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


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 (unless there is a problem of course).


I am talking about situations where the architect is working for the client/owner/end user 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 and the documents best if you care about the outcome.


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 after it’s too late). It is generally related to the perception of saving money.


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 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. The best thing you can do for your contractor is to give them the information. This cannot always be contained exhaustively on the documents since the set of drawings would never end. Why not give your contractor the ‘author’ by granting them access to your architect for questions and collaboration? This will actually save you money that you don’t know you’re spending.
  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. Construction brings changes at times. Where should they go to discuss the ramification of a change? Are you capable of knowing this? Most people are not.
  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 – the least safe structure).
  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 is always money well spent.
  6. The owner will be there to oversee the construction – Aside from a myriad of technical oversights that an owner does not even know they don’t know, the faulty argument is “it looks like the drawings, what’s the problem?” 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? You didn’t go through this process to get something like what you worked to design, you want it to be the design.
  7. Contractors always read the drawings – Good contractors study the drawings, true. However, the way they read drawings varies and they are looking for information in a different order than we developed the drawings or the order the sheets are arranged. Details may be frequently overlooked in the early phases; drawings are often misinterpreted. Items are missed. We’re all human, but we are there to be sure they read the drawings and point out important relationships earlier than later. See item #2 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 look only 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 performance 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 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…unless they retain their architect.

I believe in collaboration, I believe in a team approach. Don’t fire a team member midway through the game. This is truly not the way to save money or time. Tell your architect what the budget is and pay them to work with you and your contractor.


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

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

34 thoughts on “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. 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. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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. #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.

  8. 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.

  9. It happens in most cases. Owners think they can save money without paying the architect during construction, but they forgot architects know their drawings better than owners or contractors.

  10. London Paolo says:

    The problem is architects are too greedy. Any work practice and fee structure based on a commission of total construction costs, rather than fixed fee or hourly rates, is archaic. That’s why clients want to remove them. If the pricing was more realistic, they might be retained more often.

    1. I appreciate your passionate response, but I find the opening statement pejorative and an unfair generalization with nothing to substantiate it. Greed is the problem? It’s the architect’s fault?

      That type of fee structure is only one (of several) that is used by architects and it is most likely the most rare. I find that method problematic for reasons that are quite obvious and well known. However, I don’t think it’s fair to target this as the reason architects are removed from the construction process or that this method of generating a fee makes an architect greedy. I also don’t see how it’s archaic? Other professions still charge a percentage of some cost figure (real estate, law malpractice, general contractors and/or construction managers). It’s simply a way to generate a fee that is commensurate to the work value performed. If the client agrees to it ahead of time, what is the problem?

      1. HL says:

        To: London Paolo,
        I’m an GC, but I don’t think it’s GREED from the Architect, let’s be fair. Owner agreed for Architect to design then provide construction documents, Architect did all that with Owner’s Approval on the design and got APPROVED by the city. Owner then refused to retain Architect OPTIONAL service to “oversee the construction” in order to MAINTAIN the original design that was APPROVED by the Owner.
        Owner tend to cut here and there to save some $$$, but then in the construction phase Owner always need Architect/Engineer to clarify or make modifications due to change of condition, budgeting, change of plans (…) without willing to pay additional fees.

        That I think happened MOST of the time, and I also think it’s so unfair for construction professionals to always have to be the ones to be blamed on.
        Owner want NICE, PROFESSIONAL design, SUPERIOR ENGINEERING, HIGH QUALITY BUILT, in a timely manner but refused to pay for the professional services.

  11. Ruth says:

    This is a great list, but one small critique…we should always refer to the “documents” not just the drawings. The specifications are just as important in the construction process, and should be acknowledged as such.

    1. I don’t disagree with your statement in terms of accuracy. I was being casual in my references for the sake of the audience. The non-architects don’t always pick up on the term documents over drawings. Thanks for reading so carefully.

  12. This is great, unless you consider the very real issue, of when the relationship with the architect has gone sour. I’m dealing with a situation where I can no longer work with mine. He is dismissive, argumentative etc. Not a team player that I want to refine and “manage” a place where I intend to live. There must be a way to work with the design he created, and amicably say, buh bye, and move on.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your situation. Nevertheless, it doesn’t dismiss my initial argument, it just speaks of another situation. How one deals with the relationship – both ways – is of utmost importance. I still believe you need an architect during construction, it’s just that you have ANOTHER problem that is greater in that your relationship with your architect is damaged or ruined. One doesn’t negate the other. I am always disappointed to hear these types of stories, and at times I want to shake the architects that represent our profession poorly.

