Taking one for the team

August 11, 2010

As so many of us descend on the "Queen City" of Charlotte this month for the American Institute of Architects annual convention, we here at BD&C will have our saddlebags full with this, our 2002 Building Team Awards special issue.

On May 9 at the Charlotte City Club, we'll present our fifth annual awards to six winning project teams. We'll also hear from such industry notables as Skyscrapersauthor Judith Dupré, speaking on the important symbolism of tall buildings in the wake of Sept. 11, and our own Reed Business Information economist Daryl Delano. Charlotte architect Odell & Associates will add regional perspective.

To read more about our winners and the fruits of their successful collaborations, please turn to page 31. For event coverage and other related AIA news stories, also visit our Website, www.bdcmag.com, the week of May 13.

Collaborative results

Appropriately enough, it has truly taken a team effort on our part to bring you this issue, from our panel of distinguished judges, right on down to the writing, editing and artwork you see before you.

But our teamwork pales next to the efforts so many of you are making today to serve owners and developers better, both here and abroad. Indeed, broader trends for years have pointed to more collaboration and less litigation in this industry, historically one of the most lawyer-happy enterprises on the planet.

Of course, we're far from out of those woods yet. But at least we can see the sun poking through the trees now.

Still, I must confess, I am often reminded of one disturbing example from my reporting past. And it is not one that reflects all that well on this industry, in general, or on architects, in particular.

As Charlotte pulses with architects here to meet, greet and tackle all the pressing issues of the day, perhaps my story may be instructive. If nothing else, I'm hoping that some of you may be able to instruct me on its larger meaning and its relevance to today's jobsites and boardrooms.

A cautionary tale, a lingering question

Nine years ago, I took a press tour during the early steel erection phase in the construction of a large new downtown building in a Midwest city. (I don't want to be too specific for reasons that will soon be apparent.)

That day, I had two guides: a crotchety, colorful general superintendent and a much younger, but still veteran architect. Twenty minutes in, the ground beneath us shook and a thunderous sound of crashing steel stopped us cold. When the din subsided, a rushing cloud of smoke and dust engulfed an area some 200 yards from us. All told, the collapse killed two ironworkers and injured five. In a surreal scene I will never forget, burly survivors openly wept.

As chaos reigned in the initial moments, my two tour guides left me in two distinctly different fashions. The old contractor apologized, said he had to find out what had happened and headed straight for the smoke. But the shaken designer said simply, "Architects don't like to be around when stuff like this happens." He then hailed a cab and was gone in a flash. He would find out the details later on radio and television.

I was stunned.

But later I realized that it had likely been drilled into that architect to flee any accident immediately, lest some plaintiff's attorney could later argue that he was somehow "in charge" of the site. So, could I really blame him?

Today, I still wonder. Have evolving team roles and more progressive contracts and insurance instruments advanced to the point of changing that unnatural reaction?

You tell me. I'd like to know.


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