Earthquake, or Bump in the Road
You may wonder why I havent written anything for over four weeks. This post is the answer.
On 21st Jan we had an uplifting and optimistic team launch meeting, bringing together our contractors team, out solar team, our new engineer, our new architect (replacing the first architect who had been difficult to work with, slow, and unable to co-ordinate all the different team members), our energy efficiency consultants, and our intern. With commitment to the vision of sustainable building we planned out the next phase of construction.
The next day a grenade exploded in our faces. We received an email from a Passive House specialist architect and owner of a building company who I had employed last year to audit the energy efficiency of the designs for the enclosure of our building. We had invited him to bid on a part of the upgraded enclosure work. He came and walked around the site with us. The next thing we heard from him was that email, stating that he had reported us to the chief planning examiner and triggered a review of our project. He informed us that the SIPs, that I have written about and we have been building with, do not comply with the New York city fire code covering structural elements of the building. We therefore have to design and build structural walls and a roof that do comply. The top floor and the roof you see in the picture are constructed in SIPs, so may have to be demolished. This will certainly delay the project by many months, and will cost somebody a lot of money.
Bizarrely, he admitted to having red this blog and knew full well that we had been very public about using the SIPs, so was clear that we werent trying to hide the fact and skirt the regulations. Yet he took it upon himself to withhold the information from us, and chose to inform the city official himself. Nobody has yet come up with a satisfactory explanation for this extraordinary behavior. Having checked the code ourselves now, it is clear that, in almost all respects he is correct. Isnt it such a shame that he chose to make our lives more difficult, even tho we will get to compliance now that we are aware of the issue. The thing that hurts us is that there is a community of people here in NYC who are trying to stand for a new, environmentally friendly world. We are all part of this community and for this man to do such a thing to us while we are trying our best to make a difference is just heart breaking. He has certainly ruled himself out of the solution.
As you can imagine, this is a huge setback, and was an enormous shock when we heard it. I am able to write this now, because we have come thru the worst of the shock, and are able to start thinking about construction solutions and a way forward for the project. There is much work to be done, and it may be some time before I can write about the solution that was developed and agreed by the city.
The person who is most culpable in this sorry episode is the first architect, who failed not only to check with the published city code and establish that the SIPs are not allowed for our building, producing construction drawings based on them right up to the point when we told him we would not work with him any more, but he put plans into the city that did not use them. The plans that the city approved used a standard system of metal framing, about which he did not tell us, his clients. I cannot imagine the difficult position into which this put his structural engineer, who was providing the SIP manufacturer with the wind loads that the SIPs needed to resist, whilst at the same time was producing drawings for metal framing that were provided to the city.
Even before this issue, there were enough reasons for us to terminate our relationship with him. At that time I wrote a post entitled 'Passion does not trump Competence' which I was persuaded not to publish. We had started working with this architect because he was committed to sustainable building, and were taken in by his big talk about all his accomplishments. What fools we were. Only a few months after we started the project it seems he was fired by the firm he worked for and Lorna told me we should fire him too. How I wish I had listened to her.
As you can imagine, this is an enormous shock to us all. The project will most certainly be delayed by at least three months, and it is highly likely that there will be some form of legal action to recover the cost that this debacle has incurred. It is too early to say what will happen and how we will sort this out, but in the mean time, work has stopped on site.
I have identified poor behavior by two architects, but I wish to say that, during our two and half years here in US, I have met some inspiring architects and look forward to working with some of them in the future.