Real Estate Development

Memorizing Pi: Construction Contracts and Visual Thinking Adventures in “Piphilology”

By Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq. / Attorney & Architect

[Author’s Note:  The following is not a chapter of the regular “Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating Construction Contract Essentials.” This is more of a side trip, a little backstory about visual thinking and visual memory as relates to certain amazing accomplishments in the sport of memorizing the unending, non-repeating numbers of Pi.  Readers who would like to read The Visual Thinker’s Guide in its current evolving state, can do so in downloadable PDF form by clicking HERE.]

 

Pi, as we learned in school, is an irrational number, a mathematical constant used to calculate the circumference and area of a circle.  As an irrational number, the numbers to the right of its decimal point never repeat and never end, though Pi is often approximated as 3.14159.  The current record for calculating Pi’s unending and nonrepeating digits is ten trillion.

There is a hobby, a sport and a competition for everything – and so it is with Pi.  Piphilology is the practice of memorizing the digits to the right of Pi’s decimal point in sequence, with the current verifiable world record at 67,890.  It seems that a Mr. Chao Lu of China took the time – had the time – to memorize and repeat the first 67,890 digits of Pi without error.  Actually, as the story goes, he was aiming for 100,000 numbers, but after over 24 hours of reciting Pi’s digits in sequence, he got a little loopy and slipped at a mere 67,890.

The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating Construction Contract Essentials, currently being published on this website in installments, uses visual mnemonics, visual thinking and visual communication to develop a deep understanding and effortless recall of construction contracts, with the AIA B101 (2007) Owner-Architect’s Agreement as the demonstrator.  On one level, construction contracts can be considered just numerically organized text.  Of course, they’re much more than that, but the first step in visually understanding the provisions of their articles, sections and paragraphs is to visually memorize their numerical organizational system.

Piphilology, of course, is about memorizing numbers – specifically Pi’s.

So it should be no surprise that some Piphilologists rely on the same visual memory techniques taught in The Visual Thinker’s Guide to commit hundreds and sometimes thousands of Pi’s digits to memory.  By comparison, visually memorizing an AIA contract’s numerical organizational system – including the hefty A201 General Conditions – wouldn’t even be a warm-up exercise for a moderately skilled Piphilologist.

But many Piphilologists don’t rely on visual thinking at all.  One of the most popular techniques for memorizing Pi uses a “piem,” a portmanteau of Pi and poem, in which the numbers of Pi are converted to words and assembled into a long poem.  Piems are good for memorizing the digits of Pi – if you’re good at memorizing epic poems, which most people aren’t.  There’s a reason a sport for memorizing Pi exists, but not one for memorizing the Iliad and the Odyssey.

To many visual thinkers . . .

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Chapter 1: The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating Construction Contract Essentials

By Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq. / Attorney & Architect

[Author’s Note: This is the first part of a series of articles that will demonstrate for design, engineering and construction professionals how to better understand and communicate the substance of construction contracts and other text-heavy documents by using their existing abilities as visual thinkers.  

The Introduction to this series can be read by clicking HERE.

Some readers have requested that I notify them by email upon my next posting of a “Visual Thinker’s Guide” installment. I’m more than happy to do so for anyone who emails me directly at garycole@garylcolelaw.com and simply puts “Receive Visual Thinker Updates” in the email Subject line. Thanks.]

                                               

The goal of The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating Construction Contract Essentials is to allow visual thinkers – in this case design and construction professionals – to be smarter in their practices.

Of course, “smarter” is a loaded term and its use always carries the risk of sounding hubristically smug.  But as used here, it has nothing to do with hubris, smugness or even “IQ,” a controversial term that I’ve always understood to be a measure of potential, not of performance.

For these articles, I define “smarter” as follows:  “the ability to process and retain more useful information in less time and to produce something of value for a professional market.”  Certainly, the term is broad and there are many ways to define and apply it; but these articles are about working smarter and more productively, not harder with less to show.

The key words are “process and retain more useful information in less time.”  Call it a solid Midwestern upbringing, but I’m interested in practical results.  It’s not that I have anything against implausible thought experiments with no remote possibility of leading to anything useful – they can be excellent diversions.  But to paraphrase Mick Jagger:  “Too much intellectual posturing in the bath is not a good thing.”  It’s also not a very useful thing in professional markets.  More on point, and to quote someone who was not the leader of the greatest R & R band ever:  “The business of business is business.”

Therefore, on to business.

