Architects, Take Back the Reins

Things are looking dismal in our profession.  We have lots of bad buildings in the U.S.  We have record numbers of unemployed architecture professionals, and many of the firms that do have work are getting lower fees for their services.  Architects seem to be respected a little bit less every decade by owners and contractors.

And, every decade, a higher percentage of design and construction projects seem to be led by the contractor team.

Yes, there’s a connection.  More contractor-led projects lead to more badly-designed buildings, lower fees for architects, less stability for architecture firms, and less respect for architects.

If we want better buildings to make up our built environment, if we want to be proud to be architects, and to be able to support our families on our salaries as architects, we need to change some things about how architects practice.  Once we make those changes, we can get back to being the leaders in the design and construction process, and we will have better buildings in the U.S.

Forget about this horrible recession for a minute.  I know it’s a big factor in our situation now, in February 2012, and it’s the reason for all the unemployment.  But just think back to 2007 or so, when the economy was fine.  Even then, we had a bunch of problems that we have now:

  1. We have intern architects clamoring for the right to call themselves “architects” without having to take those pesky Architect Registration Exams.
  2. Architecture school costs students more money every decade, yet, every decade, teaches them less that will help them in their practices as architects.2
  3. We have architecture firms recommending Construction Manager as Constructor project delivery to owners.3  We have contractors leading most Design/Build projects, and architects who are happy to partner with them. 4  Essentially, we have more contractor-led design projects than we did a few decades ago, and architects have played a part in letting this happen, and as a result, we have more bad buildings.
  4. We have some architects who don’t understand owner-contractor agreements, and who don’t know what the project specifications say, administering the contract for construction on design-bid-build projects.  They get led around by the nose by contractors, and are not providing to owners the services the owners expected and contracted for.  The owners get less value than they should, and therefore the owners have less respect for architects.
  5. We have some architects who don’t know much about building codes, building technology, and construction detailing, yet who are producing documents that contractors are supposed to build from.  So we get some building designs that are really poorly executed in construction, and look like junk in a few years.
  6. We have some guys who call themselves construction managers poorly managing the documentation part of bidding and negotiation with their subcontractors, and architects who don’t even recognize how poorly the owner is being served.  The architect who doesn’t know much about procurement and contracting, and doesn’t know much about construction, serves very little purpose to the owner on a construction manager project, whether the CM is a good one, or just someone calling himself one.

The more we have design decisions made by contractors (who are driven by costs), the more badly-designed buildings we will get, and the less the public will think that design matters.  The less good design people see, the less they think they need it in their world, and the less they’re willing to pay for it, and the more buildings will be built for the lowest price possible, and the more contractor-led projects we’ll have, and the more bad buildings we’ll have, and the fewer practicing architects we’ll have.  This is bad for our built environment and bad for our profession.

The more students, emerging professionals, and licensed architects focus on design (the way the building is intended to look) to the exclusion of the technical stuff (the instructions to the contractor for achieving the design intent – the specifications and the construction details), the more we will back ourselves into the corner of having to rely on contractors to design the details.  At that point, owners may be pretty easily persuaded by contractors that it’s just a short jump from designing all the details to designing the whole building.

The more architects focus on design, and the less they work on improving their knowledge of construction documentation, construction details, building technology, construction specifications, agreements, and construction contract administration, the more work (including design work, starting with the detailing) will have to be handed over to contractors, which will lead to more bad buildings in our world, lower fees and less respect for architects, and less value to building owners.  It’s counterintuitive, but the more architecture schools and architecture firms focus on design (and ignore the technical stuff), the more bad design we’ll see in the world.  The focus on design to the exclusion of the technical stuff is counterproductive; we’re “designing” ourselves right out of our traditional scope of work.    

Architects need to take back the reins, and keep a firm grip on them.  Here’s how:    

  • Architects need to understand that part of their job is to interpret the code and incorporate the code requirements into the project documents.
  • Architects need to understand what they are drawing, and need to have a good feeling for how the building and their details will actually be constructed.
  • Architects need to understand that the specifications are contract documents, too, and are complementary to the drawings.
  • Architects need to understand that they are responsible, (according to the code, and according to their owner-architect agreements) for coordinating the work of all the design disciplines.
  • Architects need to get better at construction contract administration – they need to understand construction contracts and Division 01 of the specifications as well as the technical sections.

