Powers Brown Architecture’s Jeanette Shaw says quality control can boost the bottom line

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Jeanette Shaw is director of quality and sustainability for Powers Brown Architecture, a 20-year-old firm that has designed projects ranging from one of the nation’s largest industrial buildings northwest of Houston to one of the city’s newest high-rise condos with views of the Galleria and downtown.

The Houston-based firm, founded by principal and Chief Executive Jeffrey Brown, played a key role in Daikin Industries’ Texas Technology Center, a single-story building with 4.3 million square feet under one roof. The building is occupied by Daikin division Goodman Manufacturing’s heating and cooling products business. Closer in, its sleek 34-story Arabella condo tower opened last year as a new landmark inside the West Loop 610 near the River Oaks District. It has offices in Washington, D.C., Denver and Canada.

Shaw, a member of the Construction Quality Executives Council, which promotes quality in the construction industry, will present a lecture on quality programs for the AIA Conference on Architecture in Las Vegas in June. The Orange, Texas native and University of Houston graduate recently sat down with the Chronicle to discuss her work.

Q: What does a director of quality and sustainability do?

A: I’m an architect and an interior designer, and at Powers Brown I manage our quality program. That includes developing our standards of how we draw, and what we draw. We have a training program for employees, sort of a mentorship program. We also check all of the drawing sets that our office produces globally. Part of our quality program is Building Information Modeling. I manage all the BIM strategies and how we use BIM to enhance quality.

Q: What is Building Information Modeling?

A: It’s the way we draw now, which is drawing in 3-D. Everything is developed in three dimensions by all the architects and all the engineers. And then they take all those 3-D models and put them into one model, and then you can track conflicts before construction gets started. So you can see if there’s a duct that goes through a beam, you’ve got to move a duct in that conflict.

Q: That must also help in the field.

A: It even gets more enhanced when a contractor knows how to use the BIM. Certain contractors are using BIM in the field with their tablets. It saves on rework and costs and helps with your schedules if everybody’s using it the right way. There’s a design aspect of it as well. We’re live-modeling in a meeting with a client, where you can animate it.

Q: Your firm is known for office and industrial projects, but has also been involved in high-profile residential buildings. Are quality considerations the same for different types of projects?

A: The way we run it is the same for any type of project, but each project is going to have its own challenges. A high-rise would have more complex considerations for quality than a shell industrial building. A shell industrial building is going to be very repetitive. The quality in that is more about standardizing the process. The quality on the high-rise is going to be more day-to-day involvement by senior staff in the training and reviewing details and reviewing coordination items.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes you see?

A: It’s lack of experience most of the time when people make mistakes. It’s not understanding construction sequencing and methods.

Q: What are the most common conflicts that come up in a building design?

A: The most common conflict generally deals with coordination between trades — that would be structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing and how they mix with each other. But also details. Making sure the design is communicated to the contractor exactly how you want it built. It’s “You need a trim piece here because this material and this material are meeting.” You have to explain it to them how you want it to look. The architects aren’t thinking 10 steps ahead about how they want it built.

Q: What kinds of changes have you seen in construction methods?

A: The best example I can think of is the way they do curtain wall now. Windows use to be built on site. Now they fabricate them in a shop and bring them on site. It helps control processes better. There’s been a lot of automation coming into play. It’s been done in a shop, not in the field.

Q: Why did you get into architecture?

A: My dad was an engineer. I always enjoyed understanding how things went together, but I didn’t have an engineer-only mind. Architecture looks at all of the facets of something. You get to see the engineering, you get to see the design and then you get to see how all of that melds together. That was more interesting to me than engineering.

Q: What led you to this position?

A: Like most people that graduate architecture school, I wanted to be a designer. I realized two or three months in that it was awful. There are not a lot of people that are talented enough to be designers. In college, I had four months to do my project. In the real world, design is on demand. In the real world, you get a call “I need a design for my building and I need it Friday” and you’ve got three days.

Q: What’s the key message you want to get through at your presentation in Las Vegas?

A: I want architects to know quality is one of the most important things our industry may be overlooking. It’s understanding that quality is about how you get from A to B without a bunch of costs incurring to you and to the owner and to the contractor because your drawings are incomplete or inaccurate or just wrong. That’s really the challenge. A lot of people don’t correlate that quality equals money to you as architect.

Katherine Feser Houston Chronicle