Image is Everything

April 29, 2009

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s definitely true of engineering work. After all, the product that we deliver at the end of the day is typically a set of drawings. It’s equally important to use images throughout the project timeline to communicate with colleagues and clients.

Lately, I’ve been working out the details of a very complex entrance to a commercial building. My assignment is made more difficult because much of the floor structure was constructed while the architectural details of the entrance area were still being worked out. The challenge now is to provide support for the curtain wall, a hoist system for window washers to hook into, and support for a fancy 4-story tall piece of artwork in very tight quarters.

After being assigned the job, I was bombarded with emails describing the conditions. Honestly, none of it made any sense. I tried looking through old sketches drawn up by my colleagues, but I could tell that many of the specifics had changed. The only way to make progress was to meet with the architects and flesh out some concepts in person.

What was supposed to be a half-hour meeting lasted more than two. I brought the existing structural drawings with me, and the architects printed out large sheets with their initial ideas. Side by side, we were able to recognize the conflicts. Some of my suggestions were quickly discarded because of geometric limitations. But it’s better to find that out right away, versus spending hours on a bad hunch.

On the way back from my meeting, I actually walked past the job site. From the street, I could see the area that we had just discussed. I hadn’t planned to stop by, but this gave me an opportunity to snap a photo with my camera phone.

The next day my team started fleshing out our structural sketches. It was a bit comical to see my phone being passed around, so people could see the actual as-built condition we had to work around. Working as a team, we came up with some ideas that greatly improved on the architect’s initial concept. So, of course, we sent over some more sketches.

Even though the project was fairly small, it was rewarding to come up with a good solution to a complicated problem. It feels great when effective communication, face-to-face and with pictures, leads to project success.

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