Get Out on Site

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I’ve had three industry-related jobs, first being a draftsman for a precast concrete modular construction company, second being an architectural assistant (draftsman) for an architecture firm, and the third (and current) job being a designer/draftsman for a small commercial and shed construction company. This post I just want to make a point with, if you are lucky enough to have a job in an architecture firm, building company, drafting, interior design or whatever, get out on site as often as you can.

site visit

When I worked at the architecture firm I don’t recall ever getting out on site, most of my time was spent drafting up plans. While in the office I gain valuable experience, there’s nothing quite like getting out on site. There’s two ways you can visit the site during construction;

a | visit by yourself, in your own time
b | visit with the builder / architect, at any time

In my view, b is the better option all the time. If you are new and lack building knowledge, going out on site by yourself you may miss details, or you might see something you are unsure off but no one to ask, or there could be an access issue. By going out with the builder or architect (both being ideal) you can ask questions, have details pointed out to you, have full access and can even discuss details on site.

I try and visit a project during some key points in the project, such as;

– site preparation
– concrete slab pour
– framing
– roofing
– cladding
– finishes

By watching a building evolve you are exposed to different trades and details, for example if you miss the framing stage you might miss a steel beam connection detail as it is now lined with plasterboard. Although I’ve yet to see it done, getting out on site when windows, joinery, fixtures and such are installed is also valuable.

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My Construction and Structures 2 lecturer said once “I’ve yet to come across a building that was built exactly to the architect’s plans” and this is correct! I’ve documented a project which has been built and out on the site the builder had a better detail, so he built it that way. He then told me how he built it, and why he built it that way, and guess what, I learned something! If a detail isn’t exactly to plan, ask why it isn’t (not in a rude or confronting manner) and suddenly you might have a detail to reuse in another project. You may also pick up on things such as down pipe locations, or fixing of the roof, or turning the corner with a material….

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What if I’m not employed, how can I still get this experience? Good question, simply walk around and if you see a building being built, find out who the builder is. Contact the builder, explain you are an architecture student wishing to have a look through the building throughout the project and a lot of the time the builder is pretty accommodating. If the builder has allowed you on site, here are some basic rules when you are there….

1| be respectful
2| do not get in the way of trades, if someone is coming through with a sheet of plasterboard, get out of their way
3| wear proper footwear and attire, don’t turn up in thongs (or flip-flops, depending where you are in the world)
4| ask first if its okay to take photographs, don’t just assume as it’s technically private property
5| ask first if its okay to ask questions, and if the builder is busy, don’t ask too many questions (or any, save it for another day), SEE 2|

You may also get lucky and be able to score a set of the plans, and if you are feeling fit, you could even ask for a labouring job with them (cleaning tools, lugging material around, the fun work).

Truth be told, you may not gain a better understanding of architecture (in the sense of space and place) by knowing why they framed the wall in a certain way, but having that practical knowledge is always helpful, especially early on. Universities can’t teach you everything, there isn’t enough time in the semesters (don’t get me started on that!) to do so, and while it’s all well and good to be a wizz at parametric modeling or being all Zaha-like in design but if you don’t have a working understanding of how to build a house there is a sincere lack of interest of the industry. In saying all that, students, get out on site more often!

2 comments on “Get Out on Site”

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