Category Archives: TECHNICAL

The Importance of Project Closeout

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

As a typical construction project nears completion, the project team is usually inundated with many last minute issues that threaten to derail the completion of the project.  Often, the team has to commit so many resources towards meeting the deadline, that the administrative elements of project closeout may be neglected.  I will review the basics of project closeout, and their importance to the project in terms of mitigating risk and ensuring smooth operation of the facility.

  • Substantial Completion – The term ‘Substantial Completion’ generally implies that a project is sufficiently complete that an Owner can occupy or utilize the work for its intended use.  However, substantial completion is typically a specifically defined contract term that requires numerous conditions be met.  A typical AIA contract stipulates that the Architect will prepare a Certificate of Substantial Completion (AIA G704) that:
    • Establishes the date of Substantial Completion
    • Establishes the responsibilities of the Owner and GC for security, maintenance, utilities, damage to the work and insurance.
    • Fix the time that the GC has to finish all remaining items on a punch list accompanying the certificate.
    • Establishes the commencement of Warranties.
    • Must be accepted by the Owner and GC in writing, and upon acceptance, the Owner is to pay retainage applying to such work (adjusting for work that is incomplete).
  • Final Completion – Again, more so than meaning that the obligations of the contract have been fully performed, there are specific responsibilities established for this critical step in most construction contracts (always refer to your construction contract for specifics).  A typical AIA A201 requires:
    •  The GC to request final inspection in writing
    •  The GC to prepare final Application for Payment
    •  Architect to make inspection and issue final Certificate of Payment
    •  Neither final payment nor retained percentage shall become due until GC         submits:
      • Affidavit that payrolls and other indebtedness have been paid.
      • A certificate evidencing that insurance is in effect.
      • A written statement that the GC knows of no reason that the insurance will not be renewable.
      • Consent of surety.
      • Releases of waivers and liens.
  • Notice of Completion– While not a typical element of a construction contract, a Notice of Completion is an important tool for the Owner to mitigate risk.  In California, a Notice of Completion:
    •  Is to be recorded in the office of the county recorder within 10 days of final         completion.
    • Limits timeframe for a Mechanic’s Lien to be filed to 60 days for prime contractors and 30 days for subcontractors.

We should all endeavor to adhere to closeout procedures carefully to ensure that conditions of the contract are met.  The AIA has a series of free best practices articles on their website.  Their article on the topic has additional suggestions and anecdotes regarding this very important step in the project life cycle:  AIA – Planning for Effective Project Closeout


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Things are Heating Up

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

Yes, the June gloom is officially gone as Southern California enters our true summer of extensive sunshine and hot temperatures.  Of course (especially here at the beach), it’s nothing like the recent heat wave which has gripped most of the south and central US.

But it’s not the temperatures I’m referring to in the title of this article.  I’m talking about fire season.  After the recent 1 million+ acres of wildfire in Arizona, including the biggest single wildfire in state history, communities everywhere need to be aware of proper home fire safety.  While most of the population in California doesn’t fall into a Very High Fire Area Severity Zone or a Wildland/Urban Interface Area and the the Code-required construction requirements that go with them, there are basic measures that we can all take on our property to protect it in the case of fire.

The basics of exterior home fire protection are simple:

1.  Defensible Space – ‘Defensible Space’ is defined by CAL FIRE as ‘the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs or any wildland area that surround it’.  This means 30’ of clear area immediately surrounding the home, and in rural areas another 70’ of ‘reduced fuel’ area to give the house 100’ of defensible space.

2.  ‘Harden’ your home – Fires spread to and between structures primarily by burning embers carried by the wind.  ‘Hardening’ your home means using fire-resistant/non-combustible materials for the exterior finishes.  This will resist the ignition of your home in the event of a fire in the area.  The roof and its related elements are the most vulnerable surfaces and non-combustible materials such as clay tile, metal panels or fiberglass shingles are preferred over wood or conventional paper-backed asphalt shingles.

There are many other guidelines, tips and checklists available to help increase wildland fire safety.  Here is a nice, easy to navigate website with home wildfire safety measures from CAL FIRE.


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So You Want to Become a Licensed Architect Eh?

