Category Archives: Collaboration

Working with Electrical Engineers

IMG_0570_ps_v24jpgIn my series on engineering collaboration, I’ve decided first to focus on collaboration between interior design and electrical engineering.  (See here for general engineering collaboration tips if you missed it), For interior design projects the most obvious area of coordination (or lack thereof)  is generally with the electrical items – which on even a straight forward office fitout project could include lighting, audio visual, information and communications technology and security as well as general power.  On a more complex interiors project there may be multiple engineers involved in designing and specifying these systems.

This week, cost overruns and time delays due to ICT and security made news in relation to the new office fitout for the Australian Prime Minister. Whilst its not clear what the problem was with the Prime Minister’s office fitout it’s clear that somewhere along the line there was a breakdown in communication which lead to significant budget overruns and time delays for the whole project due to these disciplines. Regardless of why this occurred the results highlight the importance or the impact that electrical engineering disciplines can have on a fitout costs and program.

Not only do electrical systems have a big impact on project cost, they are often ones that the client has a high level of interest in – generally clients care much less about their office air conditioning (as long as it works at the times they want it to) than they do about the operation or location of controls for audio visual or security systems, or even lighting in a board room.

Finally  lighting forms a highly visible element of the fitout, contributing to the overall experience of the space.  A great fitout can be ruined by poor choice of lighting.  Good lighting design will not work in isolation – it has to be a collaboration between the interior designer or architect and the engineer so as to suit the fitout aesthetics, budget, the spatial functional requirements and the lighting functional and performance requirements.

So some tips from Ben Murhpy, GHD Canberra  Building Engineering Manager,  on coordination between architecture or interior design and electrical services (Ben’s comments in italics with some further comments by me after each one):

  1. Allow for comms racks and switchboards. These items are not large, but do have significant access requirements to comply with code requirements, which leads to large rooms/spaces. Plan them early or risk having them exposed on walls or taking up entire rooms earmarked for “storage”. In Australia (and maybe other countries too) be aware that a server room must comply with the requirements for disabled access which means that they will appear to be huge and must have a ramp if they have an access floor.
  2. Cables require space too!!!! It is assumed these are small and therefore don’t need any space. We actually need to consider the route for every cable from the switchboard/comms rack to the final GPO/comms point and ensure it can be installed, maintained and look nice. The alternative is aussie duct or surface conduit. In particular look at how power and data will get from freestanding reception desks or workstations to the duct/ceiling. No good if your pretty island of a reception desk has to have a power pole added at the last minute because you couldn’t get access from the tenancy below to core hole for your cables.
  3. Selection of lighting should be broad concept from architect, but leave actual fitting selection to engineers with approval by architect. Architects picking fittings doesn’t often work as the fittings selected don’t meet the performance, maintenance, energy efficiency requirements. Much better to provide the engineer with a general brief of types of things you want to see in each area. Now I have to admit to differing in opinion from Ben on this one. Lighting is a key element for interior design, it really can make or break your space, and therefore needs to be carefully integrated with other design elements. For me it depends on how critical the fittings are to the design intent and how well I know the lighting engineer. If the fittings are critical to the design I will put forward the fittings and unless there is a pretty good reason I expect the electrical engineer to design around them. That said, I also know I can’t do this for the whole fitout and that there might be a good reason for the engineer not to use them. In that case I am happy to work with the engineer on alternatives. But we have to talk about it.  If the fitting is not critical to the design, then I can just say something like linear suspended fitting and expect the engineer to make some suggestions.

The final tip I would add to this is to consult with the client over their systems needs.  As a first step find out what areas they expect to have involvement and input into.  Then build their input into the program identifying dates the information must be provided by to meet design deadlines.  If there are numerous client stakeholders it can also be useful to hold workshops to address specific topics such as audio visual or ICT.  The client should review final documentation for any systems where they have significant inputs,  design involvement or performance expectations.

What are your tips for working with electrical engineers?  Would you agree that areas such as security and IT are often the most complex to resolve with the client?  Do you have any tips for mechanical or hydraulic engineering collaboration?

