THE successful practice of Architecture requires not only ability to draw and design, but also a thorough knowledge of building construction in all its-branches, at least so far as to know how the work should be done, and conscientious and painstaking supervision of the work.
Without a knowledge of the best methods of performing building operations, and of the materials that should be used, it is impossible for the architect to prepare his specifications intelligently, and so as to secure the kind of work he wishes done; and upon the thoroughness with which the specifications are prepared depends in a great measure the satisfactory execution of the work.
The position occupied by the architect as a judge or referee between the owner and contractor also makes it necessary that he should be able to show such, thorough familiarity with common practice as will command the respect of both. Workmen soon discover whether the superintendent is familiar with the difference between good and bad work, and if they find him wanting they are quite sure to take advantage of his lack of knowledge.
After the plans and specifications have been prepared with the utmost care, accidents, failures and bad work are quite sure to occur unless the building operations are carefully and intelligently supervised. In fact, probably more failures in buildings occur from the use of poor materials and bad workmanship than from, faults in the plans.
While it is impossible for one to acquire a thorough knowledge of building construction from books alone, it is necessary, for the young architect, especially, to depend upon technical books to a large extent for his knowledge of how work should be done, and of what materials are best suited for certain purposes, and how they should be used. As a substitute for his lack of knowledge, he must rely largely upon knowledge gained through the experience of others, oftentimes at great cost.
In these books the author has endeavored to describe all the ordinary building, operations in such a way that they may be easily understood, and to point out the defects often met with in building materials and construction, and to indicate in a measure how they may be avoided.
To get along well with contractors and workmen the architect must feel sure that his opinions and decisions are correct, and stick to them. Of course one can often learn much from practical builders, but unless he is already somewhat informed upon the subject he is often likely to be imposed upon. In fact, one of the greatest troubles of young architects in superintending their buildings, lies in the persistence with which builders and workmen will insist, often to the owner, that such and such methods or materials are the best for the purpose, or that the work should be done in such and such a way, or that this or that requirement is unnecessary and not called for by older architects. Oftentimes these assertions are deliberate misrepresentations, made to save expense or labor, and unless the architect is well posted on the subject, and can quote good authorities for his views, it is difficult to combat them.
"The best workmen dislike to pull down or change what is already done, and if inadvertence or temporary convenience has led them into palpable violation of the specifications, they will often stretch the truth considerably in their explanation and excuse."
In pursuing his examinations of the work it is important that the architect or superintendent shall have a systematic plan, that all the innumerable points of construction shall receive attention at the proper time, and before they are covered up or built over so as to make changes inconvenient or impossible. If the superintendent is not also the architect, he should, before the work is commenced, carefully study the plans and specifications and make himself thoroughly familiar with all the points of construction, so that no important feature will be overlooked. He should carefully examine and verify all figures, to see that no mistakes have been made before the work progresses too far.
In making periodical visits to the building he should go all over the building and examine closely all work that has been done since his last visit. Wherever a man has been at work he should go and see what has been done. It is only in this way that the superintendent can insure against concealed defects or poor materials. When he is superintending several buildings at the same time, he should read the specifications and examine the plans frequently, to refresh his memory, otherwise he may overlook some features that cannot be as well attended to afterward.
Another important point in efficient supervision is, after inspecting the materials delivered, to make sure that those rejected are removed from the building, and not used during his absence. All defective materials should be marked in some way, on their face, so that they cannot be used without the mark showing, should the material be incorporated in the building. The superintendent should also insist that work which has been improperly done shall be taken down at once, and, if necessary, take it down or remove it himself. Any mistakes or bad work that are discovered should also be pointed out or condemned at the time, before they are driven out of the mind by other matters.
It is very essential that the superintendent shall, at the start, insist on having the work done as specified, and be very careful to reject all unfit material, for if the contractor finds him lenient at the start he will be sure to take advantage of it, and slight the work more and more. If, on the other hand, he finds that the work must be done right, or else rebuilt, he will be careful to do the work in such a way that it will not have to be done over again. A great fault with many superintendents is that they do not feel sufficient confidence in their own judgment and have not the courage to insist on their directions being followed.
In describing the different building operations the author has endeavored to call attention to the points that particularly need to be inspected, and to some of the ways in which defective materials or construction are covered up. There are, the author is glad to say, many honest builders, who do not countenance bad workmanship, but the temptation to save money, especially when the work is taken at a low figure, is so great that the architect should consider that his duty to his client and to himself is not fulfilled until he has satisfied himself by careful inspection that the work is being done in the manner specified. Even when the contractor does not wish to slight the work, there are, unfortunately, many workmen who seem to prefer to do a poor job rather than a good one, and who, rather than lift a heavy stone, will break it in two, or save themselves all the labor possible, so long as their work will pass unnoticed.
For such, the only treatment is to require a strict observance of the specifications and the superintendent's directions, with the certain penalty for violation of having to do their work over again.