In order to get the chance to produce good designs, architects have to get back to understanding, and properly drawing, the construction details, the way architects used to (before they started handing this architectural work over to contractors).  In order to get to work on building designs that are executed well in construction, architects must get back to the basics of understanding building technology, thorough product research, specifications writing, good construction contract administration practices, and good agreements that include fair compensation and appropriate allocation of risk.

Architects need to think about their work in a different way. 

Of course, there are good architects whose firms are doing everything they should be.  And there are good construction management firms who are true assets to projects.  With good architects and good contractors, good working relationships between architects and contractors are possible, and are happening right now.  And the owners are often getting a good value.  But architects don’t have to have contracts with contractors, or give away work to them, or go along with them to the detriment of the owner, in order to get along with contractors.  Good contract documents (clear, concise, correct and complete drawings and specifications) and an understanding of roles and responsibilities during construction are the appropriate foundation for good working relationships between architects and contractors.

The Construction Specification Institute can help architects improve their practices. CSI’s certification programs can help architects develop a better understanding of the construction process, better construction contract administration skills, better construction documentation abilities, and better means of communication with the contractor on projects.

If we don’t change the way many firms are practicing architecture right now, I see a future with fewer practicing architects, even lower fees, more poorly-designed buildings, more poorly-constructed buildings, and less respect for architects.  If architects don’t get more technical, but keep focusing on design instead, we’ll actually end up with less good design in the world. 



  1. Check out “Architect” magazine’s article “The 50-Year-Old Intern.”  Remember, “Architect” is “The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects.”  The article actually asks, “Does Licensure Matter?”  Also check out this article by John Cary published in the online magazine “Good”:  Even though they work in architecture firms, many emerging professionals don’t know what it means to be an architect.  This dilutes the respect that the public has for architects.  The International Building Code requires documents to be submitted for permit by a “registered design professional in responsible charge”, who is “a registered design professional engaged by the owner to review and coordinate certain aspects of the project, as determined by the building official, for compatibility with the design of the building or structure, including submittal documents prepared by others.”  I can’t imagine this requirement changing anytime soon.  This person can be an engineer or an architect.  It’s best, for our built environment, to have this person be an architect.  It’s best if this architect is directly hired by the owner, instead of by a contractor who is part of an alternative project delivery team.  On most buildings, design professionals can’t submit for permit if they aren’t licensed.  You can’t lead if you’re not licensed.  Students and interns need to understand this, and the public needs to understand this.
  2. One thing I learned really, really well from my 2 summer internships and my 5 years in college (the whole first half of the 1990’s) was that I didn’t know much, and that I had a lot that I needed to learn after graduation, during my internship.  This is a concept that many of today’s emerging professionals seem to be unable to grasp.  I suspect that they are not being taught this in school, and I think this has something to do with the lack of experienced professionals who are teaching in architecture schools.  The National Architectural Accrediting Board “2010 Report on Accreditation in Architecture Education” tells us, “Of the total number of assistant, associate, and full professors, 934 (29.4%) are registered to practice in a U.S. jurisdiction.”  Less than a third of faculty in accredited architecture schools are licensed!  Only 25.9%, about a quarter, of full professors are actually licensed.  This report can be found on this page.
  3. When you don’t know much about construction or the technical parts of architecture, doing construction management project delivery method takes some of the pressure to figure out how to meet the owner’s budget off the architect.  Having the Contractor’s input during preconstruction seems to take some of the risk out of the project for the architect.  I know how it feels.  When I was a project manager in an architecture firm, I knew that there was a lot I didn’t know.  I was so relieved to find out that a large project that I was managing was going to be a Construction Manager as Constructor project.  That project wrapped up in 2000.  (I haven’t been happy with a CM as Constructor project since 1999.   You do the math.)  The fact is that if you don’t really know what you’re doing, and the CM gives you no preconstruction input, but you were counting on it, you’re in bad shape.  And the truth is that your actual liability as an architect doesn’t change if the contractor is a CM as Constructor.  Take back the scope of architecture work that should be yours – do design-bid-build project delivery and hire a good estimator as your consultant to help advise you on designing to the owner’s budget.
  4. When the contractor is the entity who has the agreement with the owner, well, the contractor is your client.  Wouldn’t you rather work for the owner, whom you may be able to convince to implement good design, rather than work for the contractor, who is almost always going to make design decisions driven by the dollars?  When architects don’t have a direct relationship with owners, and serve only as the contractor’s consultant in order to produce a permit set for the contractor, respect and fees for architects get chipped away at, and get progressively lower.

