Parts is Parts

Posted on August 10, 2010


The first cost of a building, which is the cost of design, construction and outfitting it for occupancy, is commonly measured as only 20% of a building’s entire life cycle expenses. This leaves 80% of a building’s total expense as roughly operations (energy, utilities) and maintenance (repairs).

These stats strongly support sustainable design tactics that reduce operations expenses, as well as decisions that positively affect the longevity of the facility.

However, for those of us involved in a “typical” building project, I see the 20/80 split as important ammunition in emphasizing the components in a building.

When we buy a car or computer, the salesman emphasizes features: 245 horsepower, five air bags, 40 gig hard drive, 15.7” screen. We buy based on degrees of performance, fully aware of our vendor’s emphasis on component quality. Yet when we design, we hardly ever sell based on the component method.

The specifications, or “specs”, of a building should be just as appealing as its aesthetics and space allocations. Signature spaces sell themselves, but the quality of the parts and pieces means different things to different people. The facilities guy wants his Smardt chiller and the various users may have a particular desk chair they covet, but who else really voices an opinion about a select building attribute?

I think we have an opportunity to educate the consumer on the specs of buildings, so people have benchmarks in their head for what they encounter. In any other purchasing situation, from the grocery store to the department store, we mentally begin to measure value by comparing the metrics we are taught by various manufacturers. Sheets are measured in thread count and quality of cotton origin. The color and pattern do not really matter for performance; the materials, however, are essential and value engineering will only lead to a lower quality product.

We need to tap into the passions of our clients and users and understand what creates building cache. I see a future where owners brag about the components of their buildings like a bike owner about his “chopper”. A CEO should be able to go out to lunch at a fashionable spot about town and hear, “Larry, congrats on your tower. Nice choice on the Pilkington. I am priming facilities to go rain screen on our next one, but I love my Rheinzink. Any thoughts?”

With so much riding on long-term building capabilities, we sometimes forget the right component can make or break the entire design. The better job we do educating clients, the better the owner can understand and value what she bought, how it affects the 80% of financial outlay still to come, and begin to mentally benchmark for future building projects that we as design professionals each want to be a part of.

Posted in: Project Cost