The service triangle.

Though I mentioned this on Friday briefly, yesterday’s massive construction accident brings the concept back to the fore in stark relief.

The service triangle will not be denied. Though the full set of circumstances of yesterday’s crane failure in Manhattan are not yet known, the bits and pieces that are known point to at its most basic level, a denial of how this concept works.

Cheap. Fast. Good.

Pick two.

And what is worrying a lot of people right now is that in the case of the latest skyscraper construction boom in NYC, the wrong two are being chosen. A lot of talk is flying around right now about how not only this building (though this building in particular- apparently several people have expressed concern about this site before this accident to the DOB), but many buildings are simply going up *too fast*. Though one could argue that the Empire State Building only took just shy of 14 months(410 days, if we want to be technical), I will also mention that 14 people died building it, too.

The difference now is that it’s not one massive building being built at one time. It’s 50, 75, 100 massive buildings being built at the same time, in a city where the margin for error on things being dropped or collapsing is near zero. In general, if it falls, it *will* hit something that wasn’t slated for instant demolition. The pressure is on, ever higher, for construction to go faster and faster, because time is money in the construction business, and every day they are not in a position to sell space in a residential building( because let’s face it, there’s no affordable housing being built now-it’s all luxury condos. I’ll stop now before I start ranting about that, too.) If it’s a retail/office space, the longer construction goes on, the longer you have money flying out with nothing coming in. Owners get antsy. Everyone wants it done *now*. In fact, the company that was building the tower where the accident occurred yesterday specifically prides itself on completing projects on very, very tight time schedules:

From the Reliance Construction site itself*:

We have earned a special reputation for our willingness to take on assignments with deadlines considered virtually infeasible”

Guys. Seriously. I think you’ve now gone beyond virtually here.

And whether or not the DOB is a corrupt cesspool of an organization isn’t even the biggest point. They *are*, without question, overloaded and understaffed for the sheer volume of projects they are required to oversee, even if there’s complete honesty on their part in all things (stop laughing, all of you.)

But all of this comes back to the service triangle. No matter what you do, who you are, how much money you have, you only get to *pick two* from the list of three options. This is true for Reliance Construction, it is true for every architectural and design project, and in fact, it is true for *every single thing* in every single service industry, ever.

I am by no means anti-construction. As a designer, I am one of the single most pro-contractor ones I’ve ever met, *EVER*. I don’t have the kind of adversarial relationship with contractors that so many of my colleagues tend to have in this industry. I just think the industry has spread itself too thin. It’s back to that narrowing focus thing again. We have to again, reassess and become more realistic with our goals and expectations. Cause seriously, no one needs to die to build a block of luxury condos.

This event, tragic as it is (by the way, my friend who lives nearby is fine. He’s going to have some problems dropping off his laundry, but in the grand scheme of things this is a minor problem.) serves as a reminder to everyone- designers, architects, engineers, clients… anyone in every service industry and their clients, that you *have to* respect the service triangle. You have to choose wisely, for each and every job and application you have.

Cheap, fast, good.

Pick two. Pick the right two for the right job.

*It would not surprise me if come Monday, this entire section of their site is redone.   I think that the only reason it’s still there is they have a flash site and it’s a Sunday.  They need an actual web developer to fix it.  Sadly for them, I have a screencap.  Everything anyone ever really needed to know about this is on that page.



  1. Okay, this mention again of the service triangle brings to mind an issue I had the last time you mentioned it. I can see Fast + Good easily; you’re paying premium rates for the best and fastest possible results. I can see Cheap + Fast easily, too; you’re getting what you pay for, cheap returns on a budget. I’m missing the concept of Cheap + Good, though. Is this just a case of waiting/watching for just the right pieces and people to be available at a low price? Maybe it is a case of propaganda at work, but I don’t see how anything cheap is going to be good, even in the long run.

  2. Sure, you can get cheap and good. I did that for YEARS when I was in design school. I charged *very* little. The tradeoff was you had to work around my school schedule. It doesn’t mean that clients got inferior quality work. It just means I traded money for the ability to relax the deadlines on the project.

    It’s like asking your friend for a favor. They may do an excellent job- but it’s still a favor, and it happens on their time schedule- not yours.

  3. Re: Traveler Farlander

    “Better right than fast” is a good line to use when you’re on a budget and don’t mind waiting a while for results.

  4. While true, it’s still just part of the same triangle. For each job, you have to pick whichever two are the most appropriate. Sometimes, cheap and fast are totally fine. Just, you know, not when the potential risk includes killing a whole bunch of people.

  5. “there’s no affordable housing being built now-it’s all luxury condos. I’ll stop now before I start ranting about that, too.”

    Same is true in L.A. – I also could rant. Nauseating. But historically speaking, is that so unusual?

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