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How to Improve Design Intent in Roofing Architecture

Posted by Art Valentz on January 10, 2019

It is commonly assumed that an architect knows what they’re doing. After all, the architect has gone to school, joined a practice, and designed several buildings. Why should your building be any different?

Here’s the thing – the problem is not that the architect doesn’t know what they’re doing. The problem is that the architect may not understand how to adequately communicate what they’re doing – that this, the intent of their design – to the contractors who are physically assembling the building itself.

Even some of the world’s most famous architects have this problem. In 2007, for example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued architect Frank Gehry after the roof of their $300 million Stata Center was found to have numerous leaks and drainage issues. Their issue was that Gehry had failed to properly communicate how the roof was to be built and had even rejected a request to redesign the roof of an outdoor amphitheater – which later developed serious problems.

If even one of the world’s most recognizable architects can’t correctly communicate the design for the roof of a $300 million building, then it’s fair to say that nearly any other architect of nearly any other building might fall victim to the same issue. Here’s how to find an architect that won’t:

Find an Architect that Uses 3D Models

It is no longer possible to execute on a design based solely on 2D representation. 3D modeling, or its more advanced component, building information management (BIM), now appears to be the only way to sort out the increasingly complicated process of illustrating building structures, calculating loads, and designing to code.

There are benefits to using BIM. 70% of architects report that BIM reduces the cost of rework, and nearly 50% of contractors believe the same. Here’s the problem: Only 28% of small architectural firms use BIM. While that number increases to nearly 100% once you look at large firms, those who wish to avoid the expense of using a larger firm will have to search very carefully to find a small firm that fits their needs.

Ensure that Your Architect Considers the Supply Chain

No matter how faithfully your contractors try to execute on a roof design, there are a number of external factors that can compromise the final structure. The time of year matters, because if water-based adhesives and membranes are used during the winter, they’ll fail rapidly, for example. The type and grade of lumber also matters, as does the gauge of the steel supporting members.

Tools like 3D modeling and BIM let architects label each structural member with a specification – what kind of material to use where, what to assemble first, and so on. Having this ability does not guarantee that an architect will use it, however. If they do use it, there’s no guarantee they’ll use it all the time. In these cases, make sure to agree on a contract that guarantees a prompt response to an RFI. If there’s information missing from a design, the architect must respond with a fast and detailed clarification.

Guarantee Accountability Regarding Building Codes

Here’s the thing – if your architect designs a roof that fails to conform to building codes for load bearing or uplift resistance, they’re legally on the hook for any redesign and repair charges. That’s great news for building owners if it turns out that the design error is readily apparent and easy to repair – but this is just the best-case scenario. What if the error isn’t readily-apparent until something breaks?  What if the damage can’t be clearly attributed to the architect? In the worst-case scenario, you’re looking at a badly-damaged roof, plus repair costs, plus a court battle that you may not be able to win.

Your best bet is to always, always, find someone who can double-check an architect’s roof design before the structure is built. That someone is usually a local roofing consultant. Roofing consultants are guaranteed experts in city, state, and federal building codes, so they can always pick out code violations. Plus, they aren’t interested in upselling you on more expensive materials, so they’ll never tell you that something isn’t up to code when it actually is.

A Holistic Approach to Architectural Accountability

When it comes to avoiding liability, building damage, and expensive lawsuits, it’s best to find an accountable architect before your structure goes up. Make sure that the firm you’re using utilizes some form of 3D modeling at the very least. BIM is preferable, because it lets architects share plans directly with contractors while specifying materials and building schedules. Make sure they actually use those features and respond to RFIs. Lastly, engage a roofing consultant to double-check their work.

To ensure you can have a long-lasting roof that conforms to building codes and works as designed, talk to the experts at PHP Systems Design. Our roof access systems are designed to make your roof much easier to service and maintain, and our design process lets us integrate directly into your architect’s existing plans. We can help you make an investment that will extend the lifespan of your roof.

Topics: Roof Architecture

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