Construction

Photo: Tower crane and foundation work, c 1981

Approximately 1980 – 1984

Our involvement during construction was limited by our distance from the site, which was typical for FBO projects.  Normally architects and contractors work closely together during construction, often communicating on a daily basis.  In contrast, FBO did not retain architects for traditional construction-phase services.  The ball was handed off to the contractors on another continent, and they proceeded to build without our direct involvement or oversight.  What could go wrong?

Actually, it worked fairly well.  FBO's construction representative, Eugene Ballard, worked with Heery-Farrow staff on site and made most field decisions.  Heery also provided quantity surveying services, common outside the U.S., and they hired Antonio Tribolet, our consultant, to assist with translation and other work.

There was a nine-hour time difference between Seattle and Lisbon, and there was no internet nor email, nor even fax machines.  Drawings were not shipped back and forth because it would have taken days or weeks.  We leased a Telex machine for our office, and would arrive in the morning to find a pile of telex tape on the floor with construction questions (today called RFIs).  We would solve the problems and Telex the answers back that night.  All of this communication was in old-fashioned abbreviated Telex language, and obviously with no drawings.

We only made a few construction visits which gave us snapshots of construction progress.  My only construction visit was during early work on the concrete structure.  It was a shock to see the site at that point.  We had carefully designed the building to fit sensitively into the existing land contours, but the contractors had essentially removed the entire hillside down to the level of the bottom of the foundations and stored the dirt.  Later they brought the soil back and built the ground back up to its original grades.

There were many office people employed on site, working in the manor house and a temporary structure in front of the manor house.  For reasons we did not understand, the construction team had all of our construction drawings redrawn in a format that was more familiar to them, even though our drawings were already in metric.  Draftsmen worked on-site for weeks on this effort, which was the equivalent of doing shop drawings of the entire building.  We found this strange, and it could only have been possible where wages were low.

Many of the actual laborers were from Angola, the former Portuguese colony.  It seemed as though Portuguese workers went to northern Europe where pay was higher, while workers from Africa came to work in Portugal for the same reason.  Some of the laborers lived in temporary housing built on site, where they raised chickens and hung out their laundry.  They appeared less skilled and equipped than U.S. workers, but we were not aware of any quality-control problems with the work.

Heery developed a “fast-track” schedule with the construction documents issued in bid packages, but in the end local culture trumped modern management and construction took longer than it would have in the U.S.

Because we could not monitor the work, we were concerned that unapproved design changes would be made in the field, but never discovered any other than a few roof structures (“dog houses”) which were added for special antenna systems.  As far as we could tell the building was built almost entirely as designed, and we were not involved in significant change orders or construction negotiations.