47 thoughts on “Architects, Take Back the Reins

  1. Liz,
    This is a fabulous post! Do you mind if I share it with everyone I have ever met in my life as an architecture student, intern, Registered Architect, and specifier?
    Please make this into a presentation, or better yet a manifesto, as a blueprint for improving the world, one project at a time.

  2. Excellent post, Liz!

    Thank you for summarizing what the true agenda needs to be for the AIA, NCARB, and NAAB– that is, if they want to ensure that architecture remains a viable profession. If not, they should just continue as is…and witness the profession’s demise.

  3. Great article. While on the design side myself, we manage small projects in my firm. We have an understanding of the execution of a job far more than a typical interior designer…and sadly, more than most architects in our area. This is due to my background and how I approach a job. Not as just “must look good” but also “must be to code and function well” also. Similiar issues albeit on a smaller scale.

  4. As a mid-career architect I’ve seen much of the shift to where we are today. I’d like to finish my career with architects back on top of the design roster.

    You’ve not only detailed our weakened position (many have bemoaned the state of the profession) but you have provided specific steps to work our way back.

    Thank you!

  5. The article you cite has the following statement justifying the need for licensing: “For starters, there’s a pragmatic reason for licensure, according to Michael Armstrong, NCARB’s CEO: safeguarding the public by ensuring that individuals are prepared for the rigors of independent practice.”

    I would argue that the current system of licensure does not meet that goal. Of all the talented young interns [whatever happened to the more accurate term ‘apprentice’?] I’ve worked with over the last 3 decades who just became registered, I can’t think of a single one I would trust to design a room addition to my house, much less a commercial building.

    I have specialized in specifications since 1982 and since then, not one candidate for registration has come to me for coaching in how to prepare specs or to borrow the Rosen textbook or CSI manuals, despite my offers and even pleas. Considering that none of us had a meaningful course in college on how to prepare specifications, and the fact that specs have a critical role in claims, how are these interns able to get registered without knowing how to perform this complex task that is critical to “safeguarding the public”?

    • Louis, what you say is harsh, BUT TRUE. I know this from my own personal experience.
      After 7 years of working in a firm, working on schools and office buildings, I got licensed in 2002. I stopped working for a few years when my first child was born in 2003. At that point, I was not considering independent practice as an architect, knowing that I didn’t have enough experience. However, I started considering an addition to our home, and I suddenly realized that I didn’t have enough knowledge to properly detail an addition to my own home, and I’d have to hire another architect!
      We still haven’t gotten very far with considering an addition to our home, but after a few years of writing specs for commercial projects, I realized that I am now the appropriate architect to design and detail that house addition.
      I have learned so much about architecture, construction, and building technology from my 4 years of preparing specs using a commercial master. I use MasterSpec. I start with the master spec section, and I look at the architect’s drawings. The process of preparing the specs prompts me to ask the project architect many specific questions, it prompts me to think about many larger-scale things about the drawing set, it prompts me to look at the building codes, it prompts me to do lots of product research (both on products the architect has specifically selected, and on products where I am making the selection) and it prompts me to research specific aspects of building science to make sure we are doing things right.
      These prompts to think about the important details, and to understand every single thing that I was drawing, are what I didn’t really get as an intern.

  6. Liz, I think you’ve got a lot of great stuff in this article! You mention that architects need to think of their work in a different way. I couldn’t agree more. I believe that technology often stands in the way of that – it’s no longer a question of holding a pencil, there’s a constant need to follow technology in order to execute projects. Any thoughts on getting technology into the mix with what you’ve stated above?

    • Technology is a tool. We have to use it. But architects still need to be the people giving the instructions to the people who will build. Technology such as BIM cannot change that fact.

      The technologies that we use to produce the instructions can be a distraction from the instructions themselves. We have to keep that in mind, and be careful how we spend our time – how much time are we spending managing our technology, and how much time are we getting it to work for us?

      In the olden days for me, it was AutoCAD I had to watch out for – sometimes I’d spend too much time getting the perfect patterns for various walltypes or something like that. I had to watch myself. Now I have to watch myself with Word formatting – I almost never have to fix things, but if a file gets a little messed up, and some indents are a little different than others, I have to make sure I don’t spend too much time fixing something that nobody but me will actually notice. We all need to watch ourselves.