      I generally find that when I can know the details, there was a point where the expectations didn’t align and the damage worsens. Sometimes a person is just a jerk. However, if we are more careful at the beginning of the project when the relationship is in its infancy then sometimes these situations can be avoided. I’d love to hear the other side of the story. I have “clicked” more with some clients than others. I’ve even had one situation where a client no longer wanted my services right before construction due to something they felt was my fault. It happens. Regardless, I submit the same argument presented in my post.

  13. HL says:

    I know this post is old but I like to share my perception as an general contractor. I have came across a few incidents where both Architect and Engineer failed miserably. This was a 1 story to 2 story addition, could not built “PER PLAN”, due to the facts of pad and column misplaced and 1 section of the house height is different than the rest, therefore a lot of the details don’t match together. I had to put the project on hold. The Owner complained to his Architect, he showed up at job site but he didn’t even know which beam is which. it really scared me cause he was like never seen a job site. The engineer drawing was so incorrect that he didn’t even understand it, column pad at not located under the footing pad, beam was not at the right location…

    Initially, the owner tried to work with his Architect and Engineer, Architect came out 2-3 times but had no clue, the engineer never showed up. He (the engineer) made revisions on the plans and had the owner re-submitted, after 6th tries, still 2nd-story addition didn’t go too well. At the end, I had to draw in 3D of all the beams walls, and foundation for the engineer to understand his mistake, at that point he was “upset”. I just wanted to continue the project and get the hell out of there, I ended up had to draw the “detail drawings” for 7th revision. and had him stamp it to complete the drawing. Of course, the project was delayed, but I finished all framing, electrical, plumbing, mechanical. But after that I was fired due to the whole project was delayed even though it was not my “drawing documents”… This is the other side of the story.

    1. I appreciate your perspective and it’s unfortunate that what you described happened. Let’s just say it’s accurate how you described it. Regardless, the point of my post stands. We can’t be guilty of the fallacy of generalization. In other words, there was a bad situation during construction with an architect and engineer, therefore we should not allow architects and engineers to oversee their construction projects – they don’t bring value. That’s just silly.

      The value I describe still stands. I have dozens of stories of where contractors failed miserably, but that doesn’t mean that all contractors are bad. I think we all agree to avoid the architect and engineer you described.

      1. HL says:

        Thank you for your reply.1st I like to apologize if I offended your post in anyway, and by all means I did not state that “you should not hire Architect or Engineer to oversee the construction project”. I just shared one of my experiences. I’m not generalize anything, just like you I do know there are also a lot of Architects and Engineers out there which have done a SUPERIOR jobs.
        If you look at my next post just below (~40m before your reply), I stated that not all Architects are like I described above.

        If you google, for sure you’ll find out more people complain about the General Contractor than Architects, it’s the fact, but that still does not mean that ALL Contractor out there are rotten apples.

        Also, in reality, most of the contracts went sour were because of other factors related to Owner, not just about technical between plans, Architects, Engineer, and GC. Owners tend want to change things after plans already been approved….

        Hope you understand that I’m not disagreeing with your post, just be careful who you hire same for GC/Architect, and Engineer.

  14. HL says:

    Another small incident, about 1yr ago, 1 of the “licensed Architect” called me and asked me to look at his shower that he recently remodeled, but now has a leak. I came due to relationship, and yes there was a leak from bad soldering joint on the copper pipe from the valve to shower head. It leaked through the drywall and to his laminated floor. He had the water-proof barrier on the 2×4 framing before the wonder board, but failed to have it dropped down inside the tub lip. Therefore, all water leaked to the outside of the tub.

    He told me he was monitoring the crew, I told him straight he didn’t follow his own plan of the details in the drawing that he drew. All details for shower walls he drew for customers were correct, but he didn’t understand in actual application therefore he missed the detail. Experienced Architect….

    This is not to say all Architect is unfamiliar with reality of construction but I’ve seen quite a few.

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