Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

The Architect & engineer of California and the Pacific Coast (Volume v.44-45 (Jan.-June 1916)) online

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architectural features. Its power of creating beauty is unquestionable, but
like any other great force, wrongly used, is equally destructive. I^'ire warms
and cheers us and cooks our food, but if not carefully handled destroys
everything it touches. The Missions have taught us also the beauty and
usefulness of the court. Ramona's house, a landmark as familiar in the
South as some of the Missions, was built around three sides of an o|)en
space, the other side being a high garden wall. This home plan gave ])ri-
vacy, protection and beauty. The court contains a i)ool and well in the cen-
ter and an arbor for grapes along the garden wall ; the archway that runs
along the three sides formed by the house made the open-air living rooms.
Here were arranged couches for sleeping, hammocks for the siesta, easy
chairs and tables for dining. There was always a sheltered and a sunny
side, always seclusion and an outlook into the garden. In California we
have liberally borrowed this home plan, for it is hard to devise a better,
cozier, more convenient or practical scheme for a home. In the seclusion
of the outdoor living rooms and in their nearness to the garden, the ar-
rangement is ideal.

Another thing that has influenced California architecture is the redwood
that is so abundant and so different from anything in the East. In color
it is a low-toned red that looks as though it were lighted by sun rays. It
blends harmoniously with the clear atmosphere of the country, it is inex-

86 The Architect and Engineer

pensive, easily handled and outlasts almost any known wood, for it does
not rot when standing in the ground nor when subject to continued damp-
ness. Split into long, narrow shingles called shakes, or into long clap-
boards, it makes strikingly beautiful houses. Furniture of simple lines is
also made of it, and though it is frequently oiled or varnished or bitten by
acids to a soft gray tone it is more often left in its own lusterless beauty.
Redwood houses look as natural a part of the forest and canyon as a tawny
mushroom or gray stone. Delightful little home-made cottages of redwood
are to be found all through California. They cost their owners but a few
hundred dollars. These camps or week-end houses are the very apple of
the people's eye. Everybody has one and lives therein happier than any
king, enjoying a simple, free, healthy life, breathing eucalyptus and pine-
scented air, resting full length in flower-starred grass, bathing in the fern-
bordered streams. As contrast to these myriads of comfortable, lovable
little camp homes that can be built for three or four hundred dollars and
that look as picturesque and fascinating as any bird's nest, are beautiful
palaces of concrete for people possessed of many acres, built with every
modern convenience and ever}' device for creating beauty, with fountains,
swimming pools, sun parlors, outdoor dancing courts and lawn, pergolas, tea
houses, art galleries and a thousand other wonderful things that contribute
to elaborate and luxurious living.

Architectural Simplicity

To be straightforward in architectural expression is the most difficult
thing on earth ; it implies a force of character trained to grasp a mul-
titude of diverse conditions; it demands a knowledge of men, of life,
as well as of the crafts and the kindred arts : it calls for untiring activity,
ceaseless comparison, and a flood of energy if the architect is ambitious to
translate abstract qualities into fluent and distinguishable terms. Archi-
tecture, when it soars above the ordinary level, is akin to the finest litera-
ture ; its purpose is analogous. Having once enjoyed purity of style, bril-
liancy of conception, and that easy scholarship which is never absent from
inspired work, we entertain little afifection for the products of mediocrity,
no matter how attractive the latter may appear at first sight.

But the very nature of the term "simplicity" is one needing careful in-
quiry, for it holds a subtle meaning, and, although the expression is used
glibly every day, few pause to consider or analyze the elusive qualities the
word connotes. We have a valid excuse to-day to direct attention to
what should be understood by every architect, namely, the need for logical
expression in the problems of design entrusted to his care and scholarship.
For the age is curious in its uncertain tendencies, and what we are apt to
decry as careless inefficiency on the part of the individual, viewed in a larger
sense, is more often the product of a decadent and apathetic epoch.