      I’m not very familiar with BIM, but my opinion is that when we have Revit models being shared among all members of the team, we have to make sure that whatever ends up in there as part of the “contract documents” that are supposed to be issued by the architect, is actually coming from the architect. That is going to have to be watched carefully, but it has to be feasible.

      • I think you’ve highlighted the issue in a nutshell. Yes, the technology is a tool… that very few architects can use. This is despite folks like GSA demanding that tool be used (and they’ve gota few buildings to deal with). I believe this is an example of the same attitude that drives (or doesn’t drive) the changes to education you’ve talked about. Sweeping generalization – but all the architects I’ve met are *completely* unwilling to change what they’ve done since (whenever they entered the field). I don’t hold out much hope of finding the “lost” generation.

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  8. Liz:

    I hope you are participating in the CSI CA Practice Group Webinars…and the AIA CA Knowledge Community Blogs and Webinars. Both would benefit from your invlovement. Thank you for caring enough to act and protect the profession. Jim Rains, FAIA, CSI, Rains Studio, PA, South Atlantic Regional Director, AIA Board of Directors.

    • Thank you, Jim. I do try to participate in the CSI CA Practice Group Webinars, but I think I’ve only made it to one so far. I will check out the AIA CA Knowledge Community Blogs and Webinars. Thanks for the suggestion!

  9. Architecture school costs students more money every decade, yet, every decade, teaches them less that will help them in their practices as architects.2

    Liz – as an educator for the past (almost 20 years), I can certainly attest to higher education costing more; in fact, I actually suggest to prospective students to spend their first two years in the community college and transfer to save on monies.

    But I would argue that architecture programs are not teaching less — In fact, if you review the NAAB Conditions for Accreditation, we are teaching more. Do remember that the education of an architect involves both academia and practice. While I would agree that programs can do more, one missing link is the “experience” phase of becoming an architect commonly known as IDP.

    With the economy, many graduates are not even able to begin IDP because of the lack of jobs.

    Thanks for continuing the dialogue.

  10. I am not sure that things are as bad as all that, but I would agree with you generally across the board.

    Many architects are not aware of how much architectural education has changed over the last 50 years, even those who have been immersed in it. The primary change has been to focus more and more on form rather than function and construction. As the design studio has become even more central to architects’ education, many studios have been led by people who may not have practiced architecture and may not be licensed/registered to do so. “Star” designers may be little more than exterior decorators who hand over the technical design phase to an “architect of record.” We invite these people to speak and teach and then reward outstanding design students with design awards/scholarships/grants. I will have to say that in my more than 10 years of teaching, really gifted design students were often top students across the board.

    Most architects are even more unaware that the forces that shape architectural education include higher ed institutions (which often have no idea what architects do) and architectural faculty. Those who “head” colleges/schools/departments of architeture are often forced to respond to estraneous and irrelevant pressures to tweek programs.

    I am a big supporter of collaboration with the entire building procurement team (even contractors), but collaboration means particpating as true partners who have an understanding of the value of and respect for what other team members bring to the table. I have seen Construction Management At Risk (CMAR) really work when the CMAR really participates in providing “preconstruction services”; I have also seen it as a huge waste of time when the CMAR sits passively and occassionally tells everyone how much money the archtiect is wasting on design.

    I really recommend Dana Cuff’s book “Architecture: The Story of Practice.” Although it was first published 20 years ago, the message has not changed. She says that Architects are not project leaders, but one voice among many. I suspect that has not really changed. Architects need to understand how we add value to the building procurement process. We need to understand that for most projects our contribution to the aesthetic arrangement of form and space is often valued the least. Health and safety are important on all projects. Awareness of the materiality of the project when it is still an idea (a virtual building) is probably the most valuable expertise that we can contribute. We need to find our voice and assert our expertise as well as respect the expertise of others, if we are to be successful.

    • As a specifier, I find that I think about the construction documents the same way that many estimators and subcontractors and vendors do. I’ve also found that most often, the most active contractor-side participant in the CMAR process is a GC project manager who does NOT think the same way the estimators, subs, vendors, and specifier think, and who does exactly what you mentioned – “sits passively and occasionally tells everyone how much money the architect is wasting on design.”

