Slipping through the Cracks, Part II: whY(2E2) So Serious?

In Part I of this column, we delved into the cosmetic errors in the Yang-Yamazaki Environment and Engineering Building (Y2E2) and maybe even learned a bit about all the shortcomings of the building process – shortcomings for which Stanford has simultaneously been on the forefront of providing solutions to.

I’ve already taken two classes showcasing different tools and organization strategies that can make construction much less painful and incredibly more efficient. What do these look like and why are they not being put into use right here on the Farm?

Technologies like new computer programs and cloud sharing allow everyone involved in a project to holistically see the design process, as well as track changes in real time. Furthermore, it is now becoming more and more common to have meetings amongst all the different stakeholders in a project – engineers, architects, the project owner, and so on –which opens up lines of communication even further.

The building process has even evolved to the point where many projects include a person who explicitly oversees how the project is run: a project manager who makes sure every party is doing their work properly and, critically, understands the guiding goals of any given building project.

These new ideas about information flow and overall management are really powerful and have been proven to work. And while they are new, they have been around for longer than Y2E2 itself.

Judging from the sheer amount of mistakes made in Y2E2 and from further discussion with its project engineer, Forest Peterson, it’s pretty obvious that these organizational strategies were not employed on the project. Apparently, contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie did not even draw up a work schedule for the project, a serious mistake. This means that there was a lack of guidance for the construction as a whole, opening the door to lots of delays – which was of course the result. Even after rushing to the finish, at completion the Y2E2 project was 60 to 90 days late.

Furthermore, the group used two different sets of plans for the project. One group of plans simply had the building plans while the other also contained requests for information (RFIs).

These RFIs are basically questions any stakeholder has about anything in the plans that might be confusing or unclear. Having these requests integrated into the plan set would seem to be pretty important. And yet two different plans, containing two different sets of information, were used for Y2E2. It naturally makes sense that mistakes would arise on this project and that it would end up finishing behind schedule.

But why should something like this be allowed to happen on a project at Stanford? Considering that Stanford has been at the forefront of the revolution in the building industry, as well as the fact that these modern techniques are currently taught to 20-year-olds here, this is, in my not so humble opinion, unacceptable.

Of course, Stanford probably did not have as much control over the project as I assume. After hiring a contractor, the building process may have been entirely out of the University’s hands. However, with all of the knowledge and innovation we as a university possess, aren’t we obligated to be an active part of it? Yes, we are – and especially when it concerns something this close to home (indeed, we literally cannot get closer), the construction of the actual campus.

While I don’t know exactly how construction projects at Stanford are managed, it seems that there is something stopping us from connecting all the dots. Is there someone from Stanford who understands the building industry as well as the importance of integrating all parts of the project with clear stakeholder oversight? I know for a fact that there is – I’ve been taught by a couple of them. But why is their expertise not being utilized effectively? What kind of administrative disconnect is allowing this wealth of knowledge to slip through the cracks?

It is worth noting that many of the errors encountered in the construction of Y2E2 have been avoided or fixed during the construction of other buildings in the Engineering Quad – namely, Y2E2’s mirror image, Building 4, which will hold the departments of Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering. A new contractor was brought in to manage the project, and a more collaborative design and construction process seems to have taken place.

These advances, however, need to become the norm. If Stanford is as committed to sustainability as it advertises, then it truly needs to take more ownership in the modification and beautification of the place we all call home.

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