What makes a Building Design Expert – BDE

  • Building Design Expert
  • 10 years ago

You may have heard the definition of an expert as “the person in the room with the most knowledge on the particular subject under discussion”.

On that basis put ten Architects, Architectural Technologists, and, or Building Engineers in a room, and ask this very question. It is tantamount to filling the cellars of the houses of parliament with gun powder and lighting the blue touch paper. As in support of their respective professions each will argue that he, or she, has the greatest depth of knowledge. I know this having just been hosed down after a forum debate on the very subject.

The architect will insist he is the highest trained professional, and therefore the most knowledgeable, and therfore the expert. The Technologist will he insist he has also trained intensely on the subject and can offer as much as the architect. Likewise the Building Engineer.

The truth is that all these professions have every right to claim Building Design Expert status – In theory. There are, of course, the usual number of ‘smart arse’ (I use the phrase advisedly and accurately) individuals who will blunder through their careers not really knowing they are spouting from the wrong orifice. But if we ignore those, the chances are that of those ten individuals in that room, will have an in depth knowledge of perhaps eight very different subjects – Conservation design, sustainability, structural glass……. The list is endless. But do you see where we going? There is no such being that knows everything about, well, everything to do with construction design. Those that claim they do – I think we have already covered!

So how do you get this in depth knowledge of your chosen facet of the industry?

When the degree course is complete, and you pass out (any way you choose). Are graduates sprinkled with fairy dust in a confirmation ceremony that anoints them Building Design Experts? No. No. No. That is only the beginning of the process.

During my recent forum discussion, a very experienced and very qualified architect (so he told me) claimed “There are also too many people who think experience alone is a qualification, it isn’t“. – Of course he is right. Experience on it’s own is not a qualification. Didn’t need saying really did it? Our society, our system of learning requires that we are carefully and methodically guided through an exacting educational regime, and examined on it intensely during at the end of the course. However long that may be.

Architects consider that because they study for longer they are, by default, more qualified to do what they do at the end of it. I would beg to differ. I think it’s more WHAT you do at the end of it. I have known architects go straight into academia – post qualification. I have known architects who have become senior partners in large national practices. They know practice administration and contract law inside out. But Building Design Experts they most certainly are not. Some architects may have several decades of industry experience, but have never designed a building in their post graduate lives.

So we need to get all this into perspective. Building Design Experts are those of us who are at the ‘coal face’ of the Building design industry. The ones who not only design the buildings, but know how they are going to go together, and how they are going to be built.

There are many claims from the architect that part 3 architecture students have a wealth of knowledge about the technical issues of building design. Indeed, any architectural technologist or building engineer who makes any such claim should also be taken to the tower and pegged out for the ravens. This can never be. Real life industry experience can only produce an expert. Case studies alone cannot offer any substitute for going to site (after you have gained your CSCS card – obviously), rolling up your sleeves (metaphorically speaking) and getting down and dirty with what is going on.

What is that nasty old building contractor doing with your design? Is he building it as you thought it should be built? If he is, how do you know? Has he changed something? I remember going to site when a mere novice in the art, seeing that something was a bit different from my drawing, but not sure whether this departure was okay, or otherwise. Was the contractor trying to pull a fast one? Or was he trying to be helpful by showing a more ‘buildable’ solution? Of course he hadn’t asked me, but then they don’t, do they? So many questions, and how many honestly know the answers?

Let me say here and now that Building Design Experts are not born. They are not created by divine intervention at the grave of Sir Christopher Wren. They evolve from quite normal individuals, with quite ordinary qualifications, who over time amass a database of information that sets them apart from those with less experience. Importantly also they have learned the courage of their convictions to know when to back down, and when to stand firm.

That is what makes a Building Design Expert an expert in building design.

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