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Validation Expectations page 30

Technology Meets History

Documenting historic buildings with new methods provides cost-saving detail, accuracy

cover story

Technology Meets History

ew building owners or managers appreciate how crucial the initial discovery phase is to the overall success and bottom-line cost of a facade renovation project. Too often, discovery is abbreviated in the misguided interest of time and cost. This often results in inflated construction bids as contractors hedge against uncertainty during the bidding period and expensive change orders that arise when surprises are encountered during the construction phase of work. Architects operating between the building administrators and the contractors typically regard a thorough discovery process as a sound investment. This article describes a best-practices methodology for discovery phase documentation that incorporates field annotation of elevation drawings, management of digital photographs linked to the drawings and quantification of condition amounts and severities.

By Kelly Streeter

Documenting historic buildings with new methods provides cost-saving detail, accuracy
archives, the team gains an essential understanding of the original building design, construction process and repair history. Finally, and crucially, an informed hands-on investigation of existing conditions is performed. As part of the investigation, the location and quantities of existing conditions are documented to aid in the preparation of repair documents. While committed preservationists and enlightened building owners understand the importance of an efficient and accurate discovery process, it is not as well understood by budgetconstrained building owners. The advocacy of the discovery process then becomes the burden of the professional

Elements of a Successful Discovery Phase

The discovery phase of a faade renovation project is an iterative process of research, investigations and documentation whereby all available and relevant information about a building faade is collected, thereby minimizing contingencies and change orders during construction. By researching all existing design and maintenance documents and contract

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Figures 1 and 2 compare a hypothetical large faade renovation project completed two different ways. Figure 1 compares the cost of design for the two methods. The red line shows a small increase in the cost of design because a full hands-on survey is completed. This orange line shows the cost of design when the full survey is omitted. Figure 2 shows the resultant cost estimates. In the red plot, the Project Cost Estimate is low when the full survey is omitted but climbs throughout the design process as more issues are discovered and the scope of the project increases. In the red plot, where the discovery process includes a full survey, the result is a more stable and realistic construction cost estimate from the start. The most common error when undertaking condition assessment

estimate accuracy

team, who must design appropriate treatments based on discovery phase results. Analysis and design of thorough treatment details and specifications lead to a project that can be more accurately bid. The resulting confidence in a set of construction documents greatly reduces the number, type and size of contingencies that contractors include in their bids. As the bid package improves, the risks for the contractor decrease and bidding competition tightens, ultimately decreasing the total project cost for the building owner and the risk to the bidding contractor.

fig. 1 & 2

Comparison: job estimating method one and method two


cost of estimate
less less
concept DISCOVERY design development 50% CDs DESIGN 100% CDs final

surveys is the elimination of a vital front-end meeting between members of the project team to come to agreement on the goals of the survey. The participants in the meeting may include the owner, architect, structural engineer, conservator and survey team. Too often, this meeting is abbreviated or omitted because the common misconception is that the project only begins after the survey is complete. At this meeting, the team can discuss the organization of the data and agree on the methods for calibrating among survey team members and between the survey team and the full design team. Surveys delivering the most value to architects and building owners are oriented

toward the scope and objectives of the project: Both the survey itself and the resulting documentation are based on the requirements of the subsequent phases. This requires preparation beforeand precision during the field work. The most successful projects are executed by a collaborative team of consultants who emerge from initial planning meetings on the same page. Ideally, this means using the same base drawings that will be used for the final construction documents throughout the design phase, including the initial discovery survey. Surveyors must then arrive at the building with scaled background drawings and a building-


fig. 3

1: create block library

specific vocabulary of building faults and pathologies. In nearly two decades of working on a variety of structures, Vertical Access has developed a master conditions library, organized by building material, for documenting building faults on drawings. Sitespecific library sets are then developed for each individual project, based upon its construction, materials, architecture, repair history and project objectives. The temptation may be to approach the survey with the entire library so every possible condition may be recorded. While this may be appropriate in some cases, for most surveys, it is an undisciplined approach that makes calibration among surveyors more difficult and limits the value of the deliverable to the client. Valuable survey reports provide project-relevant information rather than bulk data alonethe difference being that

2: complete site survey

information translates directly to an informed bidding process because of the way in which it has been organized and presented. One illustrative example is a survey in which there may be three different types of crack repairs anticipated for a project. If the surveyors go into the field with three different condition codes calibrated to the different types of cracks, the survey results will be expressed in the same terms as those used by the design team in their construction documents and by the contractors in their bidding process. Ideally, a half day of scoping drops is completed so that the conditions list can be customized and adjusted as necessary before the bulk of the survey work is completed. Of course if the design team and the surveyor team are one and the same, construction documents can be created on site, at the time of the survey. In contrast, an unprepared, non-precise survey produces poor results at higher cost because of a loss of efficiency. A typical unprepared and imprecise survey may provide a vast amount of data, but much of it may never be used by the design team or owner. For example: Prior to a large survey project, an ad-hoc conditions library was circulated on site and background elevations from a laser scan were provided, but on such a tight schedule that the team was forced to time survey coverage around the piecemeal delivery of the backgrounds. In addition, because there was not time to check the accuracy of the drawings prior to the survey, areas of the building that were not represented correctly in the base drawings had to be resurveyed once the background drawings were corrected. Later in the project, a significant portion of the survey was spent noting the quantity and type of

