INTERVIEW MIT DEN GESELLSCHAFTERN DES ARCHITEKTUR- UND INGENIEURBÜROS ISABEL PODUFAL-WIEHOFSKY UND ROBERT WIEHOFSKY
RW. We have never cared about being one of the larger, or smaller, companies. We focus on ensuring our clients’ satisfaction, which, as I see it, is a major part of our success. We put a lot of effort into conveying this to our clients from our very first meeting until the conclusion of each project. Our clients can see that their new office building, warehouse, or production facility is important to us.
IW. Of course, in order to realise these projects the office needs to be reasonably large. This provides the flexibility we need for working and reacting in any situation. We have to deal with complex issues in industrial, trade and residential-care construction. Our clients expect professional planning and supervision for their projects from the initial stages of planning to the final handover of the completed building. That is why we employ specialists for every aspect of our work as general contractors.
How many architecture and engineering offices are there that offer the same kind of general contracting? What is general contracting?
IW. General contracting means that we can carry out every task required for construction.
RW. Our client does not have to sit at a table with five different engineers, but with one single contact person who will deal with the planning for an entire project. This can also be a matter of liability issues: clients might prefer to have a single contact with whom they can deal in the event of any liability problems.
As general contractors we aim to have a complete overview of our projects at all times. We can supply our clients with any information they require. That is a major advantage of general contracting and of an office the size of ours. I don’t have to go and ask a colleague about the project, because I’m working on the project myself. We also participate in all important regular meetings. We want our client to see and feel that we are constantly working on his, or her, project. It is important to us to be there both for our client and for the Project.
Your most successful area of expertise lies in industrial construction. What demands do your clients set you?
RW. We plan our projects comprehensively, always starting on the inside and working our way outwards. Every part of an industrial building must function efficiently in a symbiosis, with optimised logistics in particular. This is crucial.
We start working on a building’s shell only once we are sure that failure-free and optimal operation can be achieved.
For this, we look at production cycles and every automated procedure. We analyse the conveyor belts that carry goods or materials around a plant, noting the flow of materials from the receiving department to the loading bay and various points in between. This logistical optimisation is a major part of our Expertise.
IW. On top of that we care a lot about deadlines and efficiency. We ask two key questions right from the start: “How much will it cost?” and “How long will it take to finish?”. Any company contemplating a new building and/or a modification of some kind expects that we, as experts, will be able to cost their structure accurately and succeed in meeting our deadlines. This is a legitimate requirement and we vouch for it.
Do requirements differ between industrial construction and, for example, clinics?
IW: Different building projects have different requirements. When looking at nursing homes and care facilities, you have to focus on the people. This is a crucial aspect that must be reflected in the architecture.
RW. Our approach should be exactly the same in both cases. However, the issues differ with regard to the general framework and regulations. Having a fairly large office works to our advantage. We employ different people, who specialise in different areas, thus enabling us to work to a very high standard.
A building project is not only a significant investment, but also a complex project. How do you facilitate the process from implementation to handover?
RW. There are two different situations. In the first, the client would be an established company, usually with the necessary real estate already in hand for a planned expansion. We would plan our way from the inside out, from optimising the logistics to designing the building envelope.
The second would involve a start-up, a relocation, or something of that sort. Our planning would start one step earlier, with a location analysis. We would consider how the product would be transported, what the company’s outlook might be and whether expansion might be possible or desired in future. We always consider the medium to long-term outlook. Only then does the question of possible locations arise and, with it, our work.
Once this phase is over, work can start on concrete logistical planning, architectural design, structural engineering and planning technical equipment for building.
IW. Ground is only broken once our client is satisfied with our plans and we can be certain of working within the budget that our client has approved. At that stage, a lot of choices will already have been made.
We supervise every stage of a project from the decision about a location until we hand over the keys.
Do you monitor whether you are working within budget and sticking to the schedule?
IW. Yes, we do. In fact, this is part of the official scale of service fees for architects and engineers, which includes continuous evaluation and monitoring. We begin by estimating costs, then make an accurate cost calculation and that is followed by a price quote. A statement of costs ends the process.
We provide our clients with a constantly updated breakdown of costs set out across four columns for comparison. This transparency allows our clients to monitor continuously whether costs are higher or lower than the original estimate. The client is in the picture at all times and can see how the project is doing and, if needed, make changes.
RW. I would like to answer from a different point of view. The law states that a discrepancy of plus/minus 30% is permissible. However, we say that our estimates should not deviate more than 10% from the final cost, assuming unchanged conditions.
We have been able to do so in the past and start every new set of negotiations with this in mind.
How do you process drafting?
IW. We plan the architecture from the inside out. By the time we start working on the draft for a construction project, the planning of operating procedures has already been completed, as has the measuring of dimensions and volumes, and other necessary steps .
Alongside the underlying legal conditions, a formal framework within which we can operate is established. Then we must bear in mind the client’s wishes and the company’s image, as well as any existing property that might need to fit in with or be integrated into the new building. The creative process is a challenge.
Still, even if we do have to work within specific boundaries, we succeed in creating really interesting architecture that unites function and form optimally.
How large is your company and how do you expect it to develop?
IW. At present, we employ 26 people, including architects and engineers, or people with Master’s degrees in engineering, and we would like to expand a bit more.
RW. A company like Podufal + Wiehofsky has to expand uniformly, meaning that every area of competence must grow at the same rate. We don’t see the point, for example, in expanding our architecture group, while neglecting structural engineering. If our architecture group grows there will be more work for our structural engineers as well, and for our technological and logistical planners.
IW. We work not only in East Westphalia-Lippe, but across Germany as a whole, especially in industrial construction and industrial architecture. We also work abroad for our clients, carrying out construction projects for them. For that, we need employees who are not only excellent architects and engineers, but also flexible, mobile and prepared to work outside this region or abroad.
RW. We have carried out construction projects in the Czech Republic, Poland, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and Japan. We usually oversee these international projects from Germany. We are happy to say that clients with whom we have previously worked internationally are happy with our work and have recommended us to others.
In 1967 Klaus Podufal founded an architectural office in Löhne. In 1990 his daughter Isabel Podufal-Wiehofsky and her husband Robert Wiehofsky joined the company. After the retirement of Klaus Podufal at the end of 1999, Isabel and Robert Wiehofsky took over the office. Specialising in the planning for industrial enterprises and nursing homes.
The architectural office PODUFAL-WIEHOFSKY works as a general contractor for construction projects from concept- to execution planning, on top of construction supervision throughout Germany and abroad.