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA, ADMG

Recently I was discussing professions with a couple close friends of mine.  It is understood by most, if not all, that professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers undergo rigorous education and testing to attain the right to practice their respective professions.  The Bar Exam or medical boards come to mind.  What most people don’t know is that architects do the same.  It can even be argued maybe a little more than most.

The process of becoming a licensed architect starts with an education and a degree in architecture.  Professional undergraduate degrees consist of five years of college study.  That’s right, five years, not your typical 4.  Licensing usually requires a Master’s degree as well (unless you complete more intern hours, see below) so that’s another two years (or three if you only have a four year degree) so you are looking at a total of six-seven years of university study.

So now you have graduated with your degree and want to take a licensing exam to be an architect, but wait, not so fast.  First you must fulfill the requirements of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).  This consists of working under the direct supervision of a licensed architect for a time to gain the necessary experience.  It is much like a residency in medicine.   The requirements are currently 5,600 hours of intern work divided over many different training area requirements (see image).  You can double those hours if you only have a four year degree…

All of the hours required above must be thoroughly documented and signed off and submitted to the Board for review and compilation.  Once you have worked for the necessary number of years and fulfilled your hours, NCAARB will let you take your exams.  Yes, I said exams plural.  There are currently seven exams (eight if you live in California).

The exams are lengthy and costly.  They can be taken in any order.  If you fail one you wait at least six months to re-test, thus pushing your dream of licensure back even more.  The required exams are:  Programming, Planning & Practice (4 hours), Site Planning & Design (4.5 hours), Building Design & Construction Systems (5.5 hours), Schematic Design (6 hours), Structural Systems (5.5 hours), Building Systems (4 hours), Construction Documents & Services (4 hours), California Supplemental Exam (3.5 hours) TOTAL = 37 HOURS OF EXAMS.

Now, you have your degree, fulfilled thousands of intern hours, taken 37 hours of examinations and passed; now you can apply for licensure in California.  This process can take many people 5-10 years to complete. Now you can start making the big bucks.  Not quite. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that starting salaries for architects is often 50% lower as compared to other professionals (lawyers, etc.).  That said, it is a long road to the top for the design professional.

A quick side note:  my general contractor’s license exams took me a total of three hours, two exams taken the same day and passed the same day.  I submitted one experience form to the State showing my construction experience.  No degree was required.  I was a licensed contractor in a matter of months.  Recently ENR released the top construction firms and Bechtel topped the list with $19.7 billion in 2010 revenues.  The top architecture firm came in at about 9% of that of that number… good luck with those architecture school student loans!


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Shipping Container Architecture

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA, ADMG

You have seen it before.  We are talking about the intermodal container or standard steel shipping container.  Today these common reusable freight containers are being used as single family homes, hotels, multi-family housing, barracks, classrooms, and emergency relief structures with unbelievable results.  Although this is not a new concept, it has been slow to catch on in the United States, especially in the private commercial sector.

A typical shipping container is 8’ wide x 8’ high x 20’ or 40’ long (320 SF of floor area at 40’ lengths) and stackable up to 9 units high.  They also come in dimensions up to 56’ long and heights up to 9’-6”.  The price for a typical sized container is only $1,500 making it very economical for construction purposes.  Their inherent strength, earthquake resistance, weatherproof nature and availability makes them an ideal modular structural component or as a whole standard accommodation unit.

On the construction side, projects utilizing containers have shown to cut construction time by 40% and costs up to 20% or more.  They are particularly suited to tight urban areas and infill projects.  The container can be clad with any standard building material making them virtually undetectable as containers!  If that is not enough, they work well for temporary sites as they can easily be dismantled, moved, and reassembled.

The ‘green’ side of the story is that by reusing some of the millions of used containers worldwide you can save energy and resources by recycling and reusing the container.  The alternative is to dispose of re-melt these containers using vast amounts of energy and/or land resources. Many of the projects utilizing the containers achieve very high LEED ratings compared to standard construction.

Given the high price of land in SoCal and the limited amount of it that is available, it may make sense to utilize the modular container method of construction.  The ability to build fast, cheap, and green, while still being able to have an appealing aesthetic, makes it almost a no brainer.  Not to mention the Port of Long Beach contains thousands of these containers every day!

The concept is far from mainstream.  Compared to the relative number of architects and engineers in Southern California, those utilizing the container concept are very small and may contribute to the lack of use.  ADMG will begin further research into the feasibility of such methods for its clients this summer.

