Why projects once built look different from renderings?

January 5, 2015 in News

SJ comparison

Since I start to work in China every time a project is close to completion  I still feel surprised by how often what is  built look quite different by any rendering output and even by any CAD drawing we have submitted. No difference if you are working for a big firm or a small studio, this can happen all the time. I thought things would improve according with advancements in construction technology and design process organization, but after years of practice (already 8 between Hong Kong and mainland China) I realized this is not going to happen, at least for a while.

What is exactly the reason underlying this problem?

During the past 12 years I worked for some architectural design firms of different size, Chinese and international.
In big companies, processing the scheme from conceptual design to construction drawings and engineering, within the same office is an enormous advantage in terms of interdepartmental coordination, but often things can go wrong, especially when the client urges to have the job done ahead of schedule after countless variations.
Tight schedules and work overload can affect communication between main designer, CD department and CI department, and the PM, which should ensure the design coordination, is often busy, out of town or worse not effective.
Things don’t turn better if you work for a non major firm or a small studio where you have to rely on outsourced CD team: In the best case someone you trust, otherwise just a company appointed by the client.

Since I decide to start my own business I always offer to my clients a “follow up” service on my projects as consulting upon third party’s drawings on CD and engineering stage. Being major interest of my firm that the project’s final image adheres as much as possible to our envisioned picture or looks even better than what we expected, according with conditions, this service  is often offered for free.
Nevertheless the client’s design management never urges the CD team to keep us updated with their latest drawings or inform us about main changes. Though is for their own sake!
Recently I realized how investment and development firms broadly believe that expertise from “scheme designers” is relevant until the DD stage. After that phase only CD architects, structural engineers, contractors and finance department’s opinion about design matters.
This misconception often drives the project on a path different from the initial idea and can nullify part of the scheme design work (including the budget spent for it) endangering the originality of the concept.
Often small adjustments are not always conceived for the advantage of the client but just because it is the easiest and fastest way to draw.
I always (strongly) advise my clients to require from any third party involved in the design process some late stage renderings in accordance to “their” final drawings, evidencing discrepancies from our original design.

I remember only one case in which this advice has been followed. The client soon realized how small changes in thickness, depth and proportion of some elements and lack of details can dramatically upset the whole image.

Someone is still thanking me for that advice.

Danilo Trevisan