      I’ve started to be able to occasionally predict what these guys are going to say to the owners (regarding how much money the architect is “wasting”) and have been warning my clients about it ahead of time, when I can, and explaining how and why I specified what I did. (On school projects, it’s usually because that’s what the school district’s technical guide requires, but neither the owner’s project manager nor the GC can grasp that concept.)

      Maybe someday I’ll work on a CMAR project in which the CMAR does participate actively in preconstruction in a meaningful way.

      Thank you for the book recommendation.

  11. In my second job as an intern, I had the great fortune to work on the construction of a 1,000,000 sq. ft. facility for the GSA. My first task was to read the Specifications, and extract in list form all the required submittals for the Project. It was a baptism in fire since I had little idea of what I was reading, but it was an important awakening to the realization of how little I knew about the construction industry. The first Section I wrote, sixteen years later, was my second awakening. I learned so much in the process of writing just one Section, that it drove home for me the need to better educate myself in the world of Specifications, and that led to my pursuit to obtain certification credentials from CSI. In the ten-plus years since obtaining my CCS certification, I spent six as the Certification Chair of the Metro NY chapter, and continue to be an advocate for obtaining certification. Getting a CDT is only the first step; the education process never ends. Now, teaching and attending continuing education seminars is how I keep ahead of the pack. Through my continued involvement in CSI and in my practice, I have made it my business to impress upon interns the need to educate themselves in the production of all the contract documents, not just Drawings.

    Thank you for your post. It encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing.

  12. Thank you for taking the time to summarize your thoughts on what you feel is weakening the architecture profession. It is only through this sort of dialogue that we will arrive at the heart of the problem and begin to improve things for future generations.

    Unfortunately, it is the attitude on display in your treatise that may be the profession’s biggest threat. Your denigration of both the academy and emerging professionals (“interns”) as two of the profession’s “problems” is a convenient obfuscation on the part of an experienced — and presumably accomplished — practitioner.

    You may not be aware of a campaign called “Licensure Matters” that has been initiated by the emerging professional groups of the AIA (National Associates Committee, Young Architects Forum). What the early stages of the effort have shown them is that, unfortunately, the very question you criticize (does licensure matter?) is, perhaps, the most critical inquiry that can be made into contemporary architectural practice.

    Against a backdrop of the shrinking professional respect and tightening profit margins that you rightly point out, firms have abdicated their roles as mentors and shifted nearly all of their responsibility to train the next generation of architects to the academy. Simply claiming that there should be a higher percentage of licensed faculty is a popular hypothesis, but one that has yet to be linked to the licensure rates of graduates.

    (To explore this point a bit further, why would architecture students not want to be taught architectural history by a PhD in the subject, Structures, Building Systems, and Acoustics by accomplished engineers in each of those fields, City Planning by a planner, computer animation by a dynamic programmer, and design studio by a highly-regarded, licensed architect? Why would I rather have all of those courses taught by architects instead of experts in each of their respective fields?)

    In your second note you suggest that emerging professionals are supposed to know what they don’t know. Again, you blame the academy despite the collective experience of recent graduates whom have joined the profession only to be lost among a sea of professionals who have neither the time nor interest in THEIR development to authentically engage them in any sort of constructive relationship. It is these supervisors that are supposed to help define deficiencies and strategies to acquire the knowledge. If we can admit that practicing architecture is a profession that require constant education and firms would recommit to providing the breadth of technical expertise that schools cannot fully convey you will see the cultural shift toward technically-proficient architect that you yearn for.

    The primary reason architects have taken a backseat to developers and contractors in job trailers across the country has far more to do with a collective fear of liability than professional acumen. For all of their strength in court, the AIA contract documents have placed the Architect in such a precarious position that she cannot even speak to a subcontractor on the job site, let alone collaborate with tradesmen and women to accomplish a great detail or integrated system!

    If you are truly interested in elevating architects to the status of “leaders in the design and construction process” reform of professional liability statutes would be a far better place to start than blaming the academy or interns for not fixing the profession.

  13. Alan,

    Thank you for contributing to the dialogue.

    I didn’t suggest that emerging professionals are supposed to know what they don’t know; I suggested that emerging professionals need to understand that there is a lot that they don’t know. What I suspect that they are not being taught in school is this: THERE IS A LOT THAT YOU WILL NEED TO LEARN ON THE JOB. This is the message schools must get across to students.

    When I graduated from school 17 years ago, I knew that I didn’t know very much. I still know that I still don’t know very much, especially compared to many, many of my specifier colleagues!

