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Thursday, May. 09, 2002
While waiting for the Benefactor to put in roads to his new city so that we can go in there and start building shanty's and hot dog stands and stuff, we have to suffer the more wearisome aspects of earning a living. It's sort of like waiting for Godot and idling away the time by hitting yourself repeatedly in the head with a branch from the nearest oak tree.

Without delving into the more mundane and, I'm sure, boring details of day to day life on a high rise construction project, let me just say that all pride in craftsmanship and the thought process that would ensure a quality building was summarily put to death when the year 2000 rolled around. Everyone in the building industry who had any knowledge retired or suffered a debilitating stroke. All building materials which were straight, free of defects and looked pretty were locked up in a super-sized vault somewhere in South Dakota.

That's the only explanation I have for why the construction industry is turning out products that are so damned pitiful. And the funny thing is you'd never know it. I read some of the trade magazines and they constantly trumpet the dawn of a new age in high tech, computer aided, glossy and oh-so-chic hovels for working and living. People move into them and gush over the carpet and the cabinets and are actually proud to say that they work in a building that leases out at $25 per square foot (which happens to be pretty high, even for this little corner of heaven).

I guess they're too busy fondling the faux finished light fixtures to notice that the walls are " out of plumb, or that the main thing holding the structure together is caulk.

I have a theory about the decline in quality, and it runs 180 degrees contrary to what the pundits in the trade magazines would have you believe (yeah I know, go figure, Outfoxed being contrary, right?).

Those who earn their keep as architects and engineers experienced a revolution of sorts when the computer became a useful tool to speed up their work. To produce drawings, load calculations, project schedule and so on. They got really fast at doing things which previously had been a labor of pencil to paper, brain to task, thinking and reasoning and actually going out and kicking around in the dirt to see if something would work.

Something got lost in the process.

I think the useful adage of "garbage in, garbage out" has been replaced with "garbage in, garbage done" in this high speed day and age. You take a tool like a computer and begin to believe that whatever spits out of the appropriate print or internet cable should be taken as revealed truth. You begin to believe that the speed to produce your design/schedule/specification is more mandatory and important than the quality of the thing.

More alarmingly, as an architect or engineer, you begin to fall into the trap of believing that since you've managed to speed up your work life, all the construction fellows should adjust their speed accordingly, working like little robots in perfect sync with a project schedule that allows for no rain to fall, no trucks to break down, no sickness or strikes or shortages of money to pay for it all. And to do so at a quality level equal to that of the laser printer which just spat out the results of your misguided input.

I don't know, I see it in all facets of life, this obsession with speed, the instant gratification we have been counseled to accept and take for granted. Progress being what it is, I have yet to see a computer take a razor sharp hand plane and shave a long curly shaving off the edge of a door to make it shut properly. Or pick up a level and check to see if the wall is straight and plumb. Or trowel the concrete just so, to make it smooth and crack free.

A lot of the stuff we do in construction, those finishing phases, is done at a pace not much faster than that of Colonial days. Stuff that can't be rushed, or done at Unix speed. Products like mahogany that must be handled with care, held up to the eye and turned end for end to check the grain. Things that stand out like a sore thumb if done carelessly to meet some maniacal and unreasonable timetable.

Stu and I carry a torch for that sort of thing. It's probably why we get the reputation as the sort of grumpy lads that we are. More than one architect has been banished from our jobsite by merely showing up and demanding to know what's taking so long.

It's why I continue to carry a hammer and many sharp implements in the tool bag. They make for effective and frightening deterrents when twirled within inches of the engineer's nose. They tend to scuttle back to the safety of their office cubicle. And scheme up ways to get back at the evil and awful men who refuse to acknowledge the earnest and forthright work they do. Work that is clean and proper, shining on the monitor and neatly collated by the Xerox machine.

Welcome to reality, my architect buddy. Your paperwork, my hands. You still have to get past me. And I ain't going anywhere, yet.

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