 

Collaborating with Engineers (or play nice in the interior design sandpit)

iStock_000000252654SmallI thought I might put together a series of posts on the topic of playing nice with the engineers on interior design projects.  In the spirit of collaboration I asked some of my former colleagues over at GHD to provide some comments on collaboration. Thanks to Ben Murhpy, GHD Canberra  Building Engineering Manager for some great inputs across all the building services/MEP disciplines.  Over the coming weeks I’m going to focus on each discipline but for today I’m just going to look at some coordination and collaboration issues that cross all disciplines.

Engineers and interior designers or architects often don’t get along very well.  They seem to think that their project aims will forever be in conflict.  However I have found working in the interiors space that most engineers who regularly work in fitouts do actually want similar outcomes to the interior designers and architects.  They don’t want the engineering components of the fitout to stick out either.  The problem more often seems to be one of engineers and interior designers or architects actually communicating and working together, collaborating for the best solutions – rather than each thinking that only their way or solution is the best or only way.  The best way is going to be the best for the project or client and end users, which is often found by the different disciplines working together to solve the issues.  This collaboration can happen regardless of if the engineering and architecture teams are in 1, 2 or more offices.  While I worked in an integrated practice, I also frequently worked with other engineering consultants or teams in remote locations and found that the same issues apply – the need to communicate with one another.

Although engineers often blame the interior designers and architects for not telling them things or changing the design, when asked to provide comment Ben added that “Engineers don’t seem to want to ask questions of architects for some reason???”  I’ve also found many engineers don’t seem to like asking the client questions either.  I’m not quite sure if this has something to do with the personalities of many engineers, for it is certainly true that there are many engineers who are very good technically but for a variety of reasons are not very good communicators.  Now this post isn’t meant to be an engineer bashing post at all (many of my very good friends and favourite colleagues are engineers), but I will start out with this point to engineers – ASK QUESTIONS!  Actually the same point applies to everyone working on the project, whatever the discipline.  In my view the only dumb question is one that you have asked before.  I recently worked on a project where the engineering consultants sent a list of about 50 questions before starting work, some were for us and some had to be answered by the client.  I would say it was a standardised list they had developed for fitout work and then they reviewed and customised for each project.  I thought this was a great idea.

These are my tips for working with engineering consultants:

  1. The interior designer or architect needs to allow space for engineering services from the very earliest stages.  Early on before you are sure of requirements, its better to allow a bit too much space than none at all.   Whilst it is possible to be excessive with space, I find usually the extra space is needed for something wasn’t thought of at concept stage. If you don’t allow space for the services you will end up with a switchboard or fire hose reel right next to your main entry or taking up all your allocated storage space.  More will follow on this in later posts.
  2. The engineers need to be given a brief.  They don’t know how many power points to put in each room or how many people will occupy it, unless someone tells them, they can only guess.  I am a big fan of Room Data Sheets (or something similar) to agree with the client the details of what goes into each room and then as a tool for briefing the whole team – interior designers or architects and engineers.
  3. Following on from point 1 above – give the client the opportunity to have input into how the lighting or audio visual systems etc work.  Some won’t care, but others have very specific requirements or expectations.  And in the end they are the ones that have to operate the systems installed.
  4. Interior designers and architects need to try to understand a little bit of engineering.  It is important to know what areas might be key or what issues might be non negotiable from a technical view.  This is also important from a cost management perspective, as I’ve talked about previously.   Engineers should also make the effort to understand the design intent and not see aesthetic issues as interfering with technical solutions but as a new challenge.
  5. Regular team meetings are a must.  These can be face to face or teleconferences, video conferences, web conferences or anything else.  The point is to open up conversation and encourage all team members to raise issues.  Whilst sometimes team meetings can seem like a waste of time when people are busy, if they are kept focussed and actions recorded and followed up they can save a lot of trouble later in the project.  It is much easier to get things right the first time than have to rework.  I also believe that all team members should be involved not just one or two senior staff.  I also find that a final coordination workshop at around 90% project completion is very useful, preferably run by a senior staff member who hasn’t had day to day involvement in the project and who is experienced in coordination issues.
  6. The interior design team needs to check the engineering documentation.  Mistakes happen, thermostats end up on glazed or operable walls.  Lighting is missed from a joinery unit.  Just as you check the interior design documentation, someone on the project team needs to check that the engineering documentation is coordinated with the interior design and matches the client brief/room data sheets.
  7. Establish and agree a program/time schedule and a scope of work before you begin.  Agree when engineers will provide the interior designers with certain deliverables, at the same time agree when the interior designers or architects will provide the engineers with information – such as final ceiling types.  This program also has to tie in with the program for client approvals.
  8. Everyone in the team needs to take responsibility and feel ownership for the project no matter which discipline.  Everyone is responsible for coordination.

Over the coming weeks I’ll expand with more particular tips for each engineering discipline.  What are your tips for working with engineers?  Why do engineers dislike asking questions?  Does your interior design team work collaboratively with your engineering team? If you are an engineer, feel free to email me with tips to include in future blog posts.

Image Credit: iStock_000000252654

Social media – design collaboration via digital means?

Water cooler by Jason Pratt, on FlickrIn my last role I used to spend a lot of time working with remote teams – often remote from me and sometimes from each other. Over time I realised that one of the biggest challenges in working this way was the lack of informal “overheard” conversations. For example I might be briefing one person in the team on a task but start talking generally about how the meeting I had that day went, someone else in the team sitting near by might overhear and join the conversation with a new idea. This lack of proximity and informal collaboration is also a traditional problem in the relationship between interior designers or architects and engineers. The question is, is it possible to replicate this casual form of interaction digitally?

Social media is frequently described as the new water cooler, just one recent example can be found here. HP’s internal social media platform was also called WaterCooler.  Although I have to say – the image I found looks just the opposite doesn’t it – and I’ve always found coffee to be more popular than water! Regardless of your drink preference, is social media the current or future digital means for casual work interactions and collaboration though?

Personally, I found social media useful on certain occasions – I became the first person in my company to post my redundancy on yammer the internal network – for me this meant a lot of people found out in hours rather than weeks (and I also had posted personal contact details).  However on a day to day basis it wasn’t a tool I used extensively. I found instant messaging to be much more useful, but the limitation is that it is generally a one on one conversation. The guy that sits next to me can’t overhear and put his 2 cents in (this privacy is in fact often becomes the reason people chose messaging as the means of communication).

However, I still don’t believe that social media can completely replace the informal, overheard, in person element of communication. Firstly by typing something into a social media site it is much more of a deliberate sharing action. Secondly I find that people are less likely to respond. If I speak to you in person or on the phone you are more likely to say something than in front of a large meeting. If I instant message you rather than email you, you are more likely to respond partially because of that annoying flashing but also just social convention. If I post something on social media (or to this blog!) it has become a combination of email and the large meeting – for most of us it becomes too public, too deliberate and just too much effort to respond with a comment. Perhaps partially because we know that if we start commenting on everything we will be there all day – and maybe no one will notice – unlike if we spend all day at the water cooler or coffee shop!

I think the issue of informal communications and collaborations remains a challenge to be solved in order to fully realize the benefits of working remotely and globally. I started to think about the part that videoconferencing could play in this and then I came across this suggestion:

“One fix, he suggested, could be a screen set up in your office space that shows a colleague who is working somewhere else. It could enable the types of informal conversations that often lead to fruitful ideas, and maybe “frost up and go into privacy mode” when that person takes a meeting or a phone call.”

This came from yet another blog on the workplace of the future, but its certainly the first time I’ve seen this suggestion (and I do have quite a lot of time to read blogs right now…hey its research for you right?) http://www.eweek.com/mobile/intel-offers-an-image-of-the-workplace-of-the-future/

I started thinking about this one, maybe this means the whole office will become like a giant telepresence room where half the office is a mirror image of somewhere else. Or maybe through one window we see one place (say Perth) and through another we see another place (the engineers down the road). For anyone not familiar with telepresence – right now its typically limited to meeting rooms.  Traditionally you have 2 identical rooms, each one is only half a table though, the other side is a video screen. Its still pretty expensive so not that commonly installed. The technology has been around since about 2006 but doesn’t seem to have made much impact – probably due to the cost and the need for the 2 identical locations.

