PEOPLE WHO DON’T UNDERSTAND DRAWINGS|
Arthur O'Leary, FAIA, MRIAI
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Inigo Johnson, AIA, as he did early everyTuesday morning, was driving to visit the Morgan House, which was under construction. He knew that the framing would be well under way and he had a definite detailed mental image of what to expect. When he arrived, however, it didn’t look right. Something was seriously wrong with the location of the dining room window. He quickly parked, grabbed a roll of construction drawings and his clipboard from the rear seat, and walked briskly to the house.
He addressed a carpenter skilfully working nearby, “Say, Mike, are you sure this window is in the right place?”
The carpenter, deeply engrossed in his work, looked up. “I don’t know, Mister Johnson, you’ll have to talk to Lowell. He reads the plans.”
This is not an uncommon occurrence. There are many construction industry craftsmen, otherwise highly skilled in their respective trades, who simply do not understand construction drawings. It is not that they are indifferent or uninterested in their work. They just happen to be graphically dyslexic. They are, therefore, utterly dependent on their supervisors, coworkers, or other trusted advisors for honest and accurate interpretation of contract requirements.
Graphic Illiterates and Dyslexics
We all know intelligent educated people who cannot read road maps. They just cannot make sense of diagrams or drawings. They do not themselves communicate by use of drawings, sketches, or diagrams.
Those who have never invested the necessary time and energy to learn how to read drawings are what could be termed graphically illiterate. Presumably they could learn if they expended the requisite time and effort. However, those who simply cannot be taught, because of a genetic impairment of mental or visual functions, are graphically dyslexic. Some call it dysgraphia or dysgraphicacy.
Producing technical drawings to be understood by graphic illiterates or graphic dyslexics is no more possible than creating written contracts to be understood unaided by illiterates or dyslexics.
Graphic Dyslexia is a Hidden Condition
Superficially, it is not possible to identify people who are graphically illiterate or graphically dyslexic any more easily than it would be to discern if they are color blind, lack taste, or harbor bias. This is particularly true when they are outstandingly literate and articulate in the use of oral and written English, such as doctors, lawyers, or bankers; one would not presume to question their graphic communication faculty.
Only persons who are graphically literate can form accurate and nuanced judgments of the meaning and communication value of construction drawings.
The Graphic Part of a Construction Contract
The most voluminous portion of the contract documents in any construction contract is comprised of the drawings and specifications.
The specification text, being written in English, should be comprehensible to anyone who understands the language, is not dyslexic, and is conversant with the technical subject matter. However, the drawings are understandable only to those who fully comprehend the graphic language as well as the technical subject matter.
Construction contract drawings should be drafted with as much legal precision and craftsmanship as any other part of a written contract. They must first of all communicate a precise message as well as be technically complete and correct. The drawings must be susceptible of specific and unambiguous interpretation. They must be completely understandable to all who are bound by their requirements.
There is little possibility of a true meeting of the minds when any of the contracting parties do not understand the drawings.
Understanding Technical Drawings
People who comprehend construction drawings are said to be able to “read” them. This includes most of the construction industry. Architects and engineers and their technical staffs not only understand how to read drawings but also how to create them and use them as a medium for communicating their ideas and expectations to others.
The highest level of conversance with graphic communication includes the facility of three-dimensional visualization even though the drawings are flat, twodimensional representations. The graphic communication faculty has two complementary factors: the ability to communicate with others and the ability to understand communication originated by others.
Client Approval of Drawings
Architects often ask their clients to sign the drawings at various stages to signify their acceptance and approval of the work up to that point. Some of these clients do not really understand the graphic materials but they will sign anyway thus signifying their belief and confidence in the architect’s word descriptions and as an act of faith in their architect’s professional ability.
In this case, the architect may not realize when there is a lapse in communication. It will not become apparent until some time later when the project is under construction. Only then is it possible for this client to fully appreciate the three dimensional implications, but then it may be too late to make physical adjustments economically.
In situations where owners rely on advice given by other possibly graphically illiterate trusted advisors, such as their accountants, lawyers, bankers, or wellmeaning friends, they may not recognise that these ad hoc consultants are unable to interpret graphic communications, visualize the physical implications, or recognize the economic consequences.
For further reading on graphic communication, see Chapter 30 of “A Guide to Successful Construction - Effective Contract Administration,” Third Revised Edition, by Arthur F. O’Leary, FAIA, MRIAI, published by BNi Publications, Anaheim, California.
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