Stop Designing! …before the Construction Documents phase begins

Design needs to stop before the Construction Documents phase begins.  New scope1 shouldn’t be added by Owners after Schematic Design.  Changes to building systems2 shouldn’t be made by Architects after Design Development.  The only “designing” that should happen during the Construction Documents phase is the refinement of things already decided upon. 

But don’t stop designing until all those decisions have been made!  Until all major building systems have been selected, the Design Development phase shouldn’t be over.

As an outside specifications consultant, at the end of Design Development, I ought to be able to take my 100% Design Development Outline Spec, review it side-by-side with the Architect’s 100% Design Development Drawings, discuss any conflicts and gaps and unknowns with the Architect, produce a final Table of Contents for the Project Manual, and run with the Construction Documents specifications, asking a few questions along the way.  I shouldn’t have to be adding or deleting spec sections in the middle of CD’s, or worse, in an Addendum.

These thoughts are from my point of view, the specification consultant’s point of view, but I am not just thinking of myself.  If everyone on the Project Team (Owner, Contractor if there’s a Contractor on board before bidding, Architect, Consultants) subscribes to this idea, and helps to enforce it in his own company, and holds the other members of the team to it, we’ll have much better Construction Documents, much smoother construction phases, and fewer unknown costs for everyone involved. 

Implementing this requires some careful communication among the Project Team.  Architects need to take the lead on this, and need to explicitly explain to Owners their expectations about timelines for Owners’ decision-making.  Architects need to explain up-front that they will require extensions of schedules and additional architectural fees if Owners make changes to scope or changes to systems after the appropriate time for scope changes or systems modifications.  (If these untimely changes happen, Architects then need to insist that the schedule extension and fee addition requirements be followed-through on.)  Architects need to realize that since it makes sense to charge the Owner more money for this sort of untimely decision-making, it makes sense to ban this sort of ill-timed design from their own practices.  (This is often a company culture thing – attitudes about this come from the top.  So, principals, if you want your projects to be profitable, you need to communicate your expectations that your project managers will not make design changes during the Construction Documents phase.  You also need to keep yourself from making design changes during the Construction Documents phase!) 

This post is adapted from the comment I posted on David Stutzman’s “Architectural Design Phases” post on the Conspectus blog, .  David’s post, and some comments on the post, also provided me with some additional ideas.



  1. “Scope” is “scope of work,” which defines the extent of the project.
  2. “Building systems” are the assemblies that make up the building.  Window systems include storefront, curtainwall, etc.  Exterior wall systems include brick veneer with steel stud backup, metal panel rainscreen, single wythe CMU, etc.  Roof systems include single-ply membrane roofing, asphalt shingles, metal roofing panels, etc.

Company Culture and Architects’ Contractual Obligations

Architecture firm principals, managing partners, anyone who signs Contracts or Agreements:  Always give a copy of your Owner-Architect Agreement to your project architects, project managers and job captains at the beginning of the Schematic Design Phase.  If your construction contract administration team is made up of different people, give that team copies of your Owner-Architect Agreement at the beginning of the Construction Phase, at the very latest.  Give your team copies of your Architect-Consultant Agreements, too.  (If your firm keeps fee info confidential from employees, obscure those numbers.  But give them the documents!) 

When you give them the documents, tell them to read them!  Tell the construction contract administration team to read the Owner-Contractor Agreement, and the General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, as well as the Owner-Architect Agreement and Architect-Consultant Agreements. 

All of these documents spell out some of the Architect’s obligations.  Many emerging professionals are not familiar with all of the Architect’s typical obligations.  Those who haven’t yet begun the process of studying for their architectural registration exams may have no idea what’s contained in an Owner-Architect Agreement or in the General Conditions of the Contract.  But when these Agreements get executed, the Architect becomes legally responsible for performing the activities required by these Agreements.  If you have unlicensed people managing projects, you have to be especially explicit about the requirement that project managers are familiar with these documents, because they may have no way of knowing, except through your guidance.  (Remember, they’re interns, working under your direct supervision, learning how to be the architects of the future.)

If you don’t demonstrate to your employees the importance of these documents, some of them may never understand that they are contractually obligated to perform the exercises required by these documents! 

Attitudes about the importance of following through on contractual obligations come from the top.  The attitudes of the principals shape the company culture of the firm.  Do you want your firm to be known for following through on obligations?  Or do you want your firm to be known for having employees who aren’t sure what the firm’s obligations actually are?

Value Engineering? Not After Docs Are in for Permit!

Many of us in the construction industry refer to any exercise that reduces the costs of construction as “value engineering.”  But, as Dave Metzger pointed out in a discussion forum today, actual value engineering begins in the early design phases of Schematic Design and Design Development.  We are misusing the term “value engineering” when we use it to describe just any cost-cutting exercises, especially those that don’t begin until after bids have been received and construction documents are in for permit review! 

Actual value engineering takes into account the life cycle costs, as well as the initial costs, of the building.  The earlier in the schedule the value engineering exercises begin, the more value they provide to the project.

The Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences, has a good piece about value engineering:

Here’s an excerpt from the Whole Building Design Guide:

“Value Engineering (VE) is not a design/peer review or a cost-cutting exercise.  VE is a creative, organized effort, which analyzes the requirements of a project for the purpose of achieving the essential functions at the lowest total costs (capital, staffing, energy, maintenance) over the life of the project.” – The Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences

The more we call things what they truly are, the better our industry will be.  We shouldn’t be using euphemisms in construction, especially when the substituted word actually has a related meaning!  Beginning the process of trimming the construction budget after the bids are in isn’t value engineering, it’s plain old cost-cutting.

Thanks, Dave Metzger, for the reminder.



There’s a Place for That!

I’ve been so busy, I’m weeks late with following up on a post my colleague and I put together and published on the blog of the firm she works for!  Busy is good, but work can be SO distracting.

Morayma Salas, a client, personal friend, former coworker, and fellow Denver Chapter CSI member, came up with the idea for this article and did most of the surveying of construction professionals, and then I wrote it.

Here’s the ending of our article: “Architects are often extremely creative people who like to do things their own way.  However, following the rules about placement of information doesn’t take creativity away from the design process.  Following the rules actually frees up more time to be creative with the things that should be part of the design process.  So don’t waste your time getting creative with naming parts of your specs or placement of information!  Follow CSI’s standards for locating information and apply the time you save to the design your projects.”

Here’s a link to the whole post, “Architects, There’s a Place for That: SectionFormat & PageFormat,” on the Hutton Architecture Studio Blog: