Monday, August 28, 2006

Spitting Nails

I've been meaning to get with our HR manager at the architecture firm (I'll call it The Collaborative) to find out what company policy is on blogging. Not having yet done so, and pleading that where there is no law, there is no trespass, I reflect that unlike modern art and most forms of economics, architecture can't be done in a void. It takes clients and contractors and code officials. Sometimes they're what makes for great design and greater buildings. Other times, they're-- well, discretion forbids me saying just what.

Like now. We're doing a museum cum lecture hall renovation project for a certain non-profit, and we're well into working drawings. The concept, the design development-- all that was set months, if not years ago.

Until last Thursday, that is, when one of the members of the non-profit's renovation committee announced that she's worried that the seating required won't fit in the space available.

So at her behest, the non-profit's board agreed to meet at the site, to look at the space again and talk about "alternatives" with me and the project's principal architect. And why did I get the feeling that she's already concluded that "alternatives" will be needed?

The non-profit's people think we're meeting on Wednesday. I can't make it Wednesday; I've already e-mailed them all to that effect. And checking my supervisor's calendar, I see he can't, either. So what are they going to do? Meet without us, decide the design doesn't work, and expect us to donate the time to redo it at this late date?

The design does work. I stayed late this evening to do a mockup with some chairs in the office. Nothing to do about it now but wait till the principal sees the flurry of e-mails in his inbox tomorrow. Hopefully he'll exercise his authority and calm everyone down, or at least make it clear the inspection meeting has to be put off to a more opportune time.

Yes, this matter will likely turn out to be more a pastoral matter than an architectural one. Reassuring clients that all is well is a big part of design. Remember that, I tell myself: the time of teeth gritting will pass.

Besides, there are more formidable obstacles than those raised by anxious clients. There are all the latest nervous Nelly, nanny state code regulations hiding between the covers of various code books, just waiting to throw one's whole design into confusion over one little thing . . .

Yes, yes, we want people to be safe! It's an act of charity to want people to be safe! But when I get the feeling that certain regulations were passed to give an appearance of safety more than the reality of it, or when a client is made to spend thousands of dollars to meet an eventuality that may never occur in nine decades, it makes me want to spit nails.

But no, spitting nails probably isn't permitted under the prevailing building codes.

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