Art, Craft, and Engineering – Part 1

I recently did
an article for HPAC magazine
that explored the issues
associated with developing a control sequence. It was a technical
piece, but the reality is that there is a lot more to developing a
control sequence than the pure technical aspects that are discussed
in the article. The article was inspired by something Michael
Ivanovich (then HPAC Editor-in-Chief, now CS&E
Editor-in-Chief
) said to me one day as we sat around sipping
wine, talking with our brides, and enjoying a pleasant Sunday
afternoon here in Portland. In the course of the conversation, he
said that “sequences of operation provide the ‘score’ that
orchestrates HVAC systems.” That analogy really resonated
with me on a number of fronts, and it became the driving theme
behind the article, because in my heart, I believe that there is
more to this business of HVAC than the technical stuff that we
focus a lot of our energy on. At its core, there is art and craft
and struggle and passion to what we do. And sadly, I think we, as
an industry, have lost touch with that a bit. I allude to that in
the HPAC article, but, by nature, the article had a technical focus
and as a result, I wrote a technical piece. Here on the blog; maybe
not so much.

Developing the sequence of operations for the systems I am
designing or working with has always been one of the most fun,
insightful, and creative parts of the design or commissioning
process that I am engaged in. (Note that “insightful”, “struggle”,
“creative”, “art”, “craft”, “passion” and “fun” are terms more
frequently associated with things other than technology.) Most of
the time, all of the adjectives I mentioned come into play as I
consider the nuances and subtleties that will occur as my system
and its components interact with and respond to the process and
occupants served, the effects of other systems, aging, and changes
in the ambient environment (to name a few things that can come into
play). Lets take a look at each of those adjectives in the context
of our industry and developing a control sequences.

Insightful: When I first started to design, dealing with
the realities that a design day imposed upon the system I was
contemplating was all consuming. When it finally occurred to me
that the design day represented only a tiny fraction of the
operating reality my systems would have to deal with, I saw things
from a new perspective; i.e. I had a new insight. I had embraced
the point that Bill Coad (the mentor
I mentioned in the article)
was trying to make when he said
that “Design loads are one of the most important, yet
useless, pieces of information that we develop during our design
process.” But, I also felt a bit overwhelmed. Up to that
point, I felt like I already had my hands full simply dealing with
the design day issues.  How would I ever be able to
accomodate all of the variations on the theme?

Struggle: Being overwhelmed led to a struggle; should I
deal with the realities that my new insight placed in front of me,
or should I retreat to the safety of the design conditions
associated with the Owner’s requirements? After all, I had been
employed to design a system that could deal with the design load;
or had I …? Maybe I had been employed to design a system
that could deal with a design summer or winter day but also deal
with all of the realties that occurred in between. After-all, even
the most technically unsophisticated Owner knew that design
conditions only occur for on a few days of the year. Maybe they had
expectations related to that knowledge.

Creative: Dealing with the challenges imposed by the
seasonal variations that occur between design conditions required
some creative thinking. Developing a creative solution occasionally
took me back to “struggle”, but the struggle often led to insight,
fueled by my experiences and observations.

Art: The Merriam Webster web site’s first definition
of art is a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation”.
One could argue that the creative solutions I developed to the
challenges created by my insights into the nature of the loads
served by the systems I was developing were a form of art.

Craft: One of the definitions of craft is “an occupation
or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill”. If my
creativity was a form of art, then perhaps my occupation was a
craft in addition to being a profession. Personally, I like that a
lot; I’ve always had a deep admiration for the skills of the
craftsmen that turn my projects into reality. Thinking of my self
as a craftsperson of some sort puts me in good company.

Passion: At some point, I realized that if what I did had
some of the characteristics of art and craft associated with it,
then maybe the stereo-typical image of an engineer as someone with
“an extreme intuition for all things mechanical and electrical
combined with total social ineptitude” was a bit of an
exaggeration (a funny one –
take a look at Dilbert’s “The Knack”
) but an exaggeration none
the less.  Maybe engineers weren’t flat, lifeless creatures at
all; maybe we had passion.

Fun: Once I got in touch with passion, I discovered I was
having fun; what could be better than making a living doing
something that was fun. Actually, I discovered what could be better
than fun at work; it was fun at work plus fun at home; i.e. fun at
life. Getting in touch with my passion at work expanded my life
experience.

(I
seem to have exceeded the allowable word count slightly, so click
here to be  taken to the next post, where I conclude this
dicussion).

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