10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction

23 January 2013

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Dear building owner, did you retain your architect’s services during construction? If the answer is no, why not?

I have heard too many times that it is common for architects to hand over their construction drawings to their clients only to have no further contributions or input during construction.

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I am talking about situations where the architect is working for the client/owner and not directly for a contractor or developer.

Let me briefly interject that retaining your architect during the construction phase is not only the standard or expectation when hiring an architect, it is the phase where you need the architect the most. We could refer to countless articles on this subject and make long lists of reasons, but for now I’ll simply say don’t let go of the person who knows the design best if you care about the outcome.

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There have been several people I’ve spoken with in the past who didn’t even know architects offered construction observation (technically called contract administration) as a service. This is true with most residential projects. Sadly some clients elect intentionally not to have the architect have any involvement during construction (other than call with problems). It is generally related to the perception of saving money.

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Here is my list of ten myths I’ve collected with respect to this important service.

  1. The contractor will work it out, it’s their job – Simply put they just want to build it, not figure it out or design it. I have found that contractors prefer when decisions have been made and documented. Then they don’t have to chase their customer/clients for decisions.
  2. Contractors don’t want architects on the job site – All good contractors that I’ve worked with are glad to have me around and call me often with questions. It’s a collaborative effort. They respect me and I respect them.
  3. They should be able to figure it out from the drawings – Yes they are experienced enough and intelligent enough but drawings are interpretive and they often need confirmation from the “author” to be sure they are understanding complex aspects before money is spent. The architect can be their best advocate and make their life easier and in turn save them money. The architect looks ahead at issues of coordination and can present or discuss them early in the process to avoid costly oversights.
  4. The contractors know what will meet code – Most builders don’t have the time to keep up with the details and minutia of the codes like architects must do. Furthermore, it is the architect who is the party licensed by state law to uphold the building codes not the contractor. Remember, the code is the minimum acceptable standard.
  5. The client is paying twice if the architect and contractor are both there – The architect is the designer, the contractor is the builder. There is no overlap, just coordination and collaboration. That’s always money well spent.
  6. The owner will be there to oversee the construction – It may end up ‘looking’ like the drawings. However, if you’re paying for a “design”, how will you know you got the design if the designer is absent? Are you really capable of making this assessment? Do you want it to just “look” like the design or “be” the design you paid for in the first place?
  7. Contractors always read the drawings – Good contractors study the drawings, true. However, the way they read drawings varies. Details are frequently overlooked at the early phases; drawings are frequently misinterpreted. Items are often missed. We’re all human, but we are there to be sure they read the drawings. See item #7 above.
  8. The subcontractors read the drawings – In residential  and small commercial projects, many subs never see the drawings. Often the G.C. gives orders and translates what they need to know. This may be acceptable in some cases, but they all should be reviewing the drawings. Again, how will the owner know if this is not happening correctly? The subs frequently only look at their portion of the work without understanding how it interfaces with the remainder of the construction. Guess who knows the most of how it all comes together?
  9. The contractor’s opinion of equivalent is the same as the architect’s – This can vary based on the experience and interest a builder has in keeping up to date on products and building science. However, it goes back to the architect as the author. They know the history and reason behind the decisions. Making a substitution needs to be done in context and with knowledge of what the implications of a substitution really are. The motivation for the substitution must be questioned. I’ve shown up on job sites after the owner was talked into “making a change” to save money only to find they’ve made a huge mistake. Is the change in the best interest of the owner, or does it simply make the contractor’s life easier?
  10. The owner can build this on their own and be their own G.C – Unless the Owner has construction experience, forget it.

I believe in collaboration, I believe in a team approach. Don’t fire a team member midway through the game.

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photos are from tableatny’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

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21 Responses to “10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction”


  1. Another good one Lee, keep them ccoming! I’ve always made it part of my contracts that I’m, at a minimum, on site at 7 major stages during construction- no exceptions. I usually end up on site more than that. Key word= collaboration.

  2. Joe Says:

    All very good points. Clients who agree to have the architect continue the architectural services during the Construction Phase with Site Observation sleep better.


  3. Another great post. This is such a better summary than I’ve ever managed. I always tell homeowners to make sure to keep their architect on board during construction of their new home or addition, but have never managed to explain all these reasons.

  4. Bob Says:

    Nice post Lee – you’ve articulated several reason quite well. We rarely (if ever) take a project on without construction administration. I frequently explain to clients that that my involvement at the phase will more than likely pay for itself in catching issues while they are still on paper rather than standing on the job site pointing and looking at coordination items.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Bob, you make an excellent point that I wished I made more clear. I spend most of the time catching issues on paper, but occasionally we must point. Actually the worst projects are the ones where the client calls you a la carte with questions. I won’t do that again; it’s all or nothing.


  5. In the current climate, we are finding that quite a few otherwise quality builders do not have the backbone to support the process and by their silence are themselves the enablers of a client’s wish to eclipse the architect during construction because they perceive an opportunity to secure or strengthen their own position as indispensable.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Wayne, I think you hit on a good point that I too have found in my experience. I can’t fault a guy for trying to sell himself as capable. We as architects have lost that battle to be honest. Homeowners automatically believe the contractor is capable. I am in the midst of a project where a contractor backed out because he admitted he was not capable of building this project. I respect him for doing so before it was too late. Enablers…that’s an accurate term.


  6. Great post! From a contractor’s perspective I always cringe when the clients want to cut the CA budget. Projects with the Architect involved ALWAYS turn out better. -Matt Risinger

  7. homeiq Says:

    Reblogged this on HomeIQ.


  8. [...] reasons why you should hire an Architect for your project, or another one that I liked about 10 myths why you don’t need an Architect during construction . All of these have great points, but I believe there is one point that I don’t think any of [...]


  9. [...] sure to read Lee’s full post here -> 10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction on think | [...]

  10. Brad Norris Says:

    #6 is a huge one, and it goes way beyond the look. Contractors can talk a homeowner into all kinds of things and the homeowner doesn’t know any better. In the end the Homeowner thinks that what he has is what the architefct intended and more often than not it isn’t. They end up relying on the contractor to make decisions or to change things if things don’t work out quite as intended. The result is that the contractor is, to some extent, designing the project and all the money spent to designing the house is then wasted.

  11. Leon Bears Says:

    Don’t let your architect complete the project and you have no claim if the project fails.

    I have dealt with so many people who thought “I can do just as good a job as any architect.” They think architects draw pretty pictures or steal designs from other people (okay, well that is true for some architects, not most but some). The amount of knowledge that goes into a design is incredible.

    One more thing if you think the Contractor is making changes that benefit the Owner; your architect should know good products from bad. The fact that the Contractor found something cheaper doesn’t mean it will work. You almost never get the value when you agree to a change. Value Engineering rarely has anything to do with either Value or Engineering. It usually has to do with short-sided Owners who want to save a few dollars now without realizing the terrible costs they will incur when correcting the ‘savings’ later.


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