    I don’t know why architects would be afraid to collaborate with tradespeople to accomplish good details and systems – many of my architect-clients do just that, and I often encourage architects to contact the product reps for the products they are researching, since reps are tremendous resources who will always know more about their products than anyone else possibly could.

    You may be interested in this excellent blog post that touches on professional liability issues: The post, by Ron Geren, offers an insightful counterpoint to your ideas about professional liability.

    As a solo practitioner, I do not officially mentor anyone. However, one project at a time, one emerging professional at a time, one architect-client at a time, I work to pass on to other design professionals the knowledge that I’ve gained. Many of my clients are grateful for my input on their projects. Some think that my long emails about technical aspects of their projects, or about the Owner’s procurement and contracting documents, are a bother. I blog to blow off steam and because I know that others can learn from what I write.

    No one firm, no one mentor, no one boss, can teach any one emerging professional everything he needs to learn. But it’s now easier than ever for people to supplement their mentoring with a little self-teaching. When I had a question as an intern, I had to bother my boss, or ask one of the guys who sat near me. Now, when an intern doesn’t know what a “hopper” or “brake metal” is, he can do an internet search.

    Through the Construction Specifications Institute, I have found many, many people that I consider to be my support system – kind of like mentors. I highly recommend CSI to any emerging professionals who feel that they are not getting the mentoring that they need at their firms.

    Regarding licensure – it matters. I’ve written about it before. It’s important for our profession. I hope that the AIA’s “Licensure Matters” campaign isn’t actually asking “Does licensure matter?” but is actually asking “Why does licensure matter?” But I couldn’t find much info on it. Here’s what I’ve written about licensure before:

    I’m hoping for a better tomorrow for our profession.

  14. I will comment on only the architectural education part of this discussion. One must remember that our current education system is based on a combination of schooling and internship. Most of the concerns you have raised regarding the professional and technical sides of architecture. This traditional system relies mainly on the internship side to teach that area while the schools concentrate mainly on the design side. I believe both are currently required to be qualified to take the registration exam. In the past, I believe an increased period of internship would qualify you without a degree.

    I think the situation has changed considerably over the years. The technology of how we research and prepare documents has changed radically – this is true even for me who first worked in an architect’s office in the mid-50’s and started architecture school at the same time. The technology of how we build buildings has also changed radically –there are many more options and it is much more complicated than years ago. The available information and knowledge is much greater. I would seriously question whether the internship served in most offices is capable of meeting its education responsibilities under our traditional system in today’s world. I would suggest what is needed is a serious evaluation of the traditional system – is it meeting the needs of emerging professionals to become competent architects?

    CSI has some programs to meet the needs of emerging professionals to understand the basics of how the design/construction industry operates and the basics of contract documents (CDT). It also has advanced programs for understanding the principles of specifications (CCS) and construction contract administration (CCCA).

    In my early years in the profession, every office I worked in had someone who was not a registered architect but had worked in architect’s offices for many years and had learned how to put a building together – I came to call them “old gray hairs.” They are who I learned from in terms of the technical aspects of the profession. They taught me how to detail and put a set of drawings together. Those people have disappeared and are no longer a resource. I believe this happened after the advent of CAD.

    I think an effort to try to change professional schools of architecture to fully cover technical subjects will not be very fruitful or at least take a very long time to accomplish. I think that the most fruitful effort would be to provide a program for the technical education of emerging professionals – a program that would supplement the education provided by internship in offices.

    I would propose that CSI is in a good position to provide that technical education program. See a previous discussion on LinkedIn – CSI: “Technical Education – Is There a Better Way” ( for more discussion on this subject.

    CSI has already made some inroads in terms of our CDT program receiving IDP credits. Why not capitalize on that and try to expand into the area of technical education regarding building construction?

    I guess I have always been a proponent of when you see a problem, it is better to do something about it within your means rather than just complain about it.

    • Bob,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.

      I think CSI has the right people, the network, who could put a framework like this together, on a national basis. Chapters could fill in the framework with their local people.

      I will bring this to the Denver Chapter. We have talked about structuring our monthly meetings this way – hitting a different division each month – but this would be different – it would be for emerging professionals, who may or may not need Continuing Education Credits, but DO need very basic technical knowledge.