Simplicity in architecture is difficult to attain for many reasons, among
which the demand for novelty is the chief deterrent. In addition, the lack of
co-operation among artists, inability to fix a definite standard of taste, the
love of complexity and vulgar display ruled by commercial instinct almost
invariably act against real achievement, and, in consequence, a dead level
vernacular passes muster as the real thing in the public estimation of what
constitutes recent architecture.

We are moved to condemn, in the strongest terms, those specimens of
building enterprise which disfigure the chief centers of the metropolis ; we

Tlir .Irchitcct and Hiiiiiiiccr 87

indult;e in inelanchol)- retrospects of what past ages accomplished in archi-
tecture; we rage hysterically and utter invectives against those responsible
for the perpetration of such monuments of incompetence; yet we fail to
realize how the evil can he checked or the public enlightened on this issue
of vital importance to art.

Architects are inclined to misinterpret the works of the past, holding
such types to be models of excellence and worthy of emulation, but over-
looking the fact that whole periods of history went to the shajiing of their
attributes; and that the real meaning, elusive to many, inherent in these
masterpieces is that the architect, perhaps subconsciously, imparted the
very essence of his age to the shaping of the parts and the massing of the

It will be asked with pertinence, "How is it possible to impart that de-
sirable rich expression to a plain building if we are to forego the usual
features that make up our stock in trade?" The answer is pithy and to the
point: "By the exercise of common sense in the proportion of parts; by
a sound study of w-hat elementary composition implies; by reticence in the
selection of ornament and elimination of crude and ugly features which
are characteristic of the prevalent fashion."

In England especially architects are too obsessed with the importance of
the problems they are engaged upon. There is too much paper archi-
tecture, and little, if any, aptitude is shown to design a building to look
well in execution, and at the same time meet any demands made upon it
from a purely artistic and critical standpoint.

In the majority of offices, from the time the small-scale drawings are
finished and the full-size details compiled, the designer has no thought of
the finished aspect of his work ; more often than not he relies on an element
of chance, and failure after failure is the result. An architect can only put
into a building what he has assimilated; to the uninitiated the work may
appear satisfactory, but to the scholar, or even to the layman with the crit-
ical outlook, such works convey no cheering message.

There is something in life which the true artist is always pursuing — it is
the quest of the ideal. He can never attain his object; the chagrin he ex-
periences is very poignant, the slight successes very sweet; yet all unknown
to himself he imparts an element of sadness to his works which lifts them
out of the common into the sphere of nobler things. — The Builder, London,

Plastering Old Brick Walls

In applying stucco to old brick walls, the most important point is that
the old surface must be thoroughly cleaned. If coated with paint, this
must be scraped or burned off, and if uncoated, the surface must be washed
with a solution of muriatic acid mixed in the proi)ortion of one part com-
mercial muriatic acid to five parts water. The wall should be scrubbed with
this solution, then thoroughly cleansed with clean water. In Oakland the
old brick walls of the Athletic Club five-story building, which is being con-
verted into a theater, have been perforated with hammer and chisel and the
little cavities thus made in the brick are intended to serve as a binder for
the stucco surface.

88 The Architect and Engineer

An American Quantity System*


SOME months ago I was honored with an invitation to prepare a paper
for your Society upon the Quantity System of letting contracts, in
other words, payment to contractors according to measurement of
work actually performed.

■ But when I reflected upon the amount of experience which the mem-
bers of the Society of Constructors represent collectively, I hesitated.
Then again I felt at another disadvantage, having at one time myself
been a constructing officer in a government department (across the At-
lantic) and the old feeling instantly assailed me and I wondered what
my chief and the department would think, if I had the temerity to import
an individual opinion into official work and suggest any new departure,
and what the effect might be afterwards, upon my- future seniority ! I
am unaware whether such conditions prevail here. I do recall that in the
old days during temporary attacks, (bordering I suppose upon the in-
subordinate), one was apt to think that it was much harder to dig a
trench, drive piles and set stone for the government department than it
was for a private individual. Increasing years, however, mellow expe-
rience in most of us, which should be beneficial perhaps, especially to those
who may be working under our direction or supervision. But when I
read in the Journal that the Society of Constructors was a mutual organi-
zation, having no "official" connection with the treasury department, I
felt relieved, and that I was to address men of experience who would at
least be tolerant in their criticism.

