Why Is Jane Smiling?

By Dan Maginn / Published by Dwell
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So you’ve brought home an ebullient new contractor to turn your wreck into the Ritz. How to do it? Read on.

Jane just built a new house. She is smiling because she did it right. She started the process by hiring an architect, Franz, who developed a complete set of construction documents for her. She then found three contractors who were interested in building her house. She asked them about important issues like craftsmanship, bidding, and project management. One of them, Kenny,* had a pointy nose and slicked-back hair. During his interview, he gave Franz the stink eye.*

Jane told the contractors that she would hire the one with the lowest and best bid. After three weeks, the bids came in; Kenny’s was the lowest—–but not the best. His job sites were in disarray, and he seemed to have some communication issues. (Plus, he looked like a wood rat.) The next lowest bid was from a quality-minded contractor named Jolene, who had good references and who did not look like a wood rat.

Jane signed a contract* with Jolene. It outlined the roles and responsibilities of all the parties involved. It required that the group meet twice a month to work through all of the issues that tend to develop when abstract ideas on paper are translated into bricks and mortar. As construction progressed, Jolene kept notes and passed them on to Jane and Franz after the meetings. These were helpful, as they recorded all the critical things that needed to happen before the next meeting, in order to stay on schedule.

During construction, the foundation guy* hit an abandoned sewer line and had to remove it. Because this scope of work wasn’t in the construction documents, Franz prepared a change order.* Jane remained calm, because she had included a small contingency fund in her budget. Jolene remained calm, because she was getting paid for the increased scope. Franz remained calm because he was naturally calm. Nobody got sued.

Just before construction was substantially complete, Franz walked through and recorded a punch list of items that didn’t reflect the quality requirements outlined in the construction documents. Jolene promptly fixed all the items.

At the same time, she called in the city inspectors, who saw that the house was built to code and issued a C of O.

Finally, Jane moved into her well-crafted, code-compliant, sustainably designed, correctly sized house. She loves it.

This is why Jane is smiling. 

*See Words You Should Know


Dan Maginn


Dan Maginn is an AIA-member architect who lives and carpools to work with his wife, Keri, in Kansas City. Although he and his partners at El Dorado Inc. are extremely interested in promoting sustainable design on all scales, he does not consider himself to be an "eco-warrior." Instead he prefers the term "eco-tainment specialist"

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