Posted by lpavlova on August 13th, 2009
I have a passion for architecture. And although I love the creative design process, I found myself drawn to work as a project manager and planner at a large institution because it offered me an opportunity to understand how design decisions and construction details affect the performance of buildings throughout their lifecycle. After almost ten years as a project manager and planner at UMass Amherst – a public research university with over $10M GSF of buildings – I am still hooked on the demands and rewards of the work. I have found that the world of project management provides many opportunities to engage in critical thinking and to apply creative principles to the resolution of what are often very real problems: how to best define a project program, what optimal design solution should look like, how it can be executed in the most efficient and responsible manner, how the team’s efforts will meet the inevitable functional, financial and resource challenges and how the campus footprint will effect the regional ecology.
Surprisingly, I have yet to discover a resource that integrates principles of project management for both design and construction and that does so from the point of view of the multiple disciplines that are engaged (please direct me if you know of one). What is even more disheartening is that I have found few public forums where professionals meet to exchange ideas, discuss challenges and share information about the project process. The building industry is very fragmented and complex, often dependent upon traditional knowledge that is carefully guarded, and highly regulated by legislative and legal requirements. This makes teaching design and construction, particularly as the industry shifts toward new paradigms in order to become more sustainable, very challenging.
The US Green Building Council recently articulated an amazingly bold vision for its members: “Buildings and communities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation”. The bar for transformation of the building industry has been raised high and will require a great deal of personal leadership on the part of the current generation of LEED accredited professionals.
As a LEED A.P. I embrace fully this vision and am at the same time daunted by theobstacles that must be overcome. What kind of change must I implement in my own practice in order to assure that I have a positive contribution? What constitutes a generation – i.e. how much time do I have? Given my age, will I be able to witness the fruits of this vision or will my generation fail, leaving an even greater challenge for the next? As a practitioner and part-time academic, how much of my energy should be focused on my own practice and how much of it can I devote to sharing my experience with the next generation of building professionals?
As a sustainability advocate and LEED A.P. I fully embrace this vision and am at the same time quite daunted by the obstacles that must be overcome. What kind of change must I implement in my own practice in order to assure that I have a positive contribution? What constitutes a generation – i.e. how much time do I have? Given my age, will I be able to witness the fruits of this vision or will my generation fall short of the goal, leaving an even greater challenge for the next? As a practitioner and part-time academic, how much of my energy should be focused on my own practice and how much of it can I devote to sharing my experience with the next generation of building professionals?
This blog is my attempt to grapple with these questions in a way that is open to outside influences. At minimum, it is an effort to inform students in my course on Project Management for Design and Construction of the many complex issues that await them if they decide to work as designers, engineers and builders. I also hope to use this medium as a form of a diary of my own thoughts that will be open to discussion by others – friends, colleagues, students and interested individuals. It can serve me as a vehicle for two important goals: i) my personal and professional evolution in developing the skills needed to contribute positively to my ecosystem, and ii) deepening my understanding of the field of project management as it can be applied to the greater project of sustainability. When all is said and done, creating healthy, regenerative communities will occur via many projects, small and large, in which building industry professionals will be providing the leadership, technical expertise and hard work necessary for the vision to be realized.
Project Management as a specialized field of knowledge is still in its early phases: it is barely a century old, having begun roughly with Henry L. Gantt’s introduction in the 1910′s of charts to represent in graphic form schedules for industrial production. Gantt, a mechanical engineer, worked with Frederick W. Taylor, who was the first to develop scientific management principles to improve industrial efficiency in turn of the century steelworks. In the context of WW1 and the Soviet revolution, Gantt believed that “the business system must accept its social responsibility and devote itself primarily to service”. His words still ring true, particularly as the free market system of production faces the challenge of redefining what is of value and what is the true cost of production in order to take into consideration ecological costs to our planet and our human community.
The knowledge base for the scientific management of production has grown considerably since Gantt’s time, having been enriched by experiences from the construction of major public projects – from the Hoover Dam to the Alaska Pipeline – and so has a specialized sub-set of principles focused on project management. With the establishment of the Project Management Institute in 1969 there is now a Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide (4th edition) and there are 6 distinct PM credentials – a sign of increased codification of principles and skills. Whereas the Design Construction industry has embraced the Project Management model of planning and control, particularly the tripod of scope/quality, schedule and budget, there is still a great deal of room for improvement and growth of understanding, particularly in taking into account the complexity of constraints brought about by the need to integrate engineered and living systems.
Thinking about how building projects need to be managed so that they account for the full cycle of the built environment – from conception through to operation and demobilization – is a major part of the work of sustainability advocates. And that starts with the need for individuals to redefine their own personal contribution and to rethink their role as managers, regardless of whether they are owners, designers, engineers, manufacturers, constructors, legal representatives, operators, or any other of the many participants and stakeholders in the building community. When it comes to the built environment – both existing and newly conceived – each one of us must take responsibility for our own actions and inputs.
If we can agree that, from the perspective of building professionals, Sustainability requires us to “Respect the limits of natural systems and non-renewable resources by seeking solutions that produce an abundance of natural and social capital” , then we must re-think our practice and rewrite the textbooks on design and construction.
I welcome you to these pages and hope that they can be a place for thoughtful discussion of how professionals must integrate disciplinary knowledge and personal agency in order to transform the culture of practice toward the regeneration of the built environment.
Ludmilla Pavlova, AIA, LEED A.P.
 US Green Building Council webpage, About USGBC:
 Gantt, Henry L. Organizing for Work. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1919. http://www.ganttchart.com/OrganizingforWork.pdf
 US Green Building Council webpage, About USGBC, Guiding Principles: