architects, its focus is about 85% design and 15% build - but it was never intended to be a trade school.

I came from the other direction. I took a 3-week course at a similar school in Maine in 1982 that gave me a foundation in engineering, basic design, and state-of-the-art passive solar energy-efficient construction. Then I jumped right into the non-profit building sector, leading projects in the hollers of Tennessee and inner city Boston, and then a Mutual Self-Help building program in MA in which I supervised nine young first-time homeowners to build nine homes in one year.

I worked for ten years in construction, doing non-profit, working for other contractors, and contracting renovation projects before I began designing and building new super-insulated passive-solar homes. It took me another ten years to develop and perfect my building system and approach - a modified site-built truss wall, 12" thick filled with dense-pack cellulose, and often using rough-sawn, if not green, native lumber.

In the last ten years, I've been perfecting that system and modifying it to meet various code and trade requirements, and so that other builders can erect them elsewhere without going through my long learning curve.

I was also fortunate to have started in the non-profit world designing and installing residential electrical and plumbing systems in a jurisdiction which didn't require licensing in those trades, so that broadened my knowledge and experience base and helped me understand that a designer has to also consider where the mechanicals will go without undermining the integrity of the framing or the living space. 

So I wish you a good journey, but want to say that it takes time, patience, knowledge and experience to become a true master designer/builder - a species that is almost extinct in today's highly specialized world.

Some of my work and my building philosophy can be seen at my blog:

There are some good thoughts here and as an Architect with 40 years exp. . I handled the tools after I graduated and before I opened my own Practice, I need the hands exposure.  I agree that today most architrects have no clue, With Cad and Bim there is no thought process taking them thru the assembly of component parts.

But there are a few us around that can trace a duct run or a waste stack and make sure its where it supposed be and not running thru your living room.

You have to do your DUE DILIGENCE  and find the right one for you

I agree with Robert and Chris about having control from start to finish makes it easier to build a good home; however, the great majority of homes in this country are built by production builders with a large team of employees and with builders who employ subcontractors for all work.

The key is for a designer, builder or consultant to be knowledgeable and experienced to pull all trades and customers together, and keep the project moving from development to design to completion with all projected goals, which ever they may be.

All projects are different and you cannot apply the same rules for a single home built in rural America as you would to a thousand-home project in suburbia. The larger the project the higher the need for integrated design and good coordination.

Sometimes the problems are not with the architects... but with the trades.  Sorry guys  (and I'm not an architect).  But I've seen wires, ducts, and piping placed not where it was recorded on the drawings... but where it was convenient at the time that that particular trade was doing their job.  I suspect many of us can find floor joist cut off so that it was easier to run  a waste line...

The design build teams need to follow through the design and make sure the assorted (trades) build teams understand the design enough not to ignore the correct placement of air ducts.


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