I shall confine myself strictly to what I know from personal experience
with the Quantity System and which commenced more years ago than
one cares to think of, but I have always endeavored to keep in touch
with its practicabilit3\ and its successful application to both government
and private work, engineering as well as architectural.

The Quantity System (.sometimes incorrectly referred to here as Quan-
tity Survey, Quantity Survey S3'stem), is in successful use in various forms
in most English speaking countries. In the United States certain of the
principles or portions of the Quantity System are in use, for example, in
the U. S. War Department, certain municipalities, among engineers also
(rather than architects) the tendency has been in this direction. We al-
ready use unit prices. Lumber and hardware lists are prepared in detail
for the purpose of getting prices. AVe have competent computers (notably
in the Treasury Department itself), but we do not go far enough. We are
also woefully lacking in the very first elements of the Quantity System,
viz., a convenient standardization of the modes of measuring mechanic's
work in every trade, which goes to make up the building business. It is
only necessary here to mention one illustration, namely, the "perch" stand-
ards as applied to stonework, and which differ according to locality.

The creation of proper standards of measurements is quite essential.
Possibly the zone system may be advisable. Owing to different local
customs and practice, it may not be convenient to make all standards uni-
versal ; that is just one detail for study and investigation.

The essence of the Quantity System lies in its absolute fairness to both
contractor and owner, the former being paid and the latter pa3-ing, only

*A paper read before the Seventh Annual Convention of the Societv of Construclors of Federal
Buildings, at Washington, D. C, January 6th, 1916.

Till- .-Irchitcct and Engineer 89

accordintj to mcasiirenient of work, duesswork is eliminated. l{veiyiliiii,!4
in a building can be. and is, definitely measured and described in the docu-
ment known as the Rill of Quantities. Clear, carefully i)reparcd drawings,
details, and specifications are essential. Such, for example (and I am glad
with the opportunity of saying this), as some which have been issued by
the Treasury Department for post offices, etc.. and which I have had the
opportunity of examining. I have read whole number 36 of the Journal,
page i7. It may be that I have been unfortunate, but the gentleman whose
remarks are there re])orted should have seen some drawings and docu-
ments furnished to bidders for private w'ork and which (for arbitration,
and other purposes) have passed through my hands. Hut enough ! The
supervising architect need have no misgivings about putting his name u])on
such drawings as I have seen. The speaker, how-ever, was probably in-
dulging in a moment of pleasantry, as we are all apt to do at times. Even
that has its merits, at the proper moment, in carrying on building oper-

The drawbacks of the present estimating system, or rather want of sys-
tem, are many. They are universally known and admitted. Briefly, how-
ever, it will serve the present purpose to recall a few of the most serious.

First, there is the enormous waste of time and money by bidders all
going over the plans and specifications, all doing the same thing, all cov-
ering the same ground, without arriving at the same result, in fact, com-
peting with each other as to how much material a building will take, each
one apparently trying to see how little he can take off ; anything, so long
as he can beat the other fellow. This is gambling, not competition, nor
legitimate estimating, consequently when it comes to pricing the items it
is obvious that the bidders are more or less handicapped, no two bidders
start on the same basis. Xo two bid on the same quantity of materials or
labor. Some may be about right, others have too much, others too little.
These latter are the men who, through their mistakes in taking "short"
quantities, as it is termed, so often land a job and beat the more compe-
tent bidder, who by being extra careful and accurate, does succeed in
getting his quantities ofT more correctly, but if the truth must be told, the
more careful and accurate a bidder is the less chance he has of getting
a job. Is any system wdiich favors those who make the biggest mistake
commercially sound? Is it business? Is it worthy, let me ask of a gov-
ernment department? Does this loose method pay those who ])ut up build-
ings in the long run? Is it the best we can do?