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3: extract numerical data

various soiling conditions, although the design team had determined before the survey that all atmospheric soiling was to be cleaned as a typical treatment. A scoping meeting with the design team would have helped to better define the conditions relevant to the survey and identified problems with the background drawings. among surveyors. Electronic annotations from the field enable rapid extraction and summarization of survey conditions. This process is the translation of field data to the useful information the client requiresfor example, a table of linear crack inches by crack type, or spalls by material or size. Recording and storing individual conditions in a database record allows analysis to be completed both visually on the drawing, and numerically, by searching for commonalities in the database records. There are several obstacles to transitioning from pen and paper surveys to direct digital annotation technology as part of the existing condition assessment process. One factor is the fee structure used by design firms. Service companies who bill their expertise to clients by the hour may be reluctant to make significant capital investments in on-site hardware, especially when increased efficiency may translate to a reduction in billable-hours. Also, the fear of the unknown can cause architectural service companies to delay committing to a new process that takes a significant investment of hardware, software and training. The concept can be very intimidating when the perceived benefit can be difficult to articulate.

Technological Tools for Discovery

The development and incorporation of tools to streamline the discovery process on-site and organize and present the resulting information in a useful way has been slow, despite ever-changing technology relevant to survey work. Driving the incorporation of technology into the existing process is the promise of both efficiency and reporting quality. An exclusively electronic process eliminates two-phase data entry and associated redrafting errors, while inherently driving notation consistency

Another obstacle to incorporating new technology into the condition assessment process is the rapid pace of technological advance, which increases the tendency to defer hardware purchases and postpone adoption of these new productivity tools. The tabletbased computer has been refined, and while there were few hardware vendors initially, the selection has grown as the market has matured. A bifurcation of


fig. 4

the market has also occurred: Tablets are now designed to either serve the industrial/professional market or the consumer market. While products for the consumer market often are built for specific applications (e.g., digital book devices, such as the Amazon Kindle), the professional versions are essentially Windowsbased laptops with a tablet form factor, supporting a wide range of uses. The Apple iPad and similar app-driven devices are beginning to be used on construction sites with various field BIM applications. However those devices contain no hard drive and have limited memory, so the recording and management of great quantities of photos is not yet fully supported. The key goal when utilizing computers on site is to minimize the encumbrance to the technician in the field. Some of the challenges are addressed by the unique, simplified form of a tablet computer instead of a keyboard and mouse, the stylus is used directly on the screen to

type and interact with the application, simplifying its use. Other modifications that enable tablets to work successfully on a project site include screen upgrades for enhanced visibility in varying light conditions and screen toughness to withstand the rigors of a constructionlike environment. Battery life, previously an issue has consistently improved with each new generation of tablet. Digital cameras are already ubiquitous field inspection tools. The refinement of tablets with on-board cameras has made it possible, in some cases, to run a complete data acquisition system with just the tablet, but two issues remain: camera resolution and work flow. The camera resolution of these computers is not yet sufficient for our purposes, where the digital image is often enlarged and carefully reviewed to identify faults and conditions not evident on a first pass. Second, a camera can be held at arms length to take photos with additional perspectives.

Ever-evolving software packages challenge preservationists to keep pace with their new construction peers. In North America, AutoCAD has long been the de facto standard for architectural and structural representational drawing. In traditional architectural practice, AutoCAD has often been deployed as a twodimensional drawing tool with under-developed and seldom-used three-dimensional capabilities. In 2002, Autodesk bought REVIT, a three-dimensional modeling tool incorporating Building Information Modeling (BIM) capabilities. Whether in REVIT or competing products, BIM is revolutionizing the way that architects design, communicate and create bid documents. AutoCAD users adoption of REVIT with its BIM capabilities has been slow but steady, as many architecture firms concurrently overhaul their design of new buildings in a BIM environment while still working in two dimensions for existing condition


