Don’t Sack the Gardener

leggoI have not looked at a household bill in years. Electricity, water, telephone, groceries etc are things which do not interest me. i spent my working day staring at damn Excel, arguing with subcontractors about variations, and with bean counters quizzing my costs. So all expenditure on the home front is managed by my darling wife. Ask me how much is a 200mm post tensioned slab per square metre and I will rattle it off. But ask me what we pay for cable tv and I don’t have a clue.

Yesterday evening my whist relaxing on the back deck after work, my wife suggested we sack the elderly gent who has been tending to the garden for the last ten years. She had been listening to the doom and gloom on the tv regarding ever increasing insurances, utility bills and the like. Even with my deft application of minimal encouragements I became drawn into the conversation. Based on the facts that I don’t own a garden shed, let alone a lawn mower, and the only items in the garage are cars, hell will freeze over before I start maintaining gardens, the pool and hedges. So the gardner has a reprieve.

But this made me think about what we decide to cut first in construction budgets. Of course it is the landscaping on the project. The majority of new apartment buildings are pretty boring. Leggo architecture, withe a few embellishments, an entry statement, and give an oxymoronic italian name. The Palazzo, the Paloma, they could be called Lambretta or Vespa, anything to make them sound better than they look. Then at the end of construction the landscape team move in. The budget has been slashed along with the height of the trees and number of plants. The landscape architects vision at the concept stage is now a nightmarish reality.

So it appears the household budget cuts are mirrored in commercial construction. I say leave the landscape design alone and keep lawnmowers away from my garage.


Consultants and their “Visions”

Sometimes trying to control consultants on a design and construct project is similar to catching a runaway horse. That is if you come to the project after the design process has begun. What is this “vision” that architects wax eloquently on about. Forget the vision for a moment; just consider how many dollars we have to deliver what is in the client brief. Why, all of a sudden, do embellishments appear on the drawings before they are at “for construction issue”?

We refer to this as “design creep”. Utter nonsense. It is lack of design control and has to be nipped in the bud. What happens is that the drawings through the design phase are issued to the project team and then they are pored over, red pen at the ready, to check that the consultants have not added anything which is either incorrect or not required. The more “prestigious” the consultant the more likely for this to occur. It could be argued that the cost of design creep is proportional to the size of the consultant’s (usually the architect’s) ego. If I hear the words vision, statement or landmark one more time at a design meeting, I may start taking a Taser to the meeting instead of the red pen.

Of course they consider me a philistine or a dumb builder, but we have deliver projects that satisfy various parameters including the client’s brief, various approvals and my budget. Some consultants, people who we hire to provide a service, just don’t get it.

So how do we deal with this problem? It is easy if you are there from the initial discussions. It is called control. However, the onsite construction team do not get involved until the design train is hurtling down the track heading for derailment. Then you give our consultant friends a reality check and guess what they don’t like it. No more latte style nebulous meetings, we are now down to brass tacks. If we are trying to design down to a budget and the consultant team have been previously chasing visions, it is going to end in tears before bedtime. You become the hardnosed school teacher with a class full of recalcitrant children. I usually revert to the simplest method of reining in the runaway horse. Dollars. When it is pointed out that these embellishments, visions etc. are going to hurt the budget, simply deduct monies from the consultancy agreement for wasted time. That is the time the project team spends with the red pen and the abortive time the consultants have spent producing spurious design.

If the bricklayer uses the wrong bricks do we pay him because he thought they would look better? We do not but yet we are prepared to pay for consultants to fix up what they should not have done in the first place.

Consultants need clear direction, strong management and as soon as they veer away from the brief jump on them from a great height. They won’t like it – but it is not their budget.