Opening Collaboration Between Architects and Fabricators // Torrence Campbell
The field of architecture, like many other professions, is changing rapidly. The industrial and technological revolutions have added many new possibilities and areas to the discipline. Among many other innovations, the internet and its online databases have created an environment where architects no longer have to engage in direct collaboration with the fabricators of building systems. This causes more harm to the profession because of the way communication platforms are engaged. Instead of collaborating with manufacturers, architects now browse an online database, select a rain screen from a manufacturer’s website, copy and paste the details into a drawing set, and then alter the building’s design slightly to accommodate the manufacturer’s predetermined specifications. In the process of making product information more readily accessible for architects, these technological interfaces have created a relationship gap between the architect and the fabricator.
Diagram depicting the break in communication that online easily accessible catalogs have made in the design process.
Scott Marble, in his essay Imagining Risk, argues for the need for architects to get more involved in the new area of digital design and fabrication. He says, “Craft is defined as a skill developed over time and in direct relationship to making and to working with materials.” He claims that architects have been relying more on the fabricators and builders to carry abstract designs rather than figuring out how to build it themselves. Through the architect’s process of design, they create an abstract representation of the project in a drawing set. However, this world is removed from the physical building and the architect slowly loses a sense of the tools and products produced.
In my recent experiences while working on the Preston Outdoor Education Station I have been in collaboration with the metal fabrication shop Built So-Well in Manhattan, Kansas discussing the Grass Station and how it will be fabricated. Through my conversations with them, I have used their experience to create a drawing set that more accurately depicts the standards used in the industry. For example the panels in the grass station where originally 4’ wide because we knew the sheets they would get from a supplier would be 4’ x 10’. However we were advised to change the width to 3’11” as these would require us to cut all sides of the panel and in doing so eliminate any imperfections in the sheet steel that may have come from the supplier. Also the flat bar that we were welding to the back was placed originally on the edges of the panel, but through discussions with the Fabricator and understanding how they would fabricate the panels we lowered the top bar 3”. This allows for panel clamps to attach to the top allowing for ease of mobility in their shop and on the job site as we place the panels in their final position. The flat bar on the sides was also changed to inset ¼” as the fabricator needs that space to place his welds. From the physical traits of the untreated material to the installation process, the fabricators have been able to provide insight that helps make the design cleaner and more efficient. This process has also insured that the fabricators understand exactly what the studio wants for a final product and helps them understand how to employ new techniques to meet the needs of the architects.
Detail depicting panel drawing before collaboration with Built So-Well on the Left, and after collaboration on the Right.
By reconnecting architects to the fabrication of the building systems they employ, innovations in building systems can be made quicker and more routinely. Opening a dialogue between the architect and the fabricator will allow the architect to begin to understand the reasons why the industry has adapted certain standards over the years. Through understanding these standards, architects can begin to design buildings with more organizational complexity, where all the systems in their perfect form align as they seamlessly come together. Similarly, fabricators and builders can learn from architects how other fields are adapting and what new innovations are being made with similar products, as the architect will be in closer contact with people from all other areas of the industry. While the use of technology can be beneficial it does not lessen the need for collaboration between the architect and the fabricator.
Written by Torrence Campbell