The trouble which superintendents and architects have with a certain
class of contractors in carrying on work does not arise so much from the
contractor's desire to make an unfair profit, as it does from his efforts to
keep his losses down as much as possible, or at least to "break even," as
we say. What would any man do under similar conditions? It is our
wretched system, not the bidder, which is at fault. The lowest bid, which
is the one most generally accepted, is usually anything but the most accu-
rate (except from the owner's viewpoint) and correspondingly, the bid-
der is, under present methods, not always able to give the best service,
for that reason. So true is this in private work, let on the so-called com-
petitive system, that the average building contract, from start to finish,
has degenerated into a game of chance, a gamble, an unhealthy contest.
Such uncertainty is in itself a disturbing element. Why should not all
bidders figure on identically the same thing, from the same starting point?
The quantity of work in a job is the same, whichever bidder does it. Why

90 The Architect and Engineer

should they not all figure on that quantity? Unless it be that owners
want to see who will make the greatest "mistake." On the other hand,
is not an owner entitled to know, if he so wishes, what he is going to
get, before he binds himself to pay out a large sum of money? If the
same owner was about to buy a large tract of land, we will say, of irregu-
lar shape and grade, he would want every detail and boundary definitely
fixed, every corner clearly denned, but this same man. owing to a ques-
tionable custom, will sign a building contract for half a million or more,
and what does he know about it? or what is he going to get? He has
seen a picture of his building, but it is a long, thorny stretch between that
and the finished structure, which he expects to get, for a certain price.
He has seen the drawings and specifications, and perhaps the details.
Granting all this, there is still to him a sort of mystery about how the
cost of his work is arrived at. He understands very little about it, and
but few will take the trouble to enlighten him.

If, however, an owner could see some document in real figures, a list
of everything that he is going to get for his moriey, he would be surprised
at the quantity of it. He could see that much, and would be far less
liable to think that contractors had put up a job upon him and run the
cost of his building up unnecessarily. The mass of figures and informa-
tion that a Bill of Quantities presents would appeal to him because he
could read and understand figures far better than he can read drawings.
There should be no mystery about these plain matter of fact business re-
quirements. There is no unsurmountable privacy nowadays in such things,
the periods of the trade guilds and accompanying secrets are over, only
the traditions remain. This idea of keeping all such information from the
owner, which is more or less prevalent, is a false notion, a survival of b} -
gone times. There should be no mystery at all about it.

It would be interesting to know how many, or w-hat percentage of the
contractors themselves could, if put to the test, take a set of plans and
specifications for a quarter of a million dollar ofiice building of today and
personally take off all the quantities in detail in each trade and price same
correctly without outside assistance. Very few. Yet man}' private owners
think that is what is done, and that is why they expect so much from the
contractor. Such work requires training, it is not merely a question of
mathematics as some may suppose. A knowledge of architecture, sound
construction, and engineering is essential in a competent Quantity Sur-
veyor, in fact, in older countries many of them are trained architects or
engineers before they feel competent to establish themselves as Quantity
Surveyors ; but this phase of the subject is something which is very little
understood in this country — as yet.

Old customs die hard, but they never died more rapidly than they do
in the present age. because it is a progressive age and we are a progressive
people, ready to adopt that which is good or more efficient, and to drop
that which, owing to modern advancement and science, has become insuf-
ficient, and which is the case with our estimating methods, good enough
perhaps in the period of tallow candles, but insufficient for today. And it
is this fact which is largely responsible for the cutthroat practices adopted
by bidders themselves, and which have brought the building business of
the countr)' into a degenerate condition, so that it is next to impossible
for an honest man to remain in the business and pay one hundred cents
on the dollar if he relies upon competitive figuring to get work.