                                               

Boiled down, the logic underlying The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating Construction Contract Essentials can be expressed almost algebraically:

“To be able to communicate knowledge of something, that thing must be deeply understood.  To deeply understand something, it must be fully remembered.  For visual thinkers, the best way to recall something is visually.”

Or, further reduced:

Communication (knowledge) = Understanding = Recall = Visual Memory (visual thinkers).

Architects, engineers and contractors are knowledge workers.  Their market value . . .

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Introduction: The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating Construction Contract Essentials

By Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq. / Attorney & Architect

[Update October 12, 2012:  Some readers have requested that I notify them by email upon my next posting of a “Visual Thinker’s Guide” installment.  I’m more than happy to do so for anyone who emails me directly at garycole@garylcolelaw.com and simply puts “Receive Visual Thinker Updates” in the email Subject line. Thanks.]

 

[Author’s Note:  The following is an introduction to a series of articles that will instruct design, engineering and construction professionals how to better understand and communicate the substance of construction contracts and other text-heavy documents, by using their existing abilities as visual thinkers.]

 

                                   

Preface & Summary

For design and construction professionals who are visual thinkers – those who best comprehend text and words by transforming them into still or animated pictures in their minds – closely reading, deeply understanding and clearly communicating the essential details of construction contracts can be a joyless and intimidating ordeal.  The ape-men of 2001: A Space Odyssey huddled and gibbered at the mysterious black monolith with less trepidation than some architects I’ve known when faced with reading, or worse, being solely responsible for negotiating an American Institute of Architects form agreement.

But it’s not their fault – construction contracts just aren’t written to be understood visually.

Construction contracts are written by lawyers – who mostly think, speak and write in the rarefied, priestly vernacular of the law, not in the fleshy, three-dimensional visual world of design and construction.  So if architects, engineers and contractors aren’t trained to communicate in the language of the law, and if the law doesn’t communicate visually, can they ever learn to embrace construction contracts as a necessary – but not necessarily evil part of their professions?

Absolutely.  They just have to keep reading.

This is the introduction to a series of articles titled The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating Construction Contract Essentials that demonstrates for design and construction professionals, visualization techniques for organizing, understanding and communicating the essential details of seemingly impenetrable two-dimensional, text-driven construction contracts by transforming them into unique three-dimensional mental images.

And once construction contracts are understood as interrelated mental images, they can be communicated visually to clients, peers or opposing parties as sketched or even PowerPointed graphics.

Though The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating Construction Contract Essentials is written with design and construction industry professionals in mind, anyone can learn its lessons – even contract-writing, text-loving lawyers.  All they need is a little willingness to think visually.

                                   

Introduction

Speaking as one, there are few things that transactional lawyers love more than settling down to read a plump, juicy contract:  page after page after page of dense, finely-fonted text crammed with archaic phrasing and obscure terminology; Byzantine cross-referencing, sectioning, sub-sectioning, sub-sub-sectioning; whole pages of single paragraph run-on sentences; and crafted with a kind of visual symmetry, proportion and organization that makes Pollack look like Palladio.

Also speaking as one, there are few things that architects and other construction professionals loathe more than the things lawyers love – like reading lengthy construction contracts.  Vampires will sip holy water while sunning themselves in the Vatican’s piazza before many architects I’ve known will force themselves to read the AIA B101 Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect – word-for-word, from start-to-finish.

Of course, I exaggerate.  A little.  I also generalize.  A little.  And I vigorously agree that exceptions to most generalizations exist.  So stipulated.  I stand by them anyway.  A lot.

But why should architects, engineers and contractors fear and loathe the well-vetted industry standard contracts of the American Institute of Architects, or the Associated General Contractors of America, or the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee, the very documents they depend on as business plans when projects go well – and as battle plans when they don’t?

Having survived the professional metamorphosis from architect to attorney & architect – I think I understand the issue.

Most design and construction professionals think, understand and communicate better in three-dimensional visuals . . .

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Beyond Historic Tax Credits: Treasure Hunting for Historic and Non-Historic Rehab Financial Incentives

Originally Published 2011

By Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq.

[Author’s Note: The following lecture was presented on October 22, 2010 at the 2010 Traditional Building Exhibition and Conference in Chicago. Fair warning – it’s a bit longer than most LawArk posts. I’d originally intended to post it in parts, but instead, have decided to post the whole thing at once and also provide it as a PDF that can be downloaded by clicking here – to be chewed in bite-sized chunks at any reader’s leisure.

And, as always: Nothing in the following article should be construed as legal or business advice. Readers should always consult their legal or business professionals for specific advice and information.]

Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq. http://www.garylcolelaw.com/ is Chicago-based Illinois and Florida-licensed attorney and Illinois-licensed architect. He practices design & construction law, real estate law, preservation law and accessibility law, is an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association’s Construction Division, and is a Certified Mediator and on the roster of Mediators for the Association of Licensed Architects. He can be contacted at garycole@garylcolelaw.com.

The following is a bullet-point summary of the lecture’s main points:

▪ A wide range of historic and non-historic incentives benefitting a property owner’s federal income taxes, property taxes, project equity requirements – far beyond those typically promoted by government historic preservation entities and preservation not-for-profits – may be available for historic rehabilitation projects.

▪ Development incentives that are not specifically intended for historic redevelopment may be available to historic rehabilitation projects.

▪ A comprehensive approach for discovering incentives available for historic rehabilitation projects should include a methodology for researching and analyzing both historic and non-historic incentives.

▪ The tools for discovering incentives are available to anyone.

▪ This lecture used the metaphor of “treasure hunting” to illustrate how to research and discover development financial incentives for historic rehabilitation as a way to frame the exercise in a more interesting way – hopefully.

Beyond Historic Tax Credits: Treasure Hunting for Historic and Non-Historic Rehab Financial Incentives

By Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq.

Introduction: I’d like to thank everyone for coming here today. My name is Gary Cole, and I’m an Illinois-licensed architect, and an Illinois and Florida-licensed attorney. I received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago in 1988, and a Master of Architecture degree, in its Historic Preservation option, from the Universe Illinois and Champaign-Urbana in 1992. Following graduation, I became an historical architect with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, during which I helped administer various historic rehab tax benefit programs, supported the National Register program, provided technical assistance in connection with state and federal preservation regulatory laws, and also worked with the National Trust and FEMA during the 1993 Mississippi floods. Also in 1993, I became . . .

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Legal Issues When Historic Preservation Goes Green

Originally Published 2010

By Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq.

[Author’s Note: The following paper was presented on October 21, 2010 at the 2010 Traditional Building Exhibition and Conference in Chicago. Fair warning – it’s a bit longer than most LawArk posts. Well, a lot longer. I’d originally intended to post it in parts, but instead, decided to post it all at once to be chewed in bite-sized chunks at a reader’s leisure.

And, as always: Nothing in the following post or paper should be construed as legal or architectural advice – the contents are entirely the unsolicited opinions of the author. Parties should always consult their legal or design professionals for specific advice and information.]

The following is a bullet-point summary of the paper’s main points:

▪ Local governments that have enacted historic preservation ordinances (HPOs), and, that are considering enacting green building ordinances (GBOs) which might affect local or National Register-designated historic properties, should proceed with caution because:

– unlike the underlying legislation for most local HPOs – the NHPA of 1966, which was deliberated by the U. S. Congress and is well-vetted after more than four decades since its enactment – the entire premise for GBOs, i.e., “anthropogenic global warming” is becoming increasingly controversial, rendering GBOs increasingly vulnerable to legal challenges;

– tying compliance with GBOs to third-party energy and resource-efficiency standards such as LEED, especially for politically motivated reasons and without proper consideration of local economic development, may subject such GBOs to legal challenges;

– GBOs that fail to require prior local approval of adopting changes to third-party standards such as LEED may also subject such GBOs to legal challenges; and

– GBOs that fail to balance carrots and sticks – incentives and requirements – may have a chilling effect on local development.

▪ Depending on how GBOs are drafted – with or without due consideration of HPOs – the two ordinances may impose conflicting requirements on owners and developers undertaking the rehabilitation of local historic properties as follows:

– compliance with a GBO may impact the character-defining features of an historic property, thereby running afoul of an HPO and preventing permitting from a local preservation commission as well as disqualifying a project for historic tax incentives; and/or

– compliance with a local HPO and the National Register may prevent a property from complying with a GBO, especially as relates to achieving any required green building ratings, thereby affecting permitting and any possible financial incentives.

▪ The paper concludes with possible mitigation strategies for dealing with conflicts between HPOs and GBOs, and suggestions for cities considering enacting GBOs.

Traditional Building Exhibition & Conference, Chicago, October 21, 2010 – “Legal Issues When Historic Preservation Goes Green”

Introduction: I’d like to thank everyone for coming here today. I’m going to start by giving a brief introduction of myself, and why I think a discussion about possible frictions between green building ordinances and historic preservation laws is both timely and relevant.

My name is Gary Cole, and I’m an Illinois licensed architect, and Illinois and Florida-licensed attorney. I received a Bachelor of Architecture . . .

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