Mar4Building Projects are like Italian Cooking. As an Italian American (I am pure-bred 100% Italian, which I am finding more of a rarity), I think my family would agree that I am an excellent cook. I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen as often as I can. My husband thinks it is my goal in life to use every pot and pan in the house to accomplish a simple dinner (maybe because I make him do the dishes…). However, I have never been very good at baking…my most infamous “epic fail” was a zucchini bread that ended up only an inch thick with a gray (yes, gray) layer in the middle. There is a reason I am not a good baker. Most of the “recipes” I have learned over the years, I learned from my Italian mom and grandmother. And none of the recipes were actually written down. First, you start with olive oil (which is how almost every Italian recipe starts…) and add a little of this and a little of that, until it tastes “right.” Never a measured amount of anything…with no recipes, I am still trying to re-create my grandmother’s meatballs…I can still “taste” them in my mind, but have yet to perfect the ratios of all of the ingredients. But that is a story for another time…
Baking requires exact measurements. Even weighed amounts at times. It depends upon the humidity in the room…the time-tested recipes…the exact temperature of the oven. It’s an exact science to get the perfect cakes, breads, and deliciousness.
Architecture and construction, though it may seem like an exact science, has so many moving parts…literally and figuratively…that even though there is always a “recipe” (construction documents and specifications), there is almost always a bit of “a little of this and a little of that” to get the job done on time and on budget. There is never a set of “perfect” construction documents that I have ever seen.
A construction site is not a controlled laboratory with specific conditions. Architecture, like cooking, is an imperfect science. The weather and environment have a lot to do with the process. If it’s too hot or too cold, it affects the concrete and masonry work, materials get wet, and metals contract and expand and adjustments need to be made. And though, as architects, we try and think of every possible scenario for different building conditions, there is always something that needs resolution in the field due to some outstanding circumstance.
The best architects and contractors know how to think on their feet, and know who to call to resolve issues as they come up, making sure to take into consideration all the ramifications of changes that are made. On the construction site, a Contractor discovers an issue, contacts the architect; the architect, in turn, researches a new material or detail, checks with her structural engineer and the Owner and everyone works in concert to solve the problem.
It’s a team effort, just like in an Italian kitchen. Grandma stirring the sauce and adding spices needed, Grandpa boiling his homemade fettuccini, mom throwing together a salad, dad getting the wine, grandkids rolling meatballs or fresh gnocchi, all in a perfect cacophony of very loud conversation, clanging pots and pans, and a huge mess. Maybe it’s from this culture of craziness that I have always felt comfortable visiting a noisy, muddy construction site…Hungry yet?