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assessments. The practical advantages of a BIM process are less obvious when applied to existing building renovation work. Faade preservation projects are inherently two-dimensional. REVIT, which is revolutionary for new construction projects, has been used experimentally in existing building faade renovation projects by firms that can borrow the BIM experience from their new construction work. At this point, those experiments have been relatively limited because of the inherent difficulty in creating a threedimensional model for an existing building. Without extensive probes or openings into the fabric of a building envelope, the actual construction of the walls and roof is seldom known prior to an investigation. More often than not, as-built drawings or even accurate design drawings showing wall constructions do not exist, and assumptions must be made about the third dimension required for a REVIT model. Scoping a project based on a relatively few probe locations may lead to expensive mistakes when actual conditions deviate from assumed conditions. Several existing software packages have been created and marketed for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry. Most have been created for project management and punch-listing applications, which is a much larger market than faade preservation. Although there are components to these software systems that are useful and applicable to the collection and organization of faade survey data, they tend to have a bloated interface with many components that are not helpful or useful in the very specific ways in which preservation professionals need them to work. In October 2009, one such software company, Latista (, announced the incorporation of Navisworks, with its existing web-based

field reporting solutions. It uses tablet PCs to update and share information on a single building model, allowing the user to update statuses and track commissioning and materials, even incorporating a barcode scanner for materials tracking. The inclusion of Navisworks allows the Latista product to communicate with REVIT and other BIM models. Their visual punchlist tool is an intriguing model that allows for standardized inspections using predefined deficiencies menus and the creation of a pdf report that is automatically sent to all stakeholders. Likely, products such as Latista and their competitors, like EZPunch ( and Inspecttech (, could be further standardized for the preservation market. However, they currently are not, and given preservations limited size compared to new construction and infrastructure, it is unlikely that developing a lower cost model for preservation will occur. This void leaves preservation professionals working the old way, with pen and paper and a separate camera, instead of developing intermediate best practices.




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The Tablet PC Annotation System (TPAS)

Each preservation project is so different that a one-size-fits-all solution is nearly impossible. However, AutoCAD currently includes functions to export recorded conditions into a generic tab-delimited file, which can easily be imported into a spreadsheet or database program. Vertical Access has developed a tablet PC-based field solution using AutoCAD for both direct conditions input and later exportation of the conditions database for summarization. The resulting product, TPASTM, is an ever-evolving set of conditions libraries and annotation tools built on the widely known and understood platform of AutoCAD. TPAS also has the GISlike ability to manipulate and view data in both a visual and numerical

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format. Organizational improvements, including automatic on-site renaming and hyperlinking of survey photos, increase its efficiency and usability on site and in the office. By leveraging the existing capabilities of AutoCAD, along with extensive programming, customized input is created to match the needs of the project. It is really an organizational tool for the numerical, graphical and annotation data that keeps the surveyors on track and on task, while helping organize thoughts, photos and videos in a coherent way. While providing infinite flexibility, it also allows for a focused survey as the conditions library is coded in advance. This step forces that initial pre-site meeting, often either rushed or skipped altogether. The end deliverables provided from a TPAS survey require no special software to interpret other than AutoCAD and Excelsoftware commonly found on every desktop in an architecture or engineering office. And most recently, TPAS reports have moved to the cloud with web portal reporting, which has allowed simple sharing of report data with non-design stakeholders such as owners, managers and board members (see Figure 4). A community of development partners (DPs) contributes field experience and project requirements that drive the evolution of the TPAS system. In the past three years, several architecture companies have become DPs with TPAS, purchasing the hardware required to run the system on their own and licensing the TPAS code from Vertical Access. A DP portal allows the user to access a customized page that contains all of the support documents for TPAS along with the master block libraries. DPs can create project-specific libraries in conjunction with TPAS programmers or on their own.

to incorporating TPAS into their work processes, used the program to complete faade conditions surveys of 46 buildings on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington D.C. for the General Services Administration (GSA). Most surveys were completed using TPAS in conjunction with binocular survey as the majority of the buildings are two- to fourstory brick and stone masonry structures. For a second series of surveys, TPAS is being refined so the team can leave the site with completed construction documents. These refinements include automatic hatching of denoted areas and incorporation of dynamic leaders into construction treatment blocks. Instead of noting conditions, they will actually be creating CDs so their block library will be consistent with actual repairs, making the export of TPAS data a vital component of the bid package. During the course of the investigation, Goody Clancy also created a block library to complete interior surveys, noting the presence of lighting fixtures, showers, etc.

The evolution of TPAS through an ever-increasing community of DPs has allowed for the continual refinement of the software. By providing valuable feedback, the community gets to inform the prioritization of the improvements to the system. We encourage TPAS DPs to share their developed block libraries as we continue to share ours. This model takes the focus off of reinventing documentation methods during the discovery process and allows more time to be spent on important design tasks, which ultimately define the success or failure of a project. This collaborative approach also helps our field to develop and grow as we learn from each other about specific conditions, materials, problems and treatments.

About the Author

Kelly Streeter, P.E., is a Partner with Vertical Access LLC in Guilford, Conn. Contact her at 917.749.0998 or kelly@

Case Study
Goody Clancy, a preservation firm that has fully devoted time and resources


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