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NEWSLETTER ARTICLES From the archives...

Robb Walker

Recently I met with an attorney to review a Design/Build agreement from a General Contractor.

We started with the first clause, which stated, “The Design-Builder and the Architect/Engineer agree to work together on the basis of trust, good faith and fair dealing…”

That seemed like a great start until counsel advised me that I should not agree to this clause because it could be “too risky.” Why? Because the phrase “trust, good faith and fair dealing” could potentially create legal liability by implying a professional standard of care above and beyond the legal minimum requirement! In other words, our legal system, and our obsession with protecting ourselves from blame, may actually prevent us from agreeing to work together in a way that would essentially mitigate the potential liability. This is insanity.

I recently read a quote from a distinguished European businessman who stated that the defining characteristic of American business (and Americans) is that we always need to find and place blame.

“Mindshift,” the group of construction and design industry leaders behind Rex Miller’s influential book “The Commercial Real Estate Revolution,” has concluded that approximately 50 percent of the cost of buildings built in the United States today is wasted. Stephen Covey, author of “The Speed of Trust,” has stated that transactional costs between parties that trust each other are 40 percent less than transactions based on trust.

How did our industry (and our society) reach this point? How much do waste, mistrust, and adversarial relationships cost us on a “per square foot” basis?

It is tempting to draw a conclusion that the problem is the lawyers, however this overly simplistic view overlooks the reality that the legal profession (and other professions) are under the same pressures to avoid exposing themselves to blame (we call it “risk”) as is everyone else. The problem is OURSELVES.

Rex Miller has described the way we build as “a dysfunctional system spawned by a faulty methodology in the middle of a dying paradigm.” He explains, “The basic dynamic at work is escalation. This occurs when one party perceives the other’s action as threatening or harmful and becomes defensive. The opposite party then sees these actions as threatening or harmful and responds in kind.” And so it goes.

This dynamic and the resulting transactions are driven by fear. Miller posits that lack of trust is the result of the way we approach construction projects and assemble teams through ruthless competitive bidding. I agree, however I believe that it is also the result of our own fears of being the first to “blink” by taking the “risk” of trusting someone.

This is not to say that to trust requires a leap of blind faith. Establishing trust should be a rational business process, however it does require that we do our homework. We must be willing to do the hard advance work necessary to qualify a person or organization that we may be interested in doing business with, and to understand and evaluate their integrity, intent, competence and track record before deciding to trust. Ronald Reagan once described this approach as “trust, but verify.” Trust has to be in place before a successful business relationship can commence.

Imagine a world in which buildings cost 30 to 40 percent less to build. How would it impact your business, your community, and your quality of life? Might it be worth risking trusting somebody (or declining to do business with someone you cannot trust) to achieve these gains?

Nothing can change until someone has the courage to attempt to make the changes that they believe in. KMA’s focus for 2013 is on moving back towards a simpler and more productive way of business based on personal relationships and mutual trust. We invite you to join us.

Jay JandaJay Janda remembers his first day at KMA Architecture + Engineering well: It was St. Patrick’s Day 2008 and he’d forgotten to wear green. “That was a rather bruising first day,” Jay jokes. But he knew what he was walking into when he first became interested in working at KMA; a place full of light-heartedness coupled with a passion and drive for the art of architecture and engineering.

Jay’s most profound memory of his early days at KMA was a meeting with Robb Walker. It was here he learned of the trust the company has in its employees to do great work while fostering creativity and collaboration. He was (and is) hooked on the idea that instead of a top-down approach, employees at all levels of KMA work together to come up with award-winning designs and value-driven business solutions for their clients.

“This is an environment where free thinking is highly encouraged,” says Jay. “Everyone at KMA is able to express their own design interests, so long as there is a common understanding of the interests of the company as a whole.”

After growing up in Pasadena, Jay attended Arizona State University (ASU) where he graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Design. Two years later, he earned his Masters of Architecture from the University of Oregon (UO). “The two schools were dramatically different from each other and each had part in shaping my architectural career,” Jay remembers. “ASU was, at least at the time I was there, a rather radical architectural program, with an emphasis on exploring design theories and their resulting physical manifestations. UO put more emphasis on merging theory with reality. Their Urban Architecture program in Portland was an excellent opportunity to explore architectural ideas within the context of the city as a laboratory.”

After his time in Portland, Jay planted strong roots in San Diego. At KMA, he has found a workplace where he can blend his experience as an explorer with his education and real-world know how, most recently on projects including the 707 Lofts, Travis Air Force Base and Nellis Air Force Base.

