Communication is the key to engineering success

Sharon Jutla, associate director at Studio HBA, on the importance of collaboration with engineering consultants

Sharon Jutla, Studio HBA.
Sharon Jutla, Studio HBA.

All of history’s most impactful entrepreneurs from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, were able to shape our world not only by their inventions, but by their ability to pull in bright people, to become a sort of collaboration machine, to invent together.

So why is that engineers and interior designers often do not collaborate very well?

Is it that they seem to think that their aims will always be in conflict? I have found working in interior spaces that most engineers do actually want similar outcomes to their counterparts.

They don’t want their components to stick out or make the design ugly and unappealing. Often the problem seems to be that of engineers and interior designers actually communicating and working together.

The best way is going to be concentrating on what is best for the project or client and of course its end user.

This can often be found by the different disciplines working together and the collaboration can happen regardless of whether the engineering and design teams are in one, two or more offices.

While I worked in an integrated practice some years back now, I also frequently worked with engineers in remote locations and found that the same issues apply - the need to communicate with one another.

Engineers often blame the interior designer and architects for lack of communication or changing the design but it is my opinion that in many cases they don’t seem to want to ask questions of interior designers. Also many engineers don’t seem to like asking the client questions ether.

At Studio HBA I recently worked on a project where the engineering consultants sent a list of 50 questions before starting work. Some were for us and some had to be answered by the client.  I think it was a standardised list they had developed and then and customised for each project.  I thought this was a great idea.

My eight tips for working with engineering consultants:

1. The interior designer needs to allow space for engineering services from the very earliest stages.

2. Engineers need to be given a brief.  They don’t know how many power points to put in each room or how many people will occupy it, unless someone tells them, they can only guess.

3. Give the client the opportunity to have input into how the lighting or audio visual systems etc work.

4. Interior designers need to try to understand a little bit of engineering.  It is important to know what areas might be key or what issues might be non-negotiable from a technical view. This is also important from a cost management perspective. Engineers should also make the effort to understand the design intent and not see aesthetic issues as interfering with technical solutions but as a new challenge.

5. Regular team meetings are a must. The format is not important. The point is to open up conversation and encourage all team members to raise issues.  It is much easier to get things right the first time than have to rework.  I also find that a final coordination workshop at around 90% project completion is very useful.

6. The interior design team needs to check the engineering documentation.  Mistakes happen, thermostats end up on glazed or operable walls.  Lighting is missed from a joinery unit.

7. Establish and agree a programme and time schedule before you begin.  Agree when engineers will provide the interior designers with certain deliverables, at the same time agree when the interior designers or architects will provide the engineers with information – such as final ceiling types.

8. Everyone in the team needs to take responsibility and feel ownership for the project no matter which discipline.  Everyone is responsible for coordination.

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