While the jury is still out on containers, we have included links to some outstanding projects utilizing the modular container method for you to decide!








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People that Live in Glass Houses…

Glass technologies

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

I recently had to move an old 37” cathode-ray tube television set down a couple flights of stairs, and my back is still recovering.  Fortunately, glazing and glass display technologies have made incredible advancements in recent years, and will likely feature heavily (but weigh less) in the built environment of the future.

I keep encountering electrochromic glazing in hotels, allowing users to control the privacy or shading function of their glazing with the flip of a switch.  While ‘smart window’ technology has been around for some time, the low quality and high price of the technology has generally precluded its widespread use.  But as the technology has matured and energy costs have risen, the incentive to make glazing do more for the building is finally becoming persuasive.

Even more innovative ideas appear to be on the horizon.  Smart glazing will likely be advanced so that it won’t just block the sun, but will incorporate solar panels to harness electricity and offset energy costs.  Another potential application is the addition of OLED lighting into glazing, allowing it to serve as a window during the day, and a light fixture at night.  Add in possible uses in the transportation sector – automotive, public transportation and aircraft glazing, and the opportunities appear to be endless.

The one application where we have all experienced recent advancements in glass technology is the touchscreen.  This application in our computing and smartphone devices has revolutionized the efficiency and simplicity of these devices, and touchscreen technologies may have a myriad of uses in the future.  Check out this recent, rather corny video from Corning (pun intended), showing some of the possibilities for the future:

A Day Made of Glass


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Programming – Criteria Development Consultant

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA, ADMG

What does my proposed new facility need to include?  This is one of the most daunting questions an owner has to answer. The problem is that most organizations and businesses do not have the ability to allocate the required time and resources into exploring this question. Or, they do not have staff that is trained in preparing and organizing this type of technical information. The end result is usually a lot of wasted time (and dollars) spent with a design professional starting at square one to develop the standard from the bottom up.  Worse yet, is getting to opening with a building that does not fully meet your needs!

At the heart of the question lie all the requirements for a building to function properly for its intended end use.  These requirements do not only include the structural and aesthetic considerations, but more importantly the “programmatic elements” or the various pieces, such as different functional spaces that make up the “whole.”

A client may approach an architect or engineer and spend a lot of time trying to determine the spaces a building requires, their sizes, the seating, storage, the adjacency and circulation to other spaces, the mechanical, electrical and plumbing requirements, audio visual and the list goes on.  Figuring out what each pieces is, what its requirements are, how it fits in to the puzzle, and that it includes everything you intend is where a Criteria Development Consultant can come in.

The solution to this problem is to have a written standard of requirements, “criteria”, used as a guideline standard for your organization or business.  By doing this you can ensure all stakeholders have their say in the design process and that nothing is left out when it may be too late, too costly to redesign or even rebuild.

Before starting a new building project it may be a cost effective solution for your organization to talk with a Criteria Development Consultant. Handing off an approved written standard to a designer is a lot easier than trying to get all stakeholders on the same page, let alone the same room during design and construction.   Doing so just might save you a lot of time, money, and headaches down the road!


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Check Your Steel Studs

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA, ADMG

When it comes to steel stud framing for interior non-load bearing partitions it might be worth your time as an owner to take a second look at what your designer or contractor has specified.  It could save you some headaches down the road.  Throwing around 25 GA (18 mils) flimsy steel studs for your partitions is not always the right answer, and most often times not!

A junior project manager or draftsmen might take wall details and notes off an old set of drawings for a simple T.I. project that might not necessarily be what is correct for yours.  Something that is commonly overlooked is specifying the correct steel stud thickness, size, and spacing.

As an owner you might want to think about the following: Are my walls full height, demising or just above the ceiling?  What is the wall finish going to be; paint, stone veneer, how many layers of drywall?  What kind of sound attenuation am I seeking?  Does the wall contain any mechanical or plumbing?

Typically for any material other than a single layer of drywall each side you are going to want to go with something thicker than 25 GA (18 Mil). We usually specify nothing less than 20 GA (33 mils) for high end interiors. Also, Check to make sure the studs have the appropriate corrosion protection as required (galvanizing, G40, 60, 90) ASTM A653.  There are also many stud options, smooth, dimpled, high performance, each affecting strength, sound attenuation, and of course cost.  Finally make sure walls have the appropriate stud spacing.  Not all steel stud walls are 24” O.C. as some like to believe!

The specification of your steel stud framing can have dramatic effects on project cost, whether or not that expensive stone veneer on your wall cracks, whether or not can hear a conversation in the next room, and if you see a nice ghosting line on your expensive wall paint.  When it comes to steel stud framing it pays to be informed.

Here are some links for more information on steel stud framing.


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How We See Architecture

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA

There are many factors that contribute to great Architecture.  One very important factor is our visual perception of the built environment and the elements that contribute to the pleasure we derive from what we see.

How the mind interprets forms and patterns is the subject of Gestalt psychology (Gestalt, German for “form” or “shape”).   It is through this study and the understanding of our brain’s hardwired inner workings that Architects are better able to design buildings that are pleasing to the eye.

So what is it about Architecture then that makes it great, beautiful, or ‘pleasing’?  Is it merely in the eye of the beholder?  Is it subjective? Why does something look “just right” to you?   Is the Pritzker Architecture Prize winner doing the same things as the guy who drew up your local big box store?  Well, it all depends…

Our mind, without us necessarily knowing it, organizes visual data using certain built-in preferences such as:

Proximity: Click Link

Repetition: Our mind will equate things as equal (spacing, etc.) when we see more of them, even though they might not actually be equal.

Simplest and Largest Figure:  Our mind will complete/subtract (from) images in order to recognize and understand the simplest and largest figure.

Figure/Ground Relationship: Click Link

The ‘parts’ we perceive are greater than the whole.  Each part or element contributes to what we perceive as the ‘whole’ and thus how we interpret and enjoy it.  It is order out of visual chaos.

Important Elements that contribute to our “delight” in seeing Architecture include:

Proportion: The mind seeks out mathematical and geometrical relationships whether we like it or not.  Some are more pleasing than others.  This concept is as old as time and is the foundation and basis for not only Art and Architecture, but music and many other sciences.                        The most well known proportional system in architecture is based on the Golden Section or Golden Mean. Also see, Modular.

Scale: The relationship of the building and all its elements to the average size of the human body.  It is our perception of how ‘big’ things are and/or supposed to be.  The parts (e.g. doors, windows, etc) relate to the whole and give us visual clues to piece together a full concept of what we are looking at and how big it is. When elements are ‘out of scale’ our minds typically are confused by this and     therefore it is less enjoyable.  More information on Scale in Architecture.

Rhythm: Click here for more on Rhythm in Architecture and an exercise.

Texture: In terms of building materials/methods, both optical (visual pattern at the large scale as compared to smaller local human scale) and tactile (what can be physically felt by the human being). Each greatly affects our perception, feelings, and understanding of a building.

Light and Color: One of the most powerful element in the perception of Architecture. Without light we do not see, and the light determines ‘what’ we see.  Colors can affect our mood and change the perception of elements.

Our mind looks for these elements whether we like it or not.  It is wired into us as human beings.  These principles are all around us in nature and we experience them every minute of every day.  The design of great architecture is not accident.

Whether it is a big box store, or any other building, if it is designed with these principles in mind then it should prove to be good Architecture and pleasing to the eye.   What is pleasing to the eye should draw more attention and hopefully customers thus helping your bottom line.


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Keeping Up with Materials, Methods, and Everything Else in the AEC World

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA

The other day I found myself in Target to pick up a couple of things.  As I stood and stared blankly at a wall of toilet paper nearly the size of the climbing wall at my local gym, I could not help but feel a bit overwhelmed.  Do we really need 25 different kinds of toilet paper, in 15 different package sizes in order to complete what might be the most basic of human tasks?  Because of my profession this got me thinking about just how many building products there on the market in this day and age, if they are all really needed, and just how to absorb all the information.  It is daunting enough for a full time professional, so what about owners and facility managers who wish to make informed decision for their projects?  Luckily there are some good ways to keep up with the ever growing market.

