Courtesy, John M. Russo 

Documenting a building's characteristics isn't as easy as it may sound.

Some people tell me that documenting a building’s architecture is easy. I hear it all the time: “Anyone can do it;” “It takes no special skill or knowledge;” and, my favorite, “I’ll just send in an intern.”

There’s nothing like having my 30 years of knowledge and experience compared to the facility of an intern.

Many times I am told that the only reason I am being asked to measure a building is that the client is too busy to do it. That is, when they don’t tell me, “Your fee is too high.” Why do I suddenly hear echoes of Rodney Dangerfield?

While my inner voice is responding with a perfunctory, “I hope that works out for you,” what I’m really thinking is, “How can I help my client see the real value in my service offering?”

The reality is that documenting a building can be very challenging. It takes a good understanding of not only buildings and building systems, but thorough knowledge of the principles of surveying; skill with a variety of hardware and software technologies; and resoluteness for uncovering hidden conditions and conquering complexities while maintaining quarter-inch accuracy.

It takes a bit of time and a lot of pain before a client will realize how difficult building documentation can be. Sometimes the pain is self-inflicted.

The other day, I received a call from a company which had decided to have its personnel handle the task instead of accepting my bid. “Hmmm … why are you calling me now?” I wondered silently. 

Then came the words that brought some satisfaction: “We should have used you guys on that job you quoted in the first place. We spent hours and hours trying to make things work in our model and had to make multiple trips to and from the site. We ended up taking a bloodbath when the job got to the construction phase, due to all the existing conditions we were not able to reconcile.”

As architects, it is sometimes better to not get a job and have the client toil, only to call us later. Documenting every little bump on a 100,000-square-foot building, including struggling with the best way to measure a mechanical room or above-ceiling plenum space filled with complicated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems can be the best way for a client to learn the value of a professional building surveyor.

Maybe next time, the client won’t ask an intern to do it.