Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Elements of Building

The Elements of Building: A Business Handbook For Residential Builders & Tradesmen
Mark Q. Kerson
From The Ground Up Publishing, January 2014

Paperback | 5 x 8 inches | 360 pages | No illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-0991327706 | $37.00

Publisher Description:
The Elements of Building is about the business of residential construction, that is, how to build and run a construction company. It is a must have resource for new and seasoned tradesmen and builders. With 40 years of experience the author details the skill required to run a successful company. This invaluable handbook offers insightful guidance on hiring and working with employees and subcontractors; choosing and working with clients; estimating and bidding; managing money and marketing; and much more.
dDAB Commentary:
When this "business handbook for residential builders and tradesmen" arrived in the mail, I immediately flipped to the chapter that best applied to me: Designer, part of the Professional section. After all, how could I comment on a book that is geared to someone an architect like me would be working with rather than to myself in particular? So I figured the best way to judge the whole book was to see what it says about designers, what Mark Q. Kerson defines as "one who studies to become certified or licensed to develop the designs and create the documents used to construct a project." He does not use the word "architect" in the ten-page chapter on Designers, but he does acknowledge that "engineers sometimes develop residential construction construction documents." So the term "designer" is broad in The Elements of Building, but considering that many residential projects in the United States are done without the involvement of architects this generality is not surprising.

So what else does Kerson say about designers? He admits, rightly I think, that "many builders and tradesmen act as if [design] is something to be gotten through quickly in order to get to the 'real work of construction'." Thankfully he promptly writes that "this is a mistake" and goes on to champion the benefits of good design. What follows are descriptions of the various "design-planning" approaches (e.g., prefab homes, stock building plans, high-end houses); of the ways builders interact with designers, with plenty of advice on bidding; and of a few "on the job" scenarios. The last, though barely a page long, is especially interesting to me, since I worked for an architect who made many design decisions in the field. She detailed the drawings sufficiently to obtain permits and get bids, but she worked with one builder so often that she could tweak details on site and arrive at a better design that resulted from the interactions between designer, builder, and the realities of the job site. Kerson's advice to builders about working with designers is aligned with this experience, in the sense that good working relationships will benefit everybody involved; builders that respect design and designers that respect trades are a basis of this. That Kerson starts The Elements of Building with a section on Rules, Ethics, and Opinions indicates that those good working relationships permeate every aspect of running a successful construction business.

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