Jay finds San Diego to be the perfect backdrop for enjoying his other passions: bicycling, hiking traversing local mountaintops and finding new ways to express his fondness for the color purple.

perpendicularThis summer, the Camino de Santiago — a network of routes once used by European pilgrims — called to B. Moon Hajjar.

The routes, which wind through the northern part of Spain, date back to the Middle Ages, when Christians made the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to seek forgiveness from the Apostle St. James, whose remains are thought to be buried there. B., who would rather spend a vacation taking an adventure than relaxing, admits he wasn’t necessarily on the trail for a spiritual journey but he returned from the trip with insight into both himself and his industry.

During his weeks on the trail, B. detailed nearly every day of his journey starting at the very beginning: his flight to Europe, Bikram yoga classes and rest in preparation for the trip he now says he expected to be a “long walk in the park.”

Throughout the month-long journey from village to village, B. encountered day-to-day obstacles that he shared with his family and friends through his blog. The unexpected twists and turns in his trip included a blown-out shoe that needed to be replaced, a head cold that required large amounts of orange juice and “ankles that felt like Kathy Bates from Misery took a sledgehammer to them.”

What he didn’t detail online was the impact that the journey had on him professionally.

B. realized quickly after he set out on foot that he’d take home lessons he’d be able to apply to his work with KMA clients. The most striking for him was the sheer amount of space he encountered almost immediately. The differences between traveling by car and traveling by foot helped him see spatial perception in a different light.

“The perception of a mountain range, for instance, when driving in a car, is something that you can engage visually from a distance and be experiencing just minutes later,” B. said. “On foot, you see a mountain range in the near distance and you know that you will be climbing it in two to three days. This definitely plays on your psyche and alters your immediate perception as well as your near-future perception of time and space. The spatial relationship you have on foot with the vastness of nature is measured in days rather than minutes or even hours.”

B. ran into some predicaments along the way, including a bag he’d overpacked and eventually had to send ahead to Santiago to pick up once he arrived at the end of the trek. Other minor upsets, including blisters, sore knees and a restless night spent on the floor of a church attic, happened along the way as well but B. said all the obstacles were what he was looking for in the first place anyway.

"Not knowing what to expect is half of the fun,” B. said. “Adventure tourism is all about playing the hand you are dealt, so the only mindset you need to have is to be completely open to whatever may come your way.”

From an architecture standpoint, the same sentiment applies: the profession is about creating solutions to problems and overcoming obstacles to create a finished product. After a month on his feet, sleeping in hostels and finding ways around problems, B. can say he has plenty of experience in discovering solutions.

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Each year, the green building industry churns out new products that make sustainability an option in nearly every aspect of construction.

Throughout the past few months, the construction industry has seen the rise of exciting and innovative materials including smog-eating tiles, PVC-free carpet tiles, “stones” made from paper and solar panels that take cues from the sun’s location as to when to get rid of accumulating snow or hunker down during gale-force winds.

As the use of fossil fuels continues to affect the globe’s atmosphere, makers of construction materials are looking for innovative ways to keep the harmful effects of smog at bay. BoralPure tiles, a series of smog-eating tiles made by Boral, were the first tiles on the market that can be affixed to residential or commercial buildings to help alleviate the affects of smog. A catalyst, which is embedded in the roof tiles, allows them to reduce nitrogen oxide that’s created by pollution and creates cleaner air for those living or working in and around the buildings.

Other harmful materials can come in the form of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which are used largely as stain-repellants in carpets. InterfaceFLOR has created a carpet tile with no PFCs, which keeps the environment from being contaminated and the health of building residents intact.

While some materials, like PFC-free carpet and smog-eating tiles are manufactured from new materials, others, such as PaperStone products, are made from recycled ones. PaperStone is exactly what it sounds like — stone made from paper. Makers of the product use 100 percent recycled paper and press it together in a high-pressure process that creates a stone-like surface. Cabinets, countertops and other products have been made using the same process. PaperStone also manufactures RainStone cladding materials, which can be used on exterior walls.

While solar panels have been used for years, AllEarth Renewables has taken them a step further and made them especially useful for builders in areas with distinct seasonal patterns. The AllSun Trackers wake with the sunrise and immediately tilt northward to get rid of snow or other materials that may have fallen during the night. In extremely windy conditions, they’re built to automatically move themselves into a position that’s parallel to the ground, which keeps them from being uprooted.

Through the use of these products, and others that are constantly making their way into the sustainable building market, construction, architecture, engineering and design firms can be sure they’re environmentally-friendly as well as functional.

BuildingGreen.com; “Top 10 Products for 2012: Our Picks for a Resilient Future.”
Yahoo.com; “Top Five Green Building Materials of 2012.”

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