New Developments – Seattle!

After 35 years in the SF Bay Area, and 21 years in the same home in Alameda, my wife and I are packed and heading north tomorrow, to Seattle. I will participate in founding a new firm based there. The firm, CareCyte, has the mission of improving access to quality healthcare. We will provide elegantly simple healthcare facilities, designed and sized for the needs of communities with limited or no access, delivered in much less time than construction normally takes, at significantly lower cost. We are currently in the process of planning the business, completing designs, working out relationships with initial customers, and raising money.

At this moment I cannot figure out how I will blog about this new venture, but I am committed to continue and expand this exploration begun about a year ago.

I welcome your suggestions.

Why is construction so backward?

Hal Macomber and I have been talking about construction messes for many years. He regularly says good things on his blog, Reforming Project Management.

I use the word “mess” to refer to a situation that cannot be responsibly characterized as a problem, or even as a collection of problems. A problem is something which, by virtue of the idea that there are “solutions,” presents itself as sufficiently well understood that skilled and intelligent people can bring solutions to it. A leaking faucet or a car that is not working is a problem. An automobile accident is a problem. A simple illness is a problem. Modern construction is not a problem. It is a mess. It begs for a historical reconstruction and the creation of new interpretations, from which whole new approaches to making offers, organizing the work, and conducting the work, will be born.

Yesterday Hal cited an article in the Boston Globe entitled, The Industry that Time Forgot, by Barry LePatner. In the article, LePatner talks about the recent extraordinarily rapid repair of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, as an example of evidence that other futures for construction are possible. The author says, among other things, “The modern construction business hasn’t changed significantly since the first steel-frame skyscrapers began to rise in the early 1900s. Early tall buildings such as the Tribune Tower in Chicago and the Woolworth Building in New York grew too complex to remain under the purview of a single “master builder,” the architect who knew and supervised every detail of the project. Instead, each required an assembly of specialists — electricians, plumbers, heating contractors, excavators. Dozens, then hundreds of companies arose to handle those systems, each a local family-run shop that drove its truck to one project at a time. Today, in 2007, that’s still basically how the business works.”

What a wonderful opportunity!

As I write, I am listening to Scott Joplin’s Heliotrope Bouquet, from 1907, and the music fits perfectly. A lyrical piano piece 100 years old that would have been lovely accompaniment to a segment of a Charlie Chaplin comedy – perfect music for “modern” construction. Click here to hear the music played on YouTube by Andy Koehler.

John Prewer, called “the Godfather of modular construction,” recommended that I read Why is construction so backward a couple of years ago.

Anybody out there read it? I have found that most of my friends in the construction industry are not even aware of its existence.