Material Selection: Online or In Person?

We live in a world where everything is at our fingertips. You want to know what the temperature is in Tokyo; there is an app for that (currently the temperature is 81 F). Do you want to send money as a deposit on a new apartment? There is an app for that, too. This electronic age has revolutionized how we live and work. Opportunities come quicker, answers can be transmitted faster and information is transferred almost immediately. Life is good. Or is/was it?

I started my education before all this was available. Calculators were not available. Studying architecture, I needed to know math, free-hand drawing (something I was not great at), engineering principles and have great drafting skills. I prided myself in understanding how things were put together. I had a knack for being able to draw a building and visualize how it was put together and what the finished product would look like.

As an architect and general contractor, I wear two hats (creative and builder) and work with my clients to make thousands of decisions from site selection, building orientation, renewable resources, building cladding down to the selection of toilet accessories. There are thousands of decisions to be made during the design/build process.

The definition for decision-making is: The cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Every decision-making process produces a final choice that may or may not prompt action. Decision-making is the study of identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values and preferences of the decision maker. Decision-making is one of the central activities of management and is a huge part of any process of implementation.

As I strategize my way thru a typical design/build project, I go through three distinct stages: preliminary design, design development and construction documentation. During each phase hundreds of decisions are being analyzed and made. Each may have an effect on another phase or another component. How do I process and make those decisions?

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I come from a generation where every manufacturer had a representative that called on architects, engineers, contractors, developers, building managers and anybody else that would invite them in. Those days are long gone; the Internet has allowed all manufacturers to post their entire catalog online so it is available 24/7/365. What great news for those of us who get inspired in the middle of the night! Everything is right at our fingertips.

Not for me. I am a touchy-feely person who has to touch fabric to sense its texture and see the actual color of a product to compare it to the adjacent product. I want to hold in my hand the product to see how it is manufactured because I want to see how hidden the welds are on a stainless-steel product. I am a visualist, someone who has to hold objects in their hands whether it’s samples, color swatches or fabric samples so I can make decisions on what looks good, how the puzzle pieces go together, and if, in my opinion, others will like what I have chosen.

Yes, there is a place for immediate access to manufacturers’ catalogs, details and specifications because we live in a global society where parts and pieces of a building project may be manufactured in Europe or Asia. But how can you make a decision whether a wallcovering, wood flooring or stone tile can occupy the same interior space without touching them, seeing them, placing them next to each other?

All finishes and building components interact with the adjacent materials next to each other, both vertically and horizontally. Understanding their texture, form, function, I believe cannot be done on the Internet. I may be a dinosaur but I am adamant that I touch and feel most of the visual components in the buildings we design and build!

I would love to hear from you about how you make material selections. Do you make choices online or by touching and seeing the materials? I’m eager to hear your comments. Post them below or contact me at [email protected].

About the Author

Michael Menn
Michael Menn has been providing architectural and construction services that have exceeded his clients’ expectations since 1977. He is a licensed architect in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Arizona, and has reciprocity in more than 40 other states.

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