Is it a Product or a Building?

The manufacturing industry mass produces many of the same, or essentially the same, items offered for sale to industry or the general public. Optimization in manufacturing is key to returning the greatest profits. Time spent exploring optimum solutions is time well spent.

Manufacturing Applications
Changing a component may increase the price of the component. But a single change may reduce the overall product cost, reduce manufacturing time, reduce defects, improve performance, and increase user satisfaction. Each optimization will be applied to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of similar products.

Building Applications
Few, if any, buildings are duplicated multiple times. Yet we find design and construction teams approaching buildings as manufacturers would products. The technology is available, so we try to optimize design solutions to help control construction and operational costs. Employing BIM technology, we optimize the utilities in ceiling cavities and reduce floor-to-floor heights saving inches on each floor. Each saved inch in floor height on a 100,000 sf building is 8,333 cf in volume that need not be conditioned.

The building systems are compacted to make efficient use of the available space. Sometimes the efficiency requires specific installation sequences or modular construction optimization to ensure everything will fit within a confined space.

Manufacturer Life Cycles
As a manufactured product ages, worn parts may be replaced with identical parts made to ensure a long term service life. However, eventually the product will be disposed at 5, 10, or 20 years. Products are generally disposable after a reasonable service life. We rarely expect products to perform indefinitely, although my parents' first refrigerator from 60 years ago is still functioning today.

Building Life Cycles
Buildings are different. New facilities are designed for service lives of 50 or 100 years or more, exceeding the original designer and builder's life spans. Consider the existing European building stock that survived not 100, but rather 500 or 1,000 years and is still in use, today. As buildings age, uses change; systems change; and technologies change.

When buildings are designed and constructed like products, optimizing for the initial construction and the initial use, they may not be capable of adapting to accept future uses, systems, and technologies. It wasn't long ago that building environmental systems consisted of fireplaces and operable windows. Today buildings may have heating and cooling water supply and return piping, supply and return air ducts, and exhaust ducts all vying for their own piece of that ceiling cavity.

Improve Sustainability
Give buildings a chance to survive their initial use and accommodate future generations without being demolished. Buildings are not products designed to be discarded. Resist optimization for the sake of optimization. Provide space and volume for more building services, larger piping and ductwork, and greater reliance on technologies so the building can avoid the wrecking ball when its initial use becomes obsolete.

Then dream of the time when technology will allow us to open the windows for ventilation.

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