Grenfell Tower, a UK public housing project that caught fire recently, was a true disaster that is most likely directly attributable to incompatible design specifications and implementation by established architecture, engineering and construction professionals.  I’ve been holding off publishing much about the event until there is more consensus from the forensic experts regarding root cause, but I felt this was worth sharing in the meantime.

Peter Murray, writing for Archinect, offered his take following a talk by the CEO of a UK housing developer discussing the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster. Specifically, Murray focuses on the UK (and, it should be noted, US) practice of relying on subcontractors to transfer away risk. The title of his article: “The return of the master builder?”

In the coming months and years there will be numerous inquiries into the cause of the fire and its effect. There will be investigations to ascertain blame – corporate, personal and institutional. All to ensure that nothing similar happens again. While the results of forensic analysis and judicial process will potentially take years to publish, it is appropriate that attention is paid to key concerns that have emerged in the immediate aftermath. The testing of cladding materials and their context is the most publicised of these, but the issues highlighted by Vlessing have subsequently been picked up by many professionals and by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The institute’s recent statement points out that current building procurement methods mean that the lead designer (architect or engineer) is frequently not responsible throughout the project for the design and the specification of materials or the inspection of their installation. The RIBA also commented on the disappearance of the clerk of works who would traditionally inspect the work of contractors and report non-compliance to the client.

Architects have argued for some time that not having the authority to insist on specific products being used in design build contracts allows contractors to change specifications to cheaper materials, without understanding the knock-on effect. In some cases architects are discouraged from going to site, but when they do manage to influence the process they are often seen as adding cost. Which of course is frequently the case if they are stopping the contractor from using the less expensive and possibly inappropriate spec.

[…]

As the construction industry discusses the aftermath of Grenfell and the changes that need to take place in the procurement of buildings it should ensure that there is greater consistency of quality control throughout the process. In the era of BIM, VR, MMC and an industry that is committed to collaboration, perhaps we should look again at the master builder role that Fosters carried out in Hong Kong. The idea of the architect as master builder was described by Paul Morrell when he was Government Construction Advisor as a’role that many still romantically profess an ambition for’. But however romantic it may be and whether it is an architect or other professional, the industry which has discussed collaboration for so long but has ended up with buck passing, needs a new mechanism for delivering a fully integrated end product.

 

Agile (with a capital “A”) project management is a set of practices for moving complex projects along as efficiently as possible, with the primary goal of meeting customer needs through continuous innovation.

It is also a practice I’ve used on multiple occasions in a variety of contexts, and I’ll be honest — there is a reason the folks in software development swear by Agile for actually getting things done: It works. (more…)

Quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Having been involved in evaluating quality at more than 10,000 building units over the past two decades, the definition of the word quality is something I’ve spent many, many hours contemplating.

When it comes to quality in the marketing world, and particularly in writing about marketing, Seth Godin is unparalleled. His books have arguably influenced as many professional marketers as the legendary David Ogilvy — the inspiration for Don Draper’s character in Mad Men.

So it should be no surprise that when Godin’s post about Quality came across my feed reader this morning, I couldn’t click fast enough. He opens with the following:

There are at least three ways we use the word ‘quality’ at work:

Quality as defined by Deming and Crosby: Meeting spec.

This first application of the word quality is the one most relevant to the built environment. Did the completed work meet the requirements and specifications established by law, code, industry standard of care, or contractual agreement?

Another interpretation of quality:

Quality as defined by Ralph Lauren or Tiffany: The quality of deluxeness.

Yet another interpretation:

And finally, there’s the quality of right effort, of “I did my best,” of the sweat and vulnerability that happens when a human has given it her all.

In the end, Godin reaches the same conclusion that myself and others have come to when contemplating the meaning of quality: Before you can evaluate quality, you have to first define the applicable criteria for quality.

In other words, what does “done” look like? How do we know if we did it right? Or as Godin says, “what sort of quality are we seeking here?”

Marriott is going modular in a major way. By prefabricating portions of hotels off-site in controlled environments, and then assembling the modular components, the hotel chain sees numerous advantages. With one prefab modular hotel already operational, the company is now planning to pursue the process on up to 50 more.

Clayton Moore, of Digital Tends, has more:

“As construction costs are at a peak, it’s a real challenge to find good, qualified subcontractors based on the general building boom that is happening throughout the United States,” explained Jacobs. “We ‘re on pace to approve another 400 to 450 hotels this year and we think we can influence ten percent of those projects with modular construction. If we can cut four to six months off of a typical development timeline of 12 to 14 months, that’s a significant savings for our owners.”

Jacobs explained that the package that arrives at a build site contains two fully finished rooms and a finished hallway, as well as all the accouterments one ordinarily finds in a hotel room. Subcontractors on site then finish the electrical and plumbing connections.

“From a staging perspective, our waste goes from four to six percent down to two or three percent,” Jacobs said. “The big takeaway from this process is that we can completely control the quality of the product. Much like the industrial assembly lines used in other sectors, we can identify quality issues right as the rooms come off the assembly line, and find solutions before they ever get shipped to the site. It’s a pretty impactful way to produce a furnished building at the end of the day.”

