One of the most useful exercises that any young architect can partake in is to visit construction sites as often as possible. It is one thing to sit in an office all day designing and drafting up construction details and another thing altogether to spend time on a job site seeing how things actually get built.
I have a few projects I have been working on but recently my attention has been focused on a particular residential project. I first introduced this project at the end of last year (The Next modern Project) but like all construction projects, getting out of the ground seemingly takes the longest amount of time. Drilling piers and pouring foundation walls is not particularly exciting but they are an extremely important part of the process – if something gets missed at this point of construction, by the time you realize it the consequences could prove to be most disappointing. Getting out to the job site as a young architect is valuable for the simple reason that you get to look at how certain decisions made in the office manifest themselves on site … but I’ll get to my example a little bit later.
Since this initial phase of construction moves so slowly, I haven’t been going out to the job site with the frequency I will at later phases. All the same, making sure things are in the right place now will save some headaches down the road. In the picture above, one of the concrete workers is walking along the top of an elevated grade beam, making sure that there hasn’t been any locations where the concrete has busted out of the formwork.
I like to think that when I am on a job site, I know my way around, understand what I am looking at, and don’t create problems for the people who are working on site. In the process of taking these record photos, one moment I am focusing in on some formwork detail … and the next minute I am face down in the dirt, fallen into the “Canyon of Death.” Once I was through falling, my first reaction was “is my camera damaged?” follow a millisecond later by “I wonder how many contractor types are laughing at the architect right now?” To my utter amazement and surprise, despite there being no less than 20 people on site, not one single person saw me fall down. Some might have heard what they thought was the shriek of a small little fancy girl but if they looked around, they couldn’t see me.
This project has some tall grade beams – this is a look along the top of one of the grade beams. The 2×4’s nailed across the top are just in place to keep the concrete beam from exerting too much pressure and blowing out (causing to fail) the formwork.
This is a look towards the interior of the house. You can see the plywood formwork that defines the perimeter of the project and the concrete tubes that are used to create the piers on the interior.
This is will eventually become the pool pavilion – a concrete slab will get poured here. The city had not been by yet to inspect the rebar so the contractor has been unable to pour the slab. What you see here is the rebar (metal rods) and the 10mil thick vapor barrier which gets placed under the concrete slab . The spaces between the areas covered in the vapor barrier will be grade beams.
Here is another look at the slab area for the pool pavilion. The white pipes you see in this photo are where plumbing will get installed. One is a conduit and the other is a drain line for the sink.
This is a close-up look at what we call a “leave out.” In the slab there are recessed light fixtures and these cardboard tubes are in the place where the fixtures will eventually get installed but during the concrete our, they prevent the concrete from going into those locations – hence the name “leave out.”
Here is a look at another sort of leave out … in the concrete mass (which happens to be the location where two fireplaces will get installed) there is a rectangular gap missing in the concrete. This is a leave out, also known in this instance as a “beam pocket.” It is just what it sounds like – a place for the floor beam to get supported.
Another look at a beam pocket from above.
One of the exciting features about this house are the three cantilevered rooms that hang off the rear of the building. Here is a section through the SketchUp model I made at one of the cantilevers.
These cantilevers are supported by a steel frame structure – as seen above. They are basically glass boxes which hang over the edge of the grade beam but the final result should visually be pretty exciting.
A look at one of the steel fabricators welding the structure in place.
Just the perimeter cantilevers have steel framing, the interior is still traditional wood framing. Since we are in Texas (where it gets hot) we will need to provide air conditioning out at the perimeter edge of these boxes. In order to get ductwork out to the edge, we had to thicken up the floor a bit. We still want the floor of the box to appear as thin as possible so we tapered the edge of the floor joists as they continued out to the edge.
Here is a picture looking up at the corner of one of the cantilevered rooms and the tapered floor joists.
The other things that are moving on at this point is that the plumbing is getting roughed in and the HVAC at the lower level is started to get installed. It is really important to get these items located properly at this point – especially so for a modern house like this one. You know how the air register should be centered exactly in the middle of some wall? When there is no wall built yet to locate the grill, this can be a difficult process – having well dimensioned drawings at this point is critical for this sort of reason.
I included this picture so you could see the termite shielding that is in place around the entire house. See that bit of silver metal in the picture above? Somehow it’s suppose to stop the bugs from crawling up the wall and eating into the piece of wood that is sitting on top of the concrete.
As an architect, whenever you see a cluster of pipes all grouped together, popping up in a bunch of different locations “sorta” close to one another, it’s always a red flag to go check out. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong, but when the convenience level for the guys who installed it goes down, the likelihood that someone took the easy path rather than the proper path goes up.
In our case, I discovered the clean outs for two sinks in the kitchen. Normally not a big deal, they are required my code to exist but in this case, these two clean outs – if installed in this location – would be right by the front door and would be poking through large cut limestone slabs. I asked the contractor about them and he said they were already working on where to move them (and in the case of this particular contractor I believe him). This is the photo that supports the point I was starting to introduce at the beginning of the post. If you never get out to the job site, you can’t possibly know all the things that you see going on at the project. IF you rarely get out there, you wouldn’t necessarily even know what you are looking at (and if you are an architect and you are going to tell me that you draw in the locations for your plumbing clean outs I am going to call BS on you).
If you are a younger architect, get out to the job site even if it means going by yourself on your lunch break. I promise you will be a better architect for having taken the time and made the effort. If you are a boss-type person, let your employees out of the pen from time to time and get them on the job site. It’s a win-win situation.