Value(-free) Engineering

Value engineering: Both the term and the concept are the roots of most evil in building design, I believe. Before you turn the page, please allow me to explain.First of all, "value engineering" is a misleading misnomer. It is rarely undertaken by an actual, licensed engineer, and the fancy-sounding endeavor is often little more than an exercise in cheapening a well-designed project.

12/01/2000


Value engineering: Both the term and the concept are the roots of most evil in building design, I believe. Before you turn the page, please allow me to explain.

First of all, "value engineering" is a misleading misnomer. It is rarely undertaken by an actual, licensed engineer, and the fancy-sounding endeavor is often little more than an exercise in cheapening a well-designed project. Value engineering is a highfalutin synonym for "substitutions," many of which cut to the core of how a proposed building will operate, function and perform.

That's the first reason: Value engineering, like the corporate terms "re-engineering" or "downsizing," is often a plain-faced lie. There may be no engineering going on at all. Reduced to plain language, "re-engineering" usually means "people being handed pink slips." And "value engineering" almost always means "systems and components being substituted." Let's call it what it really is.

But there's more to this problem than deception and semantics. "Value engineers," if such people actually exist, generally lack the sound moral and ethical values that guide real engineers and architects, including:

  • Sustainability. Value engineering often undermines the environmental knowledge that can inform design intent.

 

  • Life-cycle cost. Value engineering is presented as a neutral comparison of design alternatives. In fact, most proposed changes invariably reduce first cost but pay no heed to life-cycle implications, such as higher operational costs.

 

  • Energy efficiency. Multiply "life-cycle cost," above by a factor of 10.

 

  • Technical foundation. Value engineering is often undertaken by unqualified persons or organizations. And that gets us back to square one: If it's not being done by an engineer, it's just not engineering. It's something else altogether, and it may be very nice and well-intentioned and maybe even technically OK, but if it's done by a construction manager, an owner's representative, a general contractor or a subcontractor, it's not engineering.

We should feel strongly about an industry-wide practice that links the venerable field of engineering with a shoddy and unethical practice in the hopes of making it respectable. VE can be an important level of review for building owners and construction firms, but only if it is undertaken by the right professionals.

If someone says, "Hey, we value-engineered the project," calmly ask if an engineer did the work. If it wasn't an engineer, the "engineering" can be called into question-as can any claim to "value."





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