5. Project design, not authority and mandate, is the most important determinant of success.

Projects are rightly conceived as separate from the daily, ongoing operation of an organization. Yet they are as dependent for success on sound structures, systems, policies, principles, and practices as is any business operation.

A multi-year plan to create a building, occurs at the confluence of many streams, each with its specialized subject matter experts and authorities.  If those talents aren’t harnessed into a team and directed in the right way, each will seek to accomplish what it knows best, in the manner that favours its particular discipline, often in oblivion to key elements of the overall vision.

I certainly saw it in the MOCA project, where engineers left to their best impulses, can only see the project from an engineering perspective, just as electricians and plumbers see whole floor plans as blank slates upon which to run an ecstasy of conduit and pipe, and architects, keepers of the vision, seek to find a prominent building element upon which to leave a monumental signature.  So too will all experts seek to mark their territory, not merely for ego gratification, but also to make the value of their roles more tangible.  It’s natural, and in a well structured team, with clear mandates, their strengths become team strengths.

However, if the project lacks the structure of a corporation and is managed like this, the central vision becomes distorted by the push and pull of experts, with a result that scarcely resembles the original intention. Frankensteinian buildings emerge; where the parts don’t really work together, where form and function appear disturbingly generic despite a well articulated need and aesthetic desire at the outset.  Burdened by dissent, the process is usually painful and expensive.  Even if specific features of the building turn out superbly, it will be questioned whether it was all worth it.  This was a clear danger in the MOCA project, where the developer tried to coordinate the project (rather than the architect) but was saved by a stubborn board and a courageous architect advocate.  The result in 2018 is very close to the vision in 2015, which is a great accomplishment under the circumstances.

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