  15. Architects need to restructure how the profession works. I am not an architect — I am, however, a specifier with 35 years of experience, on projects ranging from very small to extremely large and complex, and every day I run into the fact that this profession seems to run itself on an either/or condition: you’re either an architect or you are not. And if you’re not, there isn’t a real place for you.

    Law firms have a range of professionals now — from attorneys through paralegals, through administrative personnel; medical offices have their own hierarchy of professionals, but the AIA assumes that if you’re an “associate member” that you’re young, and on the road to licensure, rather than being a closely allied professional with a different emphasis.

    In addition, architects need to say “no” more and they need to be smarter than the other parts of the project team. You can reject contractor proposals — if you know what to do instead of what they suggest. You can reject bad workmanship — if you have the resources to show how it can be better. The architect has to stop doing work for free (you don’t see engineers working all weekend for pizza and beer); and the profession has to be smarter about how much things cost and how long they take to do — and then bill for it. (I had a client once, when told his fee was too large by his client, showed up with a cartoon set and said “which sheets don’t you want?” the fee stayed the same).
    And finally, specifiers need to stop thinking that what they do is produce a “product”. we provide guidance; we provide an oversight; and as part of that, we provide a product. I have worked on hundreds of projects over the past 35 years and most of my clients have worked on tens of projects. Its that perspective and experience that they are paying for — not the project manual that I produce.

    • Anne,

      Thanks so much for your great comments!

      You have a great point about architects needing to say “no” more.

      The architects who have the technical knowledge to prove something that most architects know instinctively, do say “no” more than others, and do reject contractor proposals and bad workmanship. These are better architects, and provide a better service to their owner-clients.

      An architect who knows that something doesn’t look right, but isn’t sure how to prove that it doesn’t comply with the contract documents, feels helpless. I know – I’ve been there. But there is no need for this helplessness.

      Architects need to product good drawings and good specs. The architects doing construction contract administration need to know what’s in the specs, and how those requirements apply to floor levelness or removal of debris on site or steel finish or defective bricks. And then they need to enforce those requirements.

  16. Thank you for the article . I have many friends that are on both sides of the practice(architects and contractors as well ) . We all share the same fustration that covers in your article .

    I’ve been practicing for over 29 yrs in the field doing pretty from A to Z .Not yet license ( much long term goal …) . I work with licensed architects all day long without much to show for why they are licensed in the first place . Too young, too inexperience, very eager and good with reciting what they read in books to pass exams … . Yes, totally in agreement about being licensed here. Perhaps, getting licensed should be a requirement after so many years of actually work on projects, understanding what or how buildings are designed,documents being put together, understanding specifications, being in the field during CA process and actually being tested for specific knowledge. Although , not to brand everyone the same . There are exceptions . The AIA for what it is worth should do more along with those that are practicing to restore faith in owners and clients. I have no respect for the AIA for a long time and don’t feel that i would change that soon .
    In the mean time , i’ll continue to mentor and coach as many as i come across in the hope of making them a better designers…just because i’m that passionate about design and want to see more good design projects built. Some day ( hopefully soon) i can say i’m a licensed architect.

  17. The call for better technical education for architects does not go out often enough. Nice to hear it once in a while. I don’t know about seizing the reigns, but achieving consistent competence would be good.
    It’s good that the NAAB thinks architecture schools are teaching more than they used to. As Bob Johnson indicated, there is more to learn now.
    The trend you are seeing now was apparent to me long before you graduated. After my own schooling (forty years ago), it was clear to me that I needed field experience before I found myself evaluating the work of craftsmen twice my age, or directing their work (by virtue of designing it). Why that was not obvious to everyone else is a mystery to me. For me, the next four years of handling the stuff I would later be drawing and specifying paid dividends for years.
    I can mentor until the cows come home, but the most I can hope an intern will gain is exposure to, and appreciation of, some of what hands-on experience on the receiving end of construction documents has to offer, and a set of values and techniques for conducting architectural practice. I still recommend to intern architects that they spend some time (and I mean more than a summer vacation) wearing a tool belt or doing something with the materials of construction. I don’t think any have acted on the suggestion. It is too much of a delay in obtaining the title: architect. Unfortunately, the title seems to mean less with every passing decade.
    One more thought: There is a relationship between virtual construction and real construction: having been around real construction makes for a better virtual construction modeler. I see modeling as a construction teaching tool. I think that teaching technical subjects alongside BIM techniques in classes with mixed disciplines (Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Construction Management) is a great idea. I’m also sure it is an administrative impossibility. We are educated in silos. Is it any surprise that we practice in them?

