As I drive around San Diego county, I usually get my feathers all ruffled with things that I see wrong. There are certain tenants that I adhere to when designing, and while I don’t expect everyone to design the same way, I do expect that designers keep the safety and convenience of the end users as the first priority. Unfortunately, some of these design criteria fall victim to budget constraints, laziness on the part of the designer or contractor or owner. Like my Dad always used to say, “If you’re going to do it, do it with heart.”
California Professional Engineers Act:
Protection of the public shall be the highest priority for the Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors in exercising its licensing, regulatory, and disciplinary functions.
Whenever protection of the public is inconsistent with other interests sought to be promoted, the protection of the public shall be paramount.
So in that spirit, let’s talk about some of those design criteria we at Enginuity like to stick to:
- Tread Lightly – This may seem obvious to some, but lets say that the terraforming gets to our heads sometimes. If you can think about it, we can alter land to do what we want, we can move rivers, we can make lakes. As we know, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you have to. Site Design should conform to the land, should maintain the same drainage patterns, should keep as much of the character of it developed as it had undeveloped. This guideline can’t always be followed to the letter, but it’s a guideline best effort counts.
- Walk, or roll, in another’s shoes – Unless you lived in the city, pedestrians took second place to the vehicle. As much as we love cars here at Enginuity (usually fast ones) we recognize that there’s an important aspect of cars that has been forgotten as of late. We have to get out of them, and walk to the place we drove to! Pedestrian friendliness not only promotes safety, but a better user experience. Take a look around, does the shopping center you go to make it easy to get from store to store? Are outdoor areas connected with paths and sidewalks? Are there ramps and easy access for people with disabilities? Are the paths laid out, safe? Retailers are getting saavy to the experience and connection that people have with their centers and have been focusing on their walking experiences. We as designers need to promote pedestrian friendly design for safety and health of the public.
- Splish Splash – Water is a big part of what we deal with as Civil Site Designers. Whether its moving it, channeling it, piping it, treating it, we’re always doing something with it. Learn to respect it’s power. It can create chasms in the earth, it can erode away rock and the hardest of materials, it can make slopes and embankments give way. Follow the water, make sure it’s doing what you want it to.
- Catapults! – When I first started as a Civil intern, I was a sponge, always asking a million questions, probably usually annoying the Professional Engineers around me. My first boss put it out there for me before my even asking: “Never build near a watercourse, never build close to a wall. Given enough time, the water will always get in, and the wall will always fail.” When we design, we design for the long haul (100+years). So when I see walls in excess of 20′, I wonder what people were thinking. Well, I know what they were thinking that leads to…
- Stand up – As a designer responsible for public health and safety, there are times you’re going to have to say “no” to your client. One would be surprised how easy it is to sell out and just become a lackey that does whatever a client wants, even if it’s unsafe. Don’t sell out on your license. Your client will understand. That’s why they hired you in the first place.
- Take a field trip – Site visits can explain so much more than a topo map can. Site evidence can clue the designer into potential challenges, or assets. They can expose soil conditions, environmental issues. The power of observation is so evident on site visits.
- Its not about us – Unfortunately, we live a thankless job. This isn’t me feeling bad for our profession, just stating the facts. So a good design is something that the end user doesn’t notice. The parking spaces are sized adequately. The drive ailes have enough room to backup and get out. Your door doesn’t swing open because of the cross slope. You don’t get splashed because of a concentration of water in the path to the front door. Keep it simple.
There are a bunch more, and we can add to these in future posts or as they come up. Feel free to add some of yours in the comments.