20 year ago there were not as many options in building materials, let alone methods and techniques for using them. Today many large firms employ full time people, known as ‘Materials and Resources Managers,’ just to oversee this effort.  However, for smaller firms (yes like ADMG) it can become overwhelming and honestly too expensive. Still, it is our goal to always offer our clients the best possible solutions for each project.  We of course like to use new materials and methods technologies where appropriate and cost effective, and have found several good ways to stay on top of this information and make it a manageable task. The following ideas help us, and can also help our clients, keep up with trends in the design and construction industry:

BPM Select,

They claim to be the premier building products search engine and they just might be.  Just type in a word, anything really, and like Google it will pull you up products that match what you are looking for.  It is like a big online Sweets Catalog only better.


Hanley Wood University,

Want to know more in depth information on building products, best practices for use and installation, and life-cycle information?  Look no further.  Hanley Wood University offers courses on all the above.  You can also earn continuing education credits.  Now, the spec book doesn’t become so daunting and you might even give your GC a tip or two.  Best of all it’s free.

Conspectus, Inc.,

These guys are great and one of my personal favorites.  This Company writes specifications and puts out a greatly monthly Tech Tips and News Bulletin that you can subscribe to.  It covers all kinds of things from new methods, proper installation techniques, new products, and even contracts and administration information.  They tell you what works, what doesn’t, and what to avoid.

Finally, publications such as Architect Magazine, JLC (Journal of Light Construction), Construction Superintendent, various trade magazines, and of course, last but not least, this Newsletter you are currently reading also have great information that can help keep you current with all that is going on in the industry. These methods for staying ahead of the game are not only good for smaller offices, tradespersons, but especially for the owner who doesn’t do it every day.  Nothing better than a savvy informed owner to compliment his design and construction team in completing a successful project!  Now the tools are just a click away.


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Remembering Our Roots: Principles in a Technologically Based AEC World

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA

Back when I was in good old architecture school at the University of Michigan, CAD was a mandatory class.  Although it had already been in use in the professional world for years, few students really took advantage of CAD in order to complete their coursework.  We still used mylar, vellum, lead holders and pens.  We cut chipboard and balsa wood to make scaled models in our design studios.  It was time consuming and, even for the time, seemed a bit archaic.

The reluctance to utilize available technology in school was a matter of time (deadlines), proficiency in that technology (time vs. effort), and a need for a stronger communication of the art and discipline of design and construction (design principles). Therefore, we most often defaulted to the traditional methods we were taught.  We knew how to use technology, but we did not rely on it.  That was the key.

It is today, I will admit, embarrassing to confess my inability to intelligently communicate certain classical principals to people when I talk about my profession. I can talk about the codes, new materials on the market, going ‘green’ or the latest version of Revit, but had somehow forgotten most of my classical architectural training.  Someone may ask me who designed such and such, what is the predominate mechanism of a Prairie School floor plan, or to explain the importance of hierarchy, organization, proportion, and circulation to great architecture.  It had unfortunately been pushed from my brain by more “important” items.

In today’s AEC world we are constantly upgrading our technology to offer ourselves the ability to design more complex structures more efficiently and accurately while at the same time building a platform to communicate the idea across multiple disciplines and to the end users.  But while we are spending our time (and big money) learning BIM, utilizing high end estimating and PM software, rendering programs, and other collaboration tools…are we spending less and less time learning or maintaining our knowledge of the real nuts and bolts, the principles of good design and construction?

As technology has proliferated society to the point where today people would rather Facebook, Netflix, or play a video game than read a book or have an intelligent dialogue, so has this begun to happen in our industry.  With a growing over-reliance on technology, it is of the utmost importance that we as designers and constructors do not lose our way in the modern era.  Do not misunderstand me; technology is a useful tool but we must remain proficient in the principles and be able to think just like the masters of old did, that is, truly understanding what is on our computer screens.  Not only may reliance on technology weaken our ability to do so, but I believe it also cheapens the substance of it to the point where just about anyone who can use a computer believes they can “design” a building.    It is my hope that academia, as well as, leading companies will realize this and promote more than just cyberspace architecture and construction.

It is our responsibility to ensure the next generation of architects, engineers, and contractors know how the things they draw on a screen look, feel, and function in real life. Teach students and employees more than just CAD, BIM, and rendering; teach them what it really is and what it means.  Let’s not forget how to survive if someone were to pull the plug, but be just as capable.  Let’s remember our roots.


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