Written By : Rod Newton, June 2006
“near enough is not good enough”
The aim of this paper is to highlight the obvious decline in the standard of Architectural drafting & explore some ways in which Woodhead’s can lead the industry in improving this aspect of their technical culture.
- The Education Process (tertiary & secondary).
- Social Attitudes (responsibility, pride & ownership).
- Staff Satisfaction (reward, recognition, involvement & retention).
- Workplace Pressure (deadlines, delegation, CAD / IT).
- Management Support (organization, awareness, resource planning).
- Training, Mentoring, Knowledge Sharing.
The Education System
The current education system (primary, secondary & tertiary) is building egos, accentuating freedom & individual rights and is encouraging students to question everything that is taught, or indeed accepted practice in our society. More often than not history has evolved established standards & procedures based on sound reasoning – respect & acceptance of this have been eroded. This process of rejection before acceptance is leading to the undermining of professional standards built on experience, evaluation and testing. The result in Architecture in particular, is that valued, experienced professional technical staff are not a) recognized by younger peers, b) rewarded for their ability, c) retained and d) very frustrated. We are producing newer generations of graduates many of whom are disrespectful, impatient, egotistical, ambitious & intolerant. This is apparent within all aspects of life, not just in Architecture. Today’s generations are more intent on the quick path to success and often without the grounding needed in learning the basic building blocks of life. This is very apparent in our realm of technical (in)competency at the coal face of Architecture – i.e. drafting / document production. Over many years of contracting I have often encountered young graduate Architects who so often refuse to recognize that being an Architect must also involve being a draftsperson as well. Indeed, a demeaning attitude towards drafting & production duties is common with an obvious undeserved display of arrogance on display. Somehow we must return to basics and develop, train & mentor lost basic skills of technical production. We are producing too many graduates who want to play designer but cannot / will not understand the technical requirements of practical, buildable design.
Designer or Drafter
Manual technical drawing skills are not emphasized at tertiary level and a worrying trend is now emerging with the proliferation of CAD documentation. This is that software development / commercial edge is now pushing students & younger technical staff into thinking in terms of parametric building models & construction elements at the expense of basic 2 dimensional graphic presentation skills. 3 dimensional parametric modeling is not necessarily within the capabilities of all documentation (drafting) technicians. The delineation between designers and drafters is becoming very unclear – either the technical drafter must become a designer as well, or the design Architect must become a draftsperson also! Skills are now stretched thinly across areas which were once handled by specialists in our profession.
The extensive deployment of CAD workstations / technicians has lead to an insular & non-communicative workplace where CAD staff are less social, more isolated and more protective of their developed skill base – staff do not want to share technical knowledge that gives them their competitive edge. Knowledge sharing is disappearing, stress is obvious and professional burnout is common (where are the experienced technical staff in Architecture? – burnt out, frustrated & turning to other workplaces). CAD work is intensive, mentally demanding and very tiring and staff are not seeking answers nor are they admitting when they don’t have answers for fear of losing a perceived edge (see reference to education above). Finally, staff are expected to upgrade their skill base more & more frequently to cope with software development – this is forcing them to regularly give up a highly developed marketplace advantage only to start again. This is immensely stressful and usually does not lead to any real career development or monetary gain, only retention of a job – result: job dissatisfaction, loss of motivation & burnout.
The manual drafting process was an open & visible process whereby knowledge & ideas were shared on the desktop. It was also an exercise in commitment & responsibility – when pen was put to paper a considered thought process resulted in a commitment to semi-permanency on paper (there was no “undo” button). Also encompassing this process was an obvious visual connection with the final graphic product – this is where CAD technology is letting us down. It is now too easy to press buttons and draw anything on the right layers, colours etc, but the intuitive thought process & connection with the final output / result is not there.
The practice of gaining essential construction knowledge through site experience and relationships with builders is becoming less common. Time & resources allocation, management support and a perceived barrier between trades & professionals are some things that are prohibiting this. This experience is crucial to the development of sound, practical documentation skills and needs to be encouraged & become part of Woodhead’s technical culture.
Where to Now?
The keys to re-building and targeting industry best practice in the production of quality documentation are:
- Mentoring / Education / Training
- Management support
- Recruitment / staff retention / incentive
Woodhead’s must build a reputation for staff recognition & reward, development & retention and an organized structure of technical support / standardization. Some ideas relevant to achieving this could involve:
- Build alliances / promote scholarships with tertiary institutions
- Develop specific aptitude testing for candidates.
- Standardize a technical staff induction process (underway).
- Audit & structure a better CAD / technical support network.
- Selected tailored training for all technical staff (& management).
- Consult with building companies on more practical documentation solutions.
- Develop a think tank group with other like minded Architectural companies
- Build a core team of mentors (with resource allocation) to task force in-house tutoring.
- Utilize external consultants to “train the trainers” and manage the technology.
- Provide incentives to retain quality staff (monetary, social, personal development, empowerment etc.)
To become an organized, progressive & supportive national Architectural practice, which is recognized as an industry leader in technical documentation, Woodhead International needs to:
- Understand the decline, generally, in the standard of Architectural documentation.
- Seriously support what is needed to bring about technical development.
- Communicate this to staff / build enthusiasm & optimism for change.
Rod Newton, the author of this study paper is the National Documentation Manager of Woodhead International, a leading architectural and design consultancy in Australia and Asia.