What Oval Vent?
Great moments in building history: A different perspective
My wife and I had just returned from a wonderful five-day trip to Key West. It was my first day back on the job, and I was walking through the house, for which I was the construction manager, with the owner. Everything appeared to have gone smoothly while I was away. I had called in a couple of times while I was gone, plus I had left explicit instructions with each of the subcontractors that I anticipated working during that time. Just when I had begun to feel a moments self-satisfaction, the owner said, “Oh, by the way, have you seen the new oval vent since it was installed? It really looks great! Of course, it ought to,” he added, “it cost four times what the circular vent on the front of the house did.”
The whole time he had been talking, I had been desperately reviewing the drawings in my mind, trying to imagine what oval vent he was talking about. This shouldn’t have been too difficult; I had prepared the drawings and had been working with them for six months now. But try as I might, I could not conjure up an image of an oval gable vent.
All I could manage in response was a weak, “What oval vent?” I could immediately tell he was a little impatient.
“The one in the big gable over the 12-ft. slider on the back of the house.” The owner was, after all, a contractor, although he was an industrial contractor, and he had years of experience at pricing and acquiring materials and hated to pay any more than the absolute lowest price for anything.
Obviously, he had already gotten the invoice for the vent, and I am sure that when he saw he was being charged four times the price of a circular vent for this “custom-made” oval vent, he thought the thing had better look pretty darn good for that kind of money.
I am sure too that he was also thinking that I was getting a pretty good salary for keeping up with that kind of thing and that I should know which vent he was talking about.
Still frantically reviewing the drawings in my mind, I tried to regain my credibility by asking, “Who ordered this vent?” He told me he had ordered it at the framing subcontractor’s request about a month earlier, on a day on which I had been tied up elsewhere. The immensity of the conspiracy of coincidences that had led to this moment began to take shape. We were at the eye of the storm, the epicenter of the phenomena called Murphy’s Law. And there was nothing I could say. I certainly didn’t want to criticize the owner for ordering something that wasn’t on the drawings, so I said heartily, “Well, let’s take a look at it.”
We walked around to the rear of the house, and right where he said it would be was the high-priced custom oval vent. The only problem was that it was supposed to be a circular vent, just like the one on the front of the house. And then it hit me.
You see, the vent was on a wall that ran at a 45° angle from one wing of the house to the other, the house being basically L-shaped and oriented around a swimming pool and a patio. On the elevations that showed the gable ends of the house, this wall was shown at an angle to the picture plane. And because the vent occurred on this angled portion of house and because everything on that portion of the house was foreshortened, I had scrupulously shown the vent as a vertical oval.
The owner was obviously waiting patiently while I savored the full majesty of this new addition to the house rising out of the hillside. Finally, he could no longer contain himself. “Well,” he said, “what do you think?”
I smiled. “Great,” I said. “It’s just great.”
—John C. Kirkpatrick, Huntsville, Ala.