Today I found another alternative on – that holograms will be the next big thing.  (though I do admit this was posted to you tube in 2010 so obviously I’m behind the times)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAIDXzv_fKA
Maybe we all sit in different places but have our holograms working in a shared project office?  This hologram would seem to have more potential as an architectural or engineering collaboration tool. because not only can we share ourselves, we can share our models as holograms too.

All of this moves away from social media as a solution, and back towards physical solutions – even if they are driven by technology, they are still attempting to replicate a physical environment. Do we need a physical environment to collaborate best or is social media already taking over and replacing this? Will this perhaps change as the workplace demographics change?

What is your experience worth social media in the workplace? Do you think social media is the new water cooler? What are your success stories (or horror stories) of using social media for collaboration in interior design or architecture? Do you want your engineers (or interior designers or architects) right there with you? If we were having this conversation in person would you comment?

Image Credits:

Welcome to The Midnight Lunch

Just Full Of Ideas by Cayusa, on Flickr There are many interior design and architecture blogs that feature new and beautiful projects, products, art and design inspiration, both Australian and international. This blog aims to be something different. A place to discuss the process and practice of interior design.

Even in a larger architecture or design practice interior design teams can be fairly small and particularly for senior designers it can be hard to find much in the way of professional development and continuing education. I’m really impressed in this regard by the way psychologists have to have a more experienced mentor (usually they actually pay for this), its generally not someone they work with and there is a formality to the number of hours and how the whole process works. Some people offer group sessions which offer a lot of opportunity for discussion and the chance to realise that others are challenged by the same problems you face. That is what I’d like this blog to be about.

For me, interior design is also not just about interior designers. My background is working in an integrated design practice alongside project managers and engineers. Going even further, a truly integrated design project will bring other external parties including the client, the contractor and the quantity surveyor along the design journey too. This is the ideal for a truly collaborative and integrated project but in our industry do rarely achieved.

I’m sure many readers are wondering where the name The Midnight Lunch came from – as it is not an obvious architecture or interior design reference. I found the term first of all online as the title of a new book – a biography of Thomas Edison, one of the worlds greatest innovators and collaborators. I’ve reproduced below the explanation of what the term The Midnight Lunch came from, which comes from a blog post written by the book’s author, Sarah Miller Calidcott.

“Starting at about 7 PM, all who were still present at the Menlo Park lab would roll up their sleeves, and share insights about the experiments they were undertaking. This meant that employees from any area of specialty could mingle with others holding completely different backgrounds, and learn from them. Often these casual, unstructured conversations yielded deeply creative outcomes.

After an hour or two, there would be a pause in this heady dialogue. Edison would order in sandwiches and beverages for everyone from a local tavern. Everyone present would kick back, eat, sing songs, tell stories, play music, and generally let their hair down. Regardless of title or tenure, there were no limits on participation.

During midnight lunch, no one was ‘monitoring’ things. No one was dreaming up something negative to put on your performance appraisal. From apprentices all the way up to Edison himself, during midnight lunch, everyone simply engaged their best thinking in a casual, hands-on environment. In short, workers became colleagues.”

If you are interested in the full blog article, here is the link:
http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2012/12/16/what-is-a-midnight-lunch-closing-the-collaboration-gap/

I am aiming for this blog to discuss topics such as design management and leadership, managing the creative process, professional development and learning as a designer, managing clients, documentation and the use of tools such as BIM or other new ways of working and using technology to help us better manage our time. As many people who know me will have heard me say the better we can manage and process all of these routine things the more time we have to focus on the design itself and the greater chance of ending the project with a satisfied client, a design project the design team have enjoyed working on and are proud of and most of all an interior which the occupants believe is beautiful and functional – and improves their day in some way.

So if you’ve got any suggestions of topics you’d like to see discussed please post a comment. What are the things you think could be improved upon in design practice? What are the little mistakes or annoyances that hinder your work? Or how have you improved your practice?

Image credits:
by CayusaCreative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License