Contract Documents

October 1979 – June 1980

By this phase, Contract Documents or Construction Documents (CDs), significant design work was complete and the design was converted from pretty pictures into dimensioned plans and technical details, schedules, and specifications for contracting and construction.  The engineered systems finally caught up with the rest of the design.  To most architects this is the least interesting phase because all of the cool design work is finished, and principals and star designers usually move on to shiny new projects.

Nevertheless, the number of designers and intensity of work reached their peak during CDs in a major effort to analyze every unique condition in the building and coordinate all of the details and systems.  This was when the engineers seemed to do most of their work, and the architects were busy trying to protect their pristine design from unplanned, invasive, exposed engineering “features.”

Small, traditional architectural firms like ours, where everyone was a generalist, had a challenge in this phase.  Large firms have specialized technical architects to prepare CDs, whereas we were a group of unspecialized young architects trying to figure out the technical details for a building to be built in a foreign country.  Worse, unlike most local projects, we could not consult with any contractors during this phase.

FBO had a “Buy American” policy, which required U.S. materials to be used if it didn’t cost more.  How would we know?  Fortunately, this was mostly an engineering and construction procurement issue that we didn’t have to deal with.  Most of the architectural elements were made of local materials, whereas most of the expensive, technical mechanical and electrical products were probably American.

One of my jobs was to detail the custom wood windows and balcony doors.  Their sizes and shapes were defined in the previous phase, but even for this apparently simple building there were many variations and anomalies.  Each had to be drawn individually, with details of the head, jamb, and sill.  Many were operable, and many had curved tops, so they had to pivot, which was easier said than drawn.  Our Portuguese consultants helped us select an appropriate wood, a hardwood called Kambala, which looked similar to Teak and was weather-resistant.

Construction Documents
Bid Pack 2B: Enclosure & Finishes

One set of systems we did not have to worry about was low-voltage electrical systems for computer networks and controls of security and HVAC systems.  These simply did not exist at that time, but they must have been added since, and we worry about how it was done with tile walls and no suspended ceilings.

As previously described, all drawings were hand-drawn and lettered.  The CDs were pencil and ink on 30’ x 42” Mylar sheets.  We used such quaint tools as drafting pencils, Rapidograph pens, parallel bars, triangles, templates, press-on letters and Leroy lettering, Zipatone shading, stick-on title blocks, stencils, and most critical, electric erasers.

Heery, the construction manager, requested us to issue the construction documents in multiple Bid Packages to assist with accelerating bidding and construction.  The Bid Packs were: 1-Sitework & Landscaping, 2A-Building Structure, 2B-Enclosure and Finishes, 3-Mechanical & Electrical, and 4-Existing Buildings.

Tehran, Iran
In November, 1979, the U.S. embassy in Tehran was attacked and overrun.  The Iranian government was hostile to the U.S. and did not send help, and over 50 Americans were captured and eventually held hostage for more than a year.  Oops – someone forgot that embassy staff was supposed to be evacuated from a country that became unsafe.  (See Wikipedia articles on the1979 attack and the 2012 movie Argo.)

As a result of this attack, late in our construction document phase we were directed to redesign the underground parking garage below the Chancery to act as a “Safe Haven.”  We added reinforced barriers at entrances and other penetrations into the garage such as corridors, shafts, and ducts.  However, even Safe Havens were only meant to allow for a timely rescue, presumably with the help of the local government.