Have you ever bought paint from a 1”x1” color chip only to stand back from the wall you just painted, take in the color, and get that sinking feeling – “I know it’s what I asked for, but it’s not what I wanted”?
Right. We’ve all been there. That’s why, depending on the scope of the project, making a full-scale mock-up for our customers can go a long way toward mitigating that chance that they experience that sinking feeling.
First, circling back to the paint sample, while a designer is assembling color palettes and materials for their control samples, all of the finishes wind up on a color board in relatively the same scale and proportion to one another. In terms of color, this can make a palette represented at a small and equal scale feel balanced but in real life, in the proper proportions, give off an entirely different look and feel.
The same is true when it comes to natural finishes and materials or even hand-made/hand-finished products. One sample of a small section of a wood panel, for example, might show a different grain pattern than another piece will. Or, the patterns at a small scale don’t express as much “movement” that one would actually see in at full-size. What might have been subtle on the color board now becomes potentially overwhelming in real life.
Finally, even extremely competent designers may be limited in experience or exposure to all available technologies and methodologies as it relates to fabrication and installation. This means that the drawings might detail one way when in fact a better, more cost-effective way might be possible.
That’s why we recommend to our customers that they budget time and costs to allow us to do a mock-up on complicated projects. Recently, on a build-out of an 8-story medical research building in South Lake Union, we created a full-scale mock-up of the three-story-tall main lobby wall clad with over 200 triangular architectural features.
The entire team was able to do a thorough evaluation before the fabrication began. Our mock-up detailed all the angles, finishes and installation points. However, more importantly, It was during this review process that the design team decided they wanted to add an additional stain color choice. In addition, because of the unique triangle-shaped wall features, the mounting and transition details could be further refined. This process gave the team the confidence that the ¼” reveal could span a distance of over 60 feet with laser precision.
How to Plan the Mock-Up
So, how does a design team plan for a mock-up in their project. Unfortunately, due to the fact that each project is the result of an infinite number of combinations of materials, colors and sizes, there isn’t really a good rule-of-thumb for predicting what a mock-up will cost to build. Therefore, it’s best to figure out with the client a budget number and then work backward from that point.
First, establish the outcomes you want the mock-up to provide for you and the team – that is, what questions are the mock-up answering for you. Typically, mock-ups are good for:
- Grain match
- Trim and details
- Color Selection/Confirmation
- Functionality of cleat, adhesion
- Sound dampening qualities
- Showcasing a firm’s workmanship
- Establishing expectations as it relates to the variability of natural materials like wood or stone
Once the outcomes are decided upon, the design team can work with a firm like IWS to develop the mock-up strategy, such as what parts of the design will be done at full-size and which ones can be done as partials. This way the outcomes can be balanced with the allocated budget to maximize the results.
The Best Time for Mock-Up Reviews Is Early
Naturally, the best time to plan and create a mock-up is in the early design stages of a project. This allows the design team to work through details preemptively as well as finalize color and other material choices. Therefore, it may be required to source out a company like IWS to work for the design team in a design-assist capacity.
Lee Steigerwald, Manager of the Estimating department at IWS believes that early design mock-ups provide maximum value to the Team not only in terms of better design but also the cost-savings that can be realized if issues are discovered before the bidding and installation phases.
“Our mock-up allowed the architects to actually see corner details, such as how pieces would transition around the corner and the fabrication techniques required to accomplish this. Also, in the case of the cleat adhesion, the mock-up allowed the design team to work out the engineering, detailing, and machining methodologies to improve the precision of the final product.”
Unfortunately, however, an owner may not approve a line item in design for mock-ups. In this case, however, the design team can still require them as a condition for the winning bidder to perform. Even if the bid is awarded to a firm, there is still an opportunity to review workmanship and areas of concern prior to the installation beginning and the risk of change orders increasing.
Placing a mock-up requirement in the bid documents still requires establishing the outcomes or areas to be reviewed prior so that again, the maximum benefit of the exercise is realized for the owner and design team. And in the case of a selection process that requires taking the lowest-bidder, a mock-up requirement and its review of conforming to project requirements can be used to filter out a poor performing supplier before they cost the project money.
Some experienced millwork companies, on the other hand, already recognize the value of a preview of a complex or detailed installation and might actually suggest it to the team themselves, which is why IWS pushed the team to do one. According to Lee, “In the case of the 8-story medical research building project, we strongly suggested that we create a mock-up in anticipation of there being a tremendous amount of value as a result.”
In the end, even if an owner bristles at the costs of doing a mock-up because they may view it as “throw away” money, design teams should still advocate for it. Because even if the argument against is that money is being spent on materials and labor that are not contributing to the final project, the case can be made that it is in fact, a money-saving endeavor. That is because changes in the field during construction are likely to be far costlier than the cost of a mock-up would have ever been. So, if an early preview can pick up a better way to detail a transition or dodge a bad material choice, any owner should like the sound of that.