"Thoughts and Observations on Architecture and You"

Topics of importance for people about to build or renovate

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Architectural Services during Construction

Traditionally there have been five phases of architectural services for a building project — Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding / Negotiating, and Construction. This commentary deals with services in the last of these phases.

There are several reasons why it is important that your architect remain fully involved with the project when it is under construction:

  • In the beginning months of the work, no one knows more about the building design and how it needs to be built than does the architect. He or she authored the design scheme, and is in the best position to assess the impact of ongoing design and construction changes on the strength and clarity of the original design idea and its related building details.

  • When the drawings and specifications are unclear, incomplete, or incorrect, your architect needs to take responsibility to make the necessary clarifications and changes. In this way, liability for design decisions clearly remains with the architect.

  • Throughout the construction process, you and the contractor will have many questions about the design and why things were done in a certain way. You should expect your architect to be able to give reasons for various design decisions as well as specific construction suggestions and alerts about difficult portions of the upcoming work.

  • When (note, not “if”) you and your contractor have occasional disagreements about what or how things are to be done, your architect can offer a helpful third party assessment of the situation. If you and the contractor trust the architect’s fairness and judgment, that assessment can be valuable in helping to move the project forward a bit more easily.

  • A good architect has a great stake in seeing that his design is built well and as envisioned. If he is at the construction site a sufficient amount of time and gets to know the crew members and subcontractors, his enthusiasm and high expectations for the work can be contagious and have a positive impact on everyone, particularly when they know how much their effort is respected and appreciated. I have never met a skilled construction worker who did not have a good deal of pride in his capability, and a strong desire to demonstrate that capability to me when faced with challenging design work to build.

The most common types of architectural services during construction include:

  • Observation Services, consisting of periodic visits to the site to become generally familiar with the progress and quality of the work, and to determine if it is in accordance with the intent of the contract documents (the construction drawings and specifications);

  • Submittal Services, consisting of receipt, review and action on shop drawings, product data, samples, and other types of submittals made by the contractor;

  • Supplemental Documentation Services, consisting of the preparation and distribution of supplemental drawings and specifications that further detail the original scope of work;

  • Quotation Requests / Change Order Services, consisting of the preparation and distribution of contract documents that describe the work to be added, deleted, or modified, and the review of the contractor’s proposals to execute that work;

  • Interpretations and Decisions, while assisting you and the contractor in resolving any disputes during the building of the project;

  • Construction Cost Accounting Services, consisting of evaluating applications for payment, reviewing cost records and budgets, and issuing certificates for payment; and

  • Project Closeout Services, consisting of careful observations of the work near its completion to check conformity with the contract documents, and to verify that the contractor’s “punch list” (items yet to be completed or corrected) is handled as expected.

It is important to remember that the purpose of these services is to assist and encourage you and your contractor to achieve the best building result relative to the project’s original design goals and the available financial resources to achieve them. Although you are paying the architect’s fee, in my experience, he is most effective when acting as a knowledgeable and objective third party, rather than as an exclusive advocate for you and your positions in disagreements with your contractor. The architect is not a policeman closely watching each of the contracting crew’s actions, but someone who knows a good deal about the project and has a strong desire to help make the project a success.

A Final Thought

An architect’s knowledge and overall competence directly increase with the amount of time spent on construction sties observing the work effort needed to build his or her design ideas. Seeing the physical conditions that present difficulties, noting how the crew approaches problems, and observing the variety of skill levels, work habits, and personal motivations of the various workers on site is critical to be able to contribute creative ideas and useful suggestions throughout the construction process.

The information and experience that the architect gains on site impacts his or her future design work. While many clients object to the notion of having to pay their architect to “learn” on their project, it is those learning experiences on prior projects that provided the knowledge from which the architect draws now to assist you. Practitioners in all professions gain increased competence this way.

Be leery of the architect who is a bit too “flexible” about being retained for services during construction or, worse, seems to have only a passing interest in the actual construction methods needed to build your project’s design ideas. For such a professional, the connection between design and construction may be weaker than it should be to offer you creative, yet buildable design problem solutions.

You and your architect have given many hours to your project’s design. The architect has spent additional hours documenting the design with drawings and specifications to provide your contractor with a great deal of information about how the work is to be built. The translation of that design from paper to reality during the construction process can extract a large toll on the design quality that you had hoped to achieve. A good architect can help you shepherd your design through construction to make sure that does not happen.

John McLean, Architect
San Francisco
(415) 777-9767