Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Numbers, reuse, and value engineering

Value - photo by Cassidy Curtis

I learned a new term: Value engineering.  And I learned how doing value engineering would impact my design decisions on the sculptures I'm doing for the Electra C. Doren library as part of my ReImagining Works commission.

My metal sculptures are going to be embedded into the fence. That means that my designs are dependent on the fence design. And the fence design had to be settled before my sculpture design or I would have to change the design of my sculptures with every change to the fence design. Before I started designing I let the architects and the art board know that I needed the final design decisions of the fence for the reading terrace to be settled. Good thing I did - because there were value engineering changes to the fence design. 

I was prepared for the impacts of one decision: the fence door on the back of the reading terrace was changed into an emergency only exit. This made sense: the function of the fence door changed and there were a cascade of changes to my design because of this change in purpose. But some of the other changes were not as obvious. One of these changes impacted my sculpture design. Rather than the post-to-post distance being the same all the way around the fence, as it was in the original drawings, now the post-to-post distances would be irregular. Some would be around 4 feet and some around 6 feet with a few at unique distances; in all there would now be 6 different post-to-post distances. I couldn't figure the reason for these changes.

Value Engineering: I was told that they were the result of "value engineering". The description that followed sounded like "cost reduction", something I’m familiar with from technology product design. But value engineering is different. Everything in a project is evaluated for potential cost savings but value engineering calls for  preserving the desired level of function in the process. Only if function is not impacted can a cost savings be acceptably realized.

The fence would serve the same functional goals whether there were posts every 4 feet or every 2 feet or in the unequal pattern that was actually chosen. The difference was that if the distances could be maximized without sacrificing the fence's function and goals then the project could save costs. Fewer posts means fewer pieces to fabricate, fewer to install, and it means that the fence panels could be ordered at a larger size and cut.

Numbers: When I planned the sculptures from the original architectural drawings I chose to make eight sculptural panels. This was based on the equal spacing of panels in the drawing and wanting to have an acceptable panel to open fence ratio. I planned on three sculptural panels on the north terrace fence railing, three panels on the south terrace fence railing, and two panels on the west terrace fence railing. But I knew the fence design was in flux so I built flexibility on the number of panels into my proposal.

With the newly arranged posts I had a decision to make about what post-to-post distances made the most sense for the sculptures and how many of them worked in the new arrangement of fence sections. I chose to use the 4 foot sections because if I had chosen the 6 foot sections the resulting sculptures would have been visually overwhelming. Even though they would be of the same number, they would occupy much more of the visual space. I also chose to make 6 panels not 8 panels. Because of the pattern of posts if I made 8 panels it would mean that two 4-foot panels would be side by side in a corner. That would not be a good pattern, it would bring two panels too close, and whatever corner I put it in would make the images look cluttered. Instead the pattern works out to three panels on the north, two on the south, and one on the west wall. I negotiated to have the order of unequal fence sections rearranged on the north wall so that the three sculptures would be closer to the building and more part of the terrace space than if they were closer to the exit.

Reuse: My second concern with value engineering was anticipated early in my proposal phase. Value engineering is often associated with planned obsolescence. If the functional life of something is only expected to be 20 years then you do not need to invest the cost to make something durable enough to last 70 years. This is a wise investment because if you paid more for 70-year quality and only got 20 years before your use became obsolete, you'd have been overpaying. A fence and a reading terrace, will likely have a limited lifespan before it is time to replace it. For example 20 years from now the library may need to be remodeled because the pattern of library usage may have changed. If people no longer want to read on a terrace at the library, the library system will remove the terrace and construct something that meets the needs of those future library users. However, I want to design my artwork to last as long as possible - well more than 20 years. I don't want my sculptures to be obsolete.

I purposefully designed my sculptural concept for reuse. I conceived of the design so that the sculpture panels can easily be disassembled from the fence and put to other uses. For example, they can be mounted flat against an appropriate colored wall inside or outside a building where their images can be viewed. They can also as easily be mounted into the structure of a window to allow sunlight to come through the cutouts revealing their silhouettes. Or they can be separately mounted on supports to become freestanding separate panels for a sculpture garden or room use separator. 

While value engineering had an impact on the design process I think we mitigated the impacts on the actual sculpture. The sculptural panels are fewer in number but approximately the same size as before. They have new positions around the terrace, but ones that I think will work with the space. The fence has a 30-year warranty and may have a purposeful life expectancy of 20 years, but my sculptures can be reused.

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