You see, that is where it looks un-real on the computer screen compared with the real life situation. But one of the many benefits of working within Zoe was that you got to understand some of both. It is getting harder and harder to do that in the kinds of companies we are creating today, in any industry. People are becoming more and more disconnected from the reality of what they are producing or designing. I grew up on a farm where we reared livestock, but even there you have a complete supply chain outside of that. With supermarkets having access to produce from all over the globe if they choose to change supplier.
I noticed one of the lads at head office moving the steel components around his computer screen, which is a different matter entirely I guess, and a lot safer. There were all kinds of options being played around with, of how to re-use columns and make whatever final, final plan LC would settle upon work. As always, the main directors simply got on with it. They were used to it, and considered it almost a matter of course. One of them said, change is the only constant here. But I know a couple of hardened engineers who were new to the company, and reckoned they had 'seen it all' were quite shook when they had to moving those large steel components around their screens, to accomodate some sort of new plan. I think it was to do with putting the ice rink or basket ball court on the roof. That was a last minute brain wave Liam apparently got when he was in Smithfield one evening before xmas 07.
No one really believes that Liam was capable of adjusting or changing the plan at the very last moment, until they work on his projects and it happens to them. Then they tend to believe it. Everyday contracts tend to have a sum they call a contingency sum, in case you burst a utility main or whatever. So that the whole contract will not have to be re-drawn in the middle of construction, it can keep going smoothly. Having the contingency sum in the contract is a good practice I think, but there will always be debate over what amount it should be. Architects will want to keep it as small as possible and free up more of the budget for the things that they like.
In the case of Danninger, we didn't worry because there wasn't any formal 'contract' between designer, contractor and client. Liam rubbed all of that out, and decided to treat the contract as one very large contingency sum instead. Not one single Zoe project escaped without at least one major change in mid-construction, that involved demolish of some kind. There was no blame thrown about as in normal construction projects, it was simply a normal part of doing business. Liam did make one visit to Tralee hotel, and boy, did the plan really change there. Liam took one step inside what was intended to be the hotel foyer and went, no, this is all wrong, we have to change it all. The hotel was practically complete. Of course, the revised scheme did work better too. But it is kind of hard for people down the line to accept.
There was a scene in Beverley Hill's cop where Axel Foley drives up to a construction project and tells a group of contractors the plan has changed. That everyone needs to stop working, give yourself a good round of applause and take the rest of the day off. That might help people visualize what I mean. But as I commented elsewhere, the guys who worked with Zoe for a decade or more had factored all of this into how they approach design. They were extremely careful not to pour anything into concrete which could be a future pain in the backside, where changes were concerned. Lateral thinking was always exercised to the full, and it was believed inside the company that nothing was insurmountable. There is always an answer if one is willing to look hard enough to find it. I have never met people in my live so positive as to their ability to solve problems of all kinds. That was the refreshing part about the culture.
It is the polar opposite to the typical architect approach who arrives on site and has a contempt for construction and builders. For instance, the architect who makes a contractor re-tile a bathroom 3 no. times, because the lines of the grouting joints are not perfectly millimeter perfect or something like that. Architects who do not understand real world building tolerances, design difficulties and therefore add enormous expense into their designs. With Zoe, they were sometimes quite clever. They understood the parameters on site of real men working with bits of lazer sights or whatever, trying to plumb something up, and tried as much as possible not to design situations where dead accuracy in X, Y and Z was required.
For instance, in certain bathroom tiling situations, where the architect wants three planes of tilework to meet perfectly at a corner. It is very difficult to do that, as the slightest bit out on any of the planes and you have to start again. Why not avoid that and not design in the problem to begin with. We had an external consultant architect at Tallaght Cross who came up with an idea of a cladding system, that all had to work with pin point accuracy and tolerance over 5-6 floors, and meet at all kinds of corners etc, where everything in all 3 no. X, Y, Z planes had to match perfectly.
Not that the particular architect understood remotely even, the difficulty and extra expense they had designed into the project. He or she still doesn't know, even though he or she has stood in front of the finished project and taken photographs. I have a few photos myself somewhere of the extra ordinary detail and trouble Danninger had to go to at Tallaght in order to make it work at all. They basically had to 'loose hang' the entire facade, before bolting everything firmly into place. It is like when you are screwing back the four bolts of a lid on something. If you don't loosely screw the bolts initially it never quite fits right.
Try doing that in a situation where scaffolding and the Lord knows what interupts your line of sight. It looks fine in the computer generated visualisation. But the trouble is, and where the costs spiral out of this world, is where the design looking at and approving the computer generated visualisation has never even tiled his own bathroom. Therefore he or she doesn't understand the difficulty they are designing into the construction (in addition to all kinds of health and safety obstacles to surmount also). One of the architects at Zoe, the best I ever worked with said that to me: Try to tile your own bathroom some time, and then come back and talk to me. This should be a mandatory exercise for all architects going through architecture school. They could be asked to conceive of a design on their computers or drawing board and do the tile work themselves using real materials. I am sorry I never went through the exercise myself.
I guess, money can buy you that kind of perfection. But one shouldn't have to, that is the point. One shouldn't have to. Builders for too long, have been attempting courageously to make architect's designs work. It needs to work the other way for a while. Architects need to think and re-evaluate this carefully today. We could divert away more money into energy conservation and on-site renewable energy generation, if the budget wasn't consumed by poorly thought out construction and cladding designs. That is how you get to a low carbon city. I mean, if you are having to spend this much bother trying to make the cladding system work at all, then there is no way there will time available during the build for added extras like good insulation and air tightness quality control.
You are fighting a losing battle to make the whole thing work to begin with. Architects need to back away from the edge of what is technologically feasible, in order to leave some slack which can be taken up by eco-friendly construction performance. Until architects know their construction somewhat better, we will not be contributing anything to combat climate change. When you go to architecture school, you are usually told by your professors that anything you design, someone out there can build it. Which is basically true, but it doesn't say anything about expense to one's client. Remember, the architect is never spending their own money, but someone elses. In the case of Liam Carroll he made a lot of changes, but it was his own money he was spending. Which is fine for the most part, but he took that away too far at Limerick Parkway.
Brian O' Hanlon