  18. Liz,
    Great article. As a practicing Architect and self-employed since 1996, I have been fortunate and blessed to see the good times and now the not so good. I do, however, wish to see architects elevated to a time before I began-earning not only better compensation but respect (and admiration). Truly a “manifesto” if I’ve seen one, thanks.
    Patrick J. Barry AIA
    Atlanta, GA

  19. Liz,

    It was a pleasure meeting you at MSR in Tucson! Your article was shared via CSI leadership team and thought it was great! You should consider refining into an article for the Specifier, Arch Record, etc. I’m sure others would/could really gain from this perspective. Thanks for sharing and all the best!

  20. Aaah I love a good rant! I don’t mean that in a bad way. Your response is thoughtful and intellectual. However, I can tell you’ve been waiting to say this for a while. I love it. I just need to reread it and think about it in bite size pieces. Thanks for being bold and calling a spade, a spade.

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  25. Liz, we found your information today going through the internet. Can you tell me if there is a legal requirement for architects to do the following as you state above:
    “Architects need to understand that part of their job is to interpret the code and incorporate the code requirements into the project documents.”
    We have a set of drawings that has many references to “follow the code” instead of the architect interpreting the code into their drawings. It is making it very confusing for the contractors trying to understand what the architect truly wants to be built.

    • Hi, Barry, what an aggravation!

      We have to look at a few different things to answer that question.

      The building codes applicable to the project probably have something to say about it. I don’t know what codes apply to your project, but the 2018 International Building Code, a model code adopted by some authorities, in Section 107 “Submittal Documents,” indicates that “Submittal documents consisting of construction documents…shall be submitted… with each permit application. The construction documents shall be prepared by a registered design professional where required by the statutes of the jurisdiction in which the project is to be constructed…. Construction documents shall be of sufficient clarity to indicate the location, nature and extent of the work proposed and show in detail that it will conform to the provisions of this code and relevant laws, ordinances, rules and regulations, as determined by the building official.” A registered design professional can be an architect or an engineer. But no matter who sealed the documents, the building department is expecting them to show IN DETAIL that the design complies with the code (and other things).

      Probably more importantly, if the owner has an architect on board, the Owner-Architect Agreement probably addresses this issue. I don’t know what Owner-Architect Agreement is in place for the project, but the AIA B101-2017 “Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect” indicates, in provision 3.4.2, that “The Architect shall incorporate the design requirements of governmental authorities having jurisdiction over the Project into the Construction Documents.” These design requirements would include the building code. So this particular standard agreement indicates that the owner is expecting the architect to incorporate code requirements into the construction documents.

      State licensing laws might also have something to say about this. In Colorado, our Colorado Revised Statutes 12-25-302 indicates that “An architect’s professional services… may include… Compliance with generally applicable codes and regulations…” That’s a little vague.

      There’s another thing that’s worth looking at – the general conditions of the Owner-Contractor Agreement. I have AIA A201-2007 (not the latest) in front of me, and it indicates in provision 3.2.3 that “The Contractor is not required to ascertain that the Contract Documents are in accordance with applicable laws, statutes, ordinances, codes, rules and regulations, or lawful orders of public authorities, but the Contractor shall promptly report to the Architect any nonconformity discovered by or made known to the Contractor…”

      If the architect isn’t demonstrating code compliance in detail on the drawings, problems can occur during construction. Here’s an example of something I ran into years ago when reviewing a set of drawings in order to prepare specifications for the project: Insulation thickness for the low-slope roof was called out as “per code.” Clearly, the person in the architecture firm who did the drawings didn’t figure out what thickness (or even what R-value) the code required. This roof had a parapet. In order to properly figure out the minimum height of a parapet, one has to figure out the required insulation thickness on top of a flat roof, among other things. I was so concerned, that before I completed the roofing spec section, I did the code research, and determined that the parapet height dimension indicated would work if code-minimum-required R-value in the insulation type I specified was installed. If the architect doesn’t figure out all the code requirements, she doesn’t know that everything that she labeled “per code” will actually work with everything that she put dimensions on. (I recommended to the architecture firm that they figure out the insulation thickness required by code, and draw and dimension that on the drawings. I do not remember what happened next.)

      Good luck!

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