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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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)