My first day studying architecture at college started with the department head asking me to define the word "architecture." I came up with "architecture is structurally defining environments to accommodate human activities." But when we see "architecture" for the first time, we mostly see walls. Facades define architecture more than roofs, in most cases. There are some buildings, such as churches, where there is "architecture" indoors but when you are trying to locate a building while driving your car, it is the exterior walls that tip you off about which building is which; no one gives you driving directions that say "It's that window building on the corner." Rather they say, "It's that brick or stucco building." The exterior cladding is what defines a building, at least initially and visually. Walls also keep the weather where it belongs-outdoors. This way of looking at architecture-as the wall cladding-has pluses and minuses.

This psychological tendency to label buildings by their cladding puts extra onus on the people involved to make sure that the finished building works well. This includes the designers, as well as the sales people, material producers and contractors. If something goes wrong with a building's "skin," the blame game starts and specialty products are the easiest targets. They are often proprietary systems with specific manufacturers who hopefully (the lawyers pray) have deep pockets.

Although there may be a few jerks around who really do not care whether their work is any good or not (as long as they get paid) almost everyone I've dealt with in my 30-plus years in construction intends to produce a good building. They know full well that good work produces more business and bad work does the opposite.

In this age of cultural diversity and tight budgets, communications are critical-it's "the beginning of understanding," as Westinghouse used to say. Knowing what is expected is paramount, as unrealized expectations are the primary cause of suffering.

Thus, it behooves us all to try to work as a team and to make sure that we all know what is expected. This includes expressing what you do know to others and being smart enough to know the right questions to ask to ferret out missing information. The response "Gosh, I didn't know that" isn't very defensible.

Sometimes, I hear the excuse that "We build to code and that's good enough." Not necessarily true. Codes are minimums and what matters is that the walls work, not just that they are legal. This is why architects exist-to put the building in context. With the exception of tract housing and certain canned hotel designs, few buildings are exactly alike and must be designed on their own merits-at least they need to fit onto the site. One of the reasons that buildings these days seem to be having more and more problems is architects fees are too low. Considering the effort and liability in practicing architecture, it's a lousy way to make a buck.

Money is particularly an issue with the building's skin, which is any building's primary reason for existence: A durable wall and roof is a lot more important than some trendy interior material that won't be "cool" next year. So, put the money into good "architecture," especially the walls. There needs to be more money and effort spent on getting the design, materials and contracting done right up front.

Web and flow

Speaking of architects, BNP Media's Jason Kent has redesigned the layout and look of our Web site ( As the e-business world continues to grow, we wanted to highlight our new e-products, as well as place an emphasis on the different editorial content, resources and services we offer. When's the last time your company updated its site? How important have you found it for conducting business? We find it priceless and forgive me for the boasting but: If you remember an article published a couple years ago and can't find your print issue, check out our archives online. They go back to 2000.