Architecture is an extremely high-stakes profession. Small errors in design can lead to sizeable differences in performance. In some cases, this can have aesthetic consequences, disrupting the visual design of the structure. But in other, more serious cases, the underlying stability of the structure can be compromised.
When this happens, everyone involved is at risk of reputational and legal consequences. But it’s the architect who bears the bulk of the risk. Accusations of professional negligence can overshadow a career – to say nothing of the outcome of an actual prosecution.
Errors in design can be subtle and difficult to detect at first. For this reason, successful architects will have a strong sense of detail, and have a process in place to check for potential flaws.
Design errors can set in at various stages of the project. They might be present from the initial planning stage, or they might only come in right at the point of construction. At the outset, verbal and written communication with the client is essential. Keeping track of these communications is essential, especially when there are many participants.
But in many cases, the complexity of a project can make small mistakes inevitable. A firm might take on a project that goes beyond its experience. It might lack the necessary familiarity with building regulations, or rely too much on the trade contractors who will actually implement the design.
Drawings might be incomplete, or, worse, inconsistent. This is often a result of poor communication and collaboration, and can be addressed by fostering a culture in which people feel free to put their hands up to point out errors.
So, how can these design errors cause problems?
The best outcome is that the design error is noticed, and causes a small delay. The larger the error, and the later it is noticed, the greater the delay will be. Time wasted here will equate to budget overruns. As we’ve mentioned, the professional and reputational consequences can also be disastrous.
Architects also owe an ethical duty to their clients, to end users, and to the general public. If a design is flawed, then it is incumbent on the architect to say so. If it is later revealed that an architect kept quiet when they might have drawn attention to a flaw, then they might be held legally accountable – especially if the design went on to cause harm.
So, how can we eliminate design errors at the earliest possible stage? The answer lies in the right processes.
Designs should be checked with fresh eyes. If you’ve been working on a design for hours on end, then you might begin to lose perspective on it. Taking a break, or getting someone else to take a look, can be invaluable. For consistency’s sake, formalising a review process can be very helpful.
Document everything thoroughly, and have a checklist process so that you can be sure that the site has been analysed, and that any relevant building codes have been adhered to.
A few developments look set to be transformational for the architecture business, and to help to drive down errors of this sort. Building Information Modelling, or BIM, provides a standard via which 3D modelling apps can communicate essential information about a given structure.
The role of AI-driven analytics in searching for and spotting errors, might also be crucial in eliminating design flaws of this kind. Virtual reality devices might also allow human beings the chance to inspect buildings in a new way, before they are actually constructed. In practice, a combination of human beings and machines look set to collaborate, to create a safer and less error-prone profession.