Here’s a time-lapse video of the construction — perhaps “assembly” is a more accurate term — of the Pullman Courtyard Marriott:

Jennifer Hermes, writing for Environmental Leader:

Risk management professionals should be leading the charge to help their companies understand how disruptive technologies will affect business strategies and operations – and those risk managers who don’t lead the way will be relegated to a support role, according to the new 2017 Excellence in Risk Management (PDF) report. Disruptive technologies as defined in the report – for example, telematics, sensors, smart buildings and the Internet of Things – are those that either purposefully displace existing products or that introduce groundbreaking ways of doing business. The report, created by Marsh & McLennan Companies in partnership with Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS), suggests that risk managers may be focusing, to their detriment, on current rather than emerging risk.

Companies that integrate such technologies early on are generally able to stay ahead of their competitors, but they also face a significant challenge: while innovation allows companies to keep their business models fresh, it also disrupts an organization, making risks more complex. Risk management professionals need to adopt a proactive approach to these technologies, understand the risks and rewards, and educate executives on how those risks and rewards will impact business strategies, the report suggests.

What are some ways to approach risk in a more proactive manner? Excellence in Risk Management states the following:

  • Engage key stakeholders, from senior leaders to operations employees and even suppliers, in looking at risk and bringing their insights to the decision-making process;
  • Invest in the use of data, analytics and technology;
  • Educate about risk management across the organization;
  • Integrate risk management into strategic planning.

Quantum mechanics, at first glance, seems like it has nothing in common with human behavior. But what if human behavior was actually influenced by quantum mechanics?

One of the most mind-blowing experiments I recall learning about in my advanced physics classes is the famous double-slit experiment. Without getting too deep in the weeds of quantum physics, the experiment basically demonstrates that a particle behaves one way when there is an observer, yet behaves completely differently when not actively observed. In other words, whether or not someone is observing the experiment directly impacts the outcome of the experiment.

If particles behave differently when being observed, what about living, breathing human beings? Does quality of human work product improve or decline when workers know they are being watched? (more…)

Housing shortages abound throughout the modern world, and in the UK, the situation is not much different than here in the US. Also not much different: substantial claims of defective construction due to cut corners in an effort to meet demand.

In fact, the country’s National House Building Council, which provides 10-year warranties covering most newly constructed homes, reportedly paid out £90-million (US$110,852,100) to homeowners in 2015-2016. According to the Guardian, this is nearly triple the amount paid to resolve claims from a decade before. Here’s more on the story:

This week the Guardian reported that Bovis is set to award people who live in some of its newbuild homes a total of £7m in compensation, in response to claims that houses have faulty plumbing or wiring, missing insulation, and other serious defects. Some people say they were offered money to move into homes that have not been completed. When the news broke, the Bovis share price fell by 10%, wiping £100m off its stock market value.

This is just one part of a bigger story of complaints about Britain’s construction giants – and what happens when the rush to build leads to corners being cut and houses left either unfinished or deeply defective. On social media there are hundreds-strong groups telling their personal stories: “The toilet leaked into the living room and when my plumber came to fix it he found the toilet had not been installed correctly”; “having my kitchen ripped out for the second time”; “no insulation in roof”; “mould growing all over the house … too dangerous too live in as I have asthma”.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on to build as many new homes as possible. Even if it is behind on its targets, the government still wants a million to have been put up by 2020. The year 2015 saw a big jump in completed builds: 142,890 homes were finished, a 20% year-on-year increase. Last year the number was put at more than 150,000.

Part of the magic that separates Apple from being just another consumer technology manufacturer is the relentless pursuit of perfection. Steve Jobs famously describes lessons imparted from his adoptive father imploring him to make the unseen components of a product just as beautiful and carefully executed as those that are plainly visible.

Jobs’ final product, possibly his magnum opus dedicated to the company he loved so dearly, is in fact the Apple Campus 2 project, otherwise known as the “spaceship.”

The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes does a recap of a more in-depth article by Reuters pointing out the following nuggets:

One particular highlight of the report is Apple demanding that doorways be perfectly flat, with no subtle bump between the outside and inside of the building. A construction manager told Reuters that “months” were spent debating this, because they’d have to spend time and money figuring out a way to accomplish it. Apple reportedly wouldn’t give in because it worried that “if engineers had to adjust their gait while entering the building, they risked distraction from their work.”

But wait, there’s more!

  • No vents or pipes could be reflected in the building’s glass exterior
  • There are 30 pages of guidelines on how to use wood
  • Apple inspected “thousands of ceiling panels” to ensure they were “immaculate inside and out”
  • Debate over what doorknobs should look like went on for over a year and a half

Happy Friday, everyone! Today’s treat is a neat video that a builder made during the construction of his brother’s home.

The way he made this video is actually really cool. By programming a route for the drone, and then flying that exact route every day, Youtube user ChuckPPhotography then edited the video from around 32 to 34 of the passes together. The end result makes it look as if the entire home was constructed during a single pass of the drone.

My team and I have been working on something similar for our clients.

Check out the video below: