It should be no surprise to Walls & Ceilings’ readers that the world of construction has grown increasingly more and more complex. Complexity has infiltrated all areas of construction from design, code compliance, risk management, estimating, supervision, change orders, bonding, etc. It now appears there is no area of construction that is without complication. Systems, assemblies and options for architects and contractors have never been so overwhelming. While this bounty of options and choices has benefits, there is also a downside. It is the fight for market share.
Market share is defined as the percentage of a market, as defined by units or revenue dollars, accounted for a particular product or entity. Marketing professionals have complex formulas to determine the real market share of a brand or company. The fight for market share is often brutal—and much like a political campaign—playing dirty is a proven strategy that can yield winning results. This means that it is not always innovation or better products that win. If trashing a competitor or overstating ones value gets market share, so be it. Like war, all is fair in the constant battle for more market share.
Another downside is complexity in what should be simple and basic for us. There are lots of examples in our industry of over-complication. For interiors, we have been arguing Level 5 finish for decades and what the skim coat is supposed to be used for and what limitations it has. The complexity of this issue has led to debates, changes in standards and been used as marketing opportunities. For decades, I understood Level 5 and my interpretation worked well. Today, I am not sure if the science I hear about with terms such as porosity (fill and seal microscopic pores) is reality or just the purposeful blurring of the lines. The complexity has left me confused.
For exteriors, the complexity has reached absurd heights. To design and construct a weather-tight wall cladding, even with windows and doors, should not be that complicated. Every year we add more layers of membranes, more flashing and more complexity. Complexity adds cost; extra material is merely the start. It is the other related costs that can really drive the price of wall construction through the roof. Complexity of multiple layers requires more experts, more details, more meetings, more inspections, more codes and standards; it seems never ending.
At What Cost?
Adding these layers of materials and complexity has lots of other ancillary costs we often forget about. The workers in the field scratch their collective heads, trying to make sense of overly complicated drawings, specified products that require special ordering, unique primers and other extra products or steps. All this slows production, adds supervision and creates more meetings, all to deal with the overly complex.
Now we need green or sustainable products or they are just not marketable. The products labeled as environmentally safe can also add complexity and cost, that fact is undeniable. It’s concerning to read an article by our own Chris Dixon who tells us the first platinum LEED building in America is now failing. Should we go back to box-like structures? Certainly not; but we could use more common sense and still be good stewards to the Earth. On our current path, costs will continue to rise until what we paid for in the 1970s is a mere fraction of what it costs today to build.
The public or end users of major projects seem to be growing weary of the continued cost escalation. They are trying everything to bring costs back down. I would suggest we try to get back to more basic and simplified procedures. It often surprises me when I see over-complication for what seems to be a simple issue. I was asked to review a set of plans for the installation of a basic nail-flange window. The sheet had a 32-step process for pre-flashing the rough opening. I got lost trying to figure it out.
Construction may be complicated but it cannot compare to that of building a new fighter jet. Even that industry found ways to simplify the design and construction process. Kelly Johnson, chief engineer for Lockheed, revolutionized jet aircraft construction while developing planes such as the SR-71 Blackbird and the U2. He developed a set of rules for management to follow and was strict about adherence to them. His most infamous design rule was even adopted in 1960 by the U.S. Navy. What was the design principle he swore by? KISS (Keep it simple stupid).