The Architect and Engineer 91

The Quantity System possesses many advantapjes; among others, the
professional Quantity Surveyor is specially trained for this particular work.
He is expert in examinint;- and checking- drawings, details and specifica-
tions, their clearness and accuracy, particularly so from the estimating
viewpoint. Occupying as he does an independent position, he can afford
to be more critical than any bidder when figuring a job. It is his
business, his very training promotes an analytical frame of mind. He is
paid for this, bidders are not. Should bidders discover any error or omis-
sion in plans and specifications, and they often do. they do not tell other
competitors, at least not until after the low man has signed up.

When the Quantity Surveyor discovers -any omission or discrepancy,
small or large, it is during the period of his friendly collaboration with
the architect himself, and all such matters are then adjusted before the
final blue prints are made. Bidders then never sec such things as they
now sometimes point out.

The object of bidding is to give the cost; the money value in dollars
and cents, not the quantity of materials and labor of all kinds. The owner
should state what quantity of material, etc., it is that he requires. The
only duty of the bidder is to use his judgment and put the cash value on
such work as may be submitted to him. It is not his business to figure out
quantities; he has neither the time nor the training, and moreover, he is
not paid to do this part of the work, any more than it is his business to
figure floor loads or anything else of that nature.

It will be seen, therefore, that in the Quantity System there is a con-
siderable saving of waste in bidders' time, and that the drawings and spec-
ifications are, after passing through the Quantity Surveyor's hands, as free
from anything which might lead to controversy later as it is possible to
make them. This in itself will be found a great help in superintending
construction, as many of those vexatious points which now necessarily
arise will have already been settled, before the contract was let.

Safer and closer bidding will result, with the assurance to the lowest
bidder that he is "safe," so far as the quantities are concerned. The Bill
of Quantities should, the writer believes, form the basis of the contract,
and be one of the contract documents. A "safety first" doctrine for the
contractor, and also for the owner.

At present the owners naturally pay the contractor's overhead ex-
penses, which are increased unnecessarily under existing methods, and they
could well afTord to pay the Quantity Surveyor's fee of one per cent or more,
according to the type of building, and service involved, and still save
money owing to the clearness and advantages of this system. He takes
no chances. Of course, it must not be expected to furnish a remedy for
every evil in the business. It will not take the place of good material,
or proper attention on the part of the contractor, nor will it help to keep
crooks out of ,gaol, but it will establish an equitable basis for proper dealing
between owner and contractor. There is no such efficient basis now,
and if ever it was necessary, it is at the present time.

Upon the establishment of the Quantity System, interpretations of con-
tract documents after a contract is si.gned will be a thing of the past, the
necessity for them will be discovered by the Quantity Surveyor when he
is preparing the Quantities,, alleged or otherwise, will
be reduced to a minimum. Contractors will have no disputes with their
sub-bidders as to what they include in their figure, the Quantities will
show exactly. Contractors not having to spend half their time in figuring,

92 The Architect and Engineer

will then have time to attend to their buildings in progress, and inci-
dentall}' to supe;-vise the work of their sub-contractors. Architects need
no longer be under obligations to contractors for preliminary estimates.
Such matters would be dealt with equally as well or better by the Quan-
tity Surveyor. No change or reorganization of the architect's office is
required as is sometimes thought.

Quantity Surveyors retain established offices of their own, and occupy
a confidential position, a sort of clearing house, or independent arbitrator
on Quantities, between owner and contractor, both before and after a
contract is signed, the architect being thus relieved of such duties as
straightening out changes, claims for extras, etc., except such supervision
as he may wish to exercise.

The writer does not recommend the adoption of what is too often re-
ferred to as the English System, for the very reason, perhaps, that, having
had many years of training and practice with it, he knows its defects for
American conditions. What is required is an "American" Quantity Sys-
tem, practical and all sufficient for our needs, without unnecessary elabo-
ration. Such a system, involving much thoifght and labor, had been laid
out by the writer prior to the year 1906, but most things burnable in San

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayThe Architect & engineer of California and the Pacific Coast (Volume v.44-45 (Jan.-June 1916)) → online text (page 41 of 58)