One of the greatest, and most challenging, things about being an architect is everything there is to learn in the course of doing your job. As the leaders of the design team, we need to know all the materials, products, and code requirements of all the materials in a building. This includes all the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural systems. With so many components to a building, it is not surprising it takes years, and in some cases, a lifetime of experience to fully understand a building. It's little wonder why architects were viewed as Renaissance men.
The most interesting things I have learned over the years are through challenges faced during construction. In one case, a client called a few months after moving into their new building because there was an unusual smell. Never a good start to a new space. We checked the HVAC system first to ensure proper airflow and fresh air circulation. When that was ok, we hired an environmental air company to test the air, but their results were non-conclusive. Ultimately, the location of the smell was determined by the high tech method of sniffing the carpet. Our next step was contacting the carpet manufacturer, who wanted to ensure the correct glue was used. We checked the submittals to make sure we specified the correct glue, which we did, but the carpet manufacturer wanted a sample to verify. Of course, I had to ask how they could determine the glue used after the fact. It turns out that all glues have colored fibers in them, so you know what product was used. Who knew?
Another example of something I learned doing my job is about windows. Windows may have started as simple panes of glass, but they have evolved to include add argon gas and Low-E(emissivity) coatings to make them more energy-efficient. The Low-E coating works by reflecting heat from the sun before it gets into a room. What I learned, after a client complained his glass was hot to the touch, was that how much installation matters. We called the glass manufacturer who suggested the glass might be installed backward. We asked the contractor to remove the pane of glass in question and used a two-prong probe that lights up when it touches the Low-E coating. It turns out that the glass was installed backward. Around this time, we had another project finish up and the entrance vestibule was uncomfortably hot. Since the HVAC system could not keep it cool, the first thought for most was there was a design flaw. However, with my new knowledge of glass installation, I stopped by and felt the glass. It was scorching on the inside, so I knew it was installed backward.
Often on a construction site, when things go wrong people start pointing fingers and assigning blame. This defensive position often makes it hard to figure out the cause of an issue. This is where a good architect gets to work and finds the solutions. Construction is complicated and it takes a lifetime to fully understand buildings. For me, the constantly changing building materials, processes, and unique clients make this industry so much fun and let me keep learning.