I grew up around the construction industry. Visiting job sites with the Boy Scouts and spending time around my family’s construction company’s warehouse as a child are some of my favorite memories. However, I wanted to be different. My mother has a passion for art and design that I fortunately inherited while my father works in construction. Growing up, I knew there had to be a career that married my interest in construction with my passion for art; architecture.
After two years as an undergraduate I decided that a traditional architecture career was something that did not meet my need for hands on method of design. My father and I discussed a method of project delivery called design-build. After researching the topic, I quickly signed up for a few construction management courses, which helped my understanding of the construction industry. Also, I enrolled in an independent study revolving around renovating a facility in downtown Muncie. The second semester of my senior year I was in luck. A project was being offered to students to design and build a ‘Playscape’ for a neighborhood in Indianapolis. The five thousand dollar budget seemed like a lot at the time. However, we quickly realized size limitations with our choice of materials. The project was thought provoking because a portion of the neighborhood had no desire for children to use the park, and instead wanted the whole area for themselves without children. This eliminated the option of a traditional playground with swings and a slide. Instead a series of platforms with key features was designed, approved, and built. These experiences led me to search for a graduate school program that expands upon the idea of design-build.
The single most important lesson I have learned from these programs in my undergraduate career, looking back during my final year of graduate school, has to be that design is on-going, even during construction. Design does not stop until construction is complete. This notion can be taken advantage of in a design-build situation to maximize efficiency. Sometimes you find a better method in the field than originally drawn in the documents. I had the privilege to work on a few special case projects that demonstrate that principle, one being a ‘fast track’ project with two components, a pre-engineered metal building (PEMB) and a stick built structure. The PEMB had broken ground and begun construction before the construction documents were even complete for this project.
Knowing firsthand how building systems come together is paramount to the understanding of this profession. There is a dramatic difference between drawing a detail for a set of construction documents and putting it together in the field. It makes you think critically when moving forward with the next project. Having those experiences on a construction site alter and improve your consideration for all aspects and phases of design. It has made me more aware of my design decisions that have an impact on schedule and budget.
There is also an added benefit of understanding a different perspective. Often as design professionals we hear the word contractor and moan while they do the same thing when they hear the word architect. The design-build delivery method allows those tensions to dissipate because unlike a typical design arrangement, all entities and firms, on both the architectural side and construction side are involved from the inception of the project. The client ultimately receives a better product as a result of proactive collaboration between the architect, contractor, and owner. Even when the design and construction is handled by two separate entities, this process is beneficial. There is a mutual understanding from day one that contractor and architect will work together to achieve a better product.
Design and construction both hold a very important place in my life. I am thankful for the opportunity to join my two passions into a career and hope that others will see the merit in enrolling in design-build courses while in college.
Max Wurster is an Architectural intern with Cripe. He studies Architecture at the University of Kansas with a focus on design-build and will be in his final year of graduate school in the fall.