Architects, Let’s Get on the Same Page

Tara Imani’s excellent, passionately-written blog post, “Architecture – A Profession at War with Itself,” inspired me to comment, and then to take my comment and turn it into this blog post. 

Tara asks “Do you think it is important for Architects to be on the same page in order to take our profession to the next level?  If so, why?  And, on which issues must we find consensus?”  The post then goes on to identify a number of areas where architects disagree.

Disagreement is a wonderful thing, which can test and temper individuals’ own arguments, and then shape a group’s stronger argument.  When a few members of a group disagree and argue and write and rant, the failings and weaknesses in the individual members’ arguments get exposed and culled out, and the main points get sharpened, and the group can bring a stronger argument to the table. 

Ultimately, architects do need to be on the same page about many things, so that our profession can be strengthened instead of being fragmented.

I feel the same sense of urgency to help strengthen our profession that Tara feels, and I know that many, many other architects do, too.  But not enough architects realize that we have a problem in the profession

Tara included a fantastic “Starter List” of issues that architects disagree about.  The following is the area that I, personally, feel called to act on:

“Learning how buildings go together” vs “Continuing to be the brunt of behind-your-back jokes as you leave the construction site or hang up the phone after a CM calls you for clarification of a detail.” 

This is the one issue that I feel that architects really, really need to be all on the same page about – we need to dedicate ourselves to learning how buildings go together, and we need to dedicate ourselves to teaching emerging professionals how buildings go together.  We shouldn’t need to argue among ourselves about this particular issue to get on the same page.  I think that the disagreements, or the different placement of priorities, about this issue (understanding construction technology), stem from a place of ignorance, rather than strong opinions. 

I come to this strong feeling (my unbending opinion that architects all need to agree that architects need to understand construction technology) from a place of not having known how buildings go together, and recognizing that as a weakness in myself.  I had this weakness not just before architecture school, not just after architecture school, but even after a number of years of working in architecture.  I had a lot of questions, and didn’t know where to go to find the answers.  I knew there were things I didn’t even know enough about to know what my questions were.  Now I write project specifications as a consultant to other architects, and I know way more about how buildings go together than I used to, and I know how to go about finding the answers to the questions I have. 

What many, many architects don’t seem to fully recognize is that architects are part of the construction industry.  The construction of buildings is the execution of our designs.  Our job, the job that we’re licensed to do as architects, is to prepare Construction Documents and to Administer the Contract for Construction.  Yes, we design, also.  And that’s the first step.  And it’s a very, very important step.  But the biggest portions of our fees on typical projects come from the Construction Documents phase and the Construction Contract Administration phase.  Schematic Design and Design Development are practically all we learn about in architecture school, and some people think that’s all that architects do… even some architects think that.   

I am answering this call to action.  I will continue to strive to educate other architects about the importance of understanding construction technology, and the importance of the huge part of our job as architects that requires us to document our design intent through technical construction details in the Construction Documents phase.  I will also continue to strive to encourage other architects to pass on the message of the importance of this understanding to emerging professionals.

Substitutions: Often a Quagmire, but CSI Can Help

I think there’s a big problem with the way substitutions are often handled, at least here in Colorado.

CSI has some great solutions – for example, 2 different substitution request forms, one for use during bidding, and one for use during construction.  Arcom’s MasterSpec has what I consider to be fairly decent language regarding substitutions, in Division 01.  But these solutions are often not implemented.

I think that “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” on several levels:

  • G.C.’s often fail to forward Division 01 on to bidding subs, so subs don’t know the requirements for substitution request submittals.  (They don’t even know that there ARE requirements for substitution request submittals.) 
  • Then the G.C’s try to push substitution requests through to the architects without the required information, since they didn’t receive that info from their subs.
  • Project architects often fail to enforce the specifications’ requirements about the information that is to be submitted with a substitution request.  Sometimes, that’s because they aren’t familiar with the requirements in their own project specifications. 
  • So the architects waste their precious bid-period time trying to verify that the proposed substitution is comparable to the specified system or item, doing the work that the sub ought to have done.
  • Owners seem to not understand that substitutions can’t appropriately be made in the blink of an eye, since the designed system took weeks to design and took everything related into account.
  • Back to the G.C.’s – during construction, they submit on non-specified items, or they just install them, because that’s what their subs gave their bids on, even though they weren’t acceptable products.  This happens when the G.C. didn’t verify that the subs’ bids were in compliance with the construction documents during bidding, and the sub didn’t know the proper procedure for getting a substitution request approved.

As a specifier, I sometimes add some language to the “acceptable products” list in each spec section that refers to the Division 00 section “Procurement Substitution Procedures” and/or Division 01 section “Substitution Procedures,” or if I have a Basis-of-Design product by one manufacturer listed, and a list of comparable manufacturers after that, I sometimes add language in each spec section that indicates that the contractor should “Comply with the requirements of Division 01 Section ‘Product Requirements’ for comparable product requests.”

But as with everything else, the project architect still has to know what’s in the specs (and then enforce the specs), the G.C. still has to comply with the requirements of the construction documents (and make sure his subs do too), and the Owner still has to understand that proposed substitutions have to be very carefully evaluated since everything was designed around the specified product.

I think this is where our work as CSI members lies – we should try to educate the rest of our industry about the roles that all parts of a project team play in this substitution process.

This post is a reprise of a comment I made on the Denver CSI website, in response to our Chapter President’s November post.  Check it out, and join the discussion!

A Note on “C.A.” – Administration of the Contract

We architects throw around the acronym C.A. pretty casually.  We all know it means the work that we do during construction of the building we designed.  But some of us think it means “Construction Administration.”  I used to think that, until I started paying better attention to contracts.  

AIA A201-2007 General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, refers to these services as “Administration of the Contract.”  The services architects provide during construction constitute “Construction Contract Administration.”  So, really, C.A. stands for “Contract Administration,” NOT “Construction Administration.”  As Ron Geren pointed out in an excellent blog post a few months ago, the term “Construction Administration” really could be interpreted as meaning something more like “Construction Management” than “Administration of the Contract.”

Melissa Brumback’s post this morning prompted me to respond.  Except for the use of the term “Construction Administration,” her article is good, and has good advice for architects.  Check it out: