Really?!? “Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?”

Architect magazine, “The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects,” just published a column by Aaron Betsky titled “Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?”

Architect magazine has perplexed me again.  (Do any actual architects review this stuff before it gets published?)  

Anyway, here’s a link to the column by Mr. Betsky, and below is the response I posted tonight on the Architect website.  I hope that my comment, and a whole bunch of other similar comments, show up tomorrow.  (So far zero comments show up, but it’s late at night right now.)

“‘CLIENTS care’ is the answer to the question ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’  Sophisticated clients want design professionals who are insured for professional liability.  Design professionals who are not licensed cannot obtain professional liability insurance.

“Governments care, too.  Unsophisticated clients deserve the consumer protection that licensing and regulation by states provides.  A license only demonstrates minimal competence, but that’s so much better for consumers than NO required demonstration of competence, and no regulation of design professionals.  According to a recent report by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, ‘Title protection plays a vital, fundamental role in protecting consumers from unqualified practitioners. The use of certain protected titles and phrases informs consumers that the individual is regulated, has undergone a certain level of scrutiny, and is qualified to practice under state law.’

“Everyone who cares about good buildings ought to care about licensure too.  ‘Design’ of buildings is total design – down to the flashing details inside the walls.  Someone has to figure out (design) those details, and building owners don’t want the guys in the field making up those detail designs as they go.  In fact, building codes for commercial buildings REQUIRE that the construction documents show details of ‘flashing, intersections with dissimilar materials, corners, end details, control joints, intersections at roof, eaves or parapets, means of drainage, water-resistive membrane and details around openings.’ (2009 IBC)  These construction documents are required to be prepared by design professionals who are ‘licensed to practice their respective design profession as defined by the statutory requirements of the professional registration laws of the state or jurisdiction in which the project is to be constructed.’ (also 2009 IBC)

“As I have written before, in my blog, ‘Only with good construction details can architects’ designs be executed the way they have been imagined.  The designer who can’t draw, or even recognize, good construction details that communicate to the constructor how to build his design will not be a good designer of anything but unbuilt work.’  In other words, the drawings might look good, but the constructed building won’t necessarily look like the drawings, unless the designer can draw the construction details for that building.

“So, a licensed design professional is required by law to prepare the construction documents, including details.  It may as well be an architect – there’s no shortage of licensed architects who need work right now.  Good construction details make better buildings.  Details drawn by the same team who produced the schematic design make better buildings.

“Many, many licensed architects already practice architecture as described in the last paragraph of this column by Mr. Betsky.  Many licensed architects produce designs that transform ‘buildings into frames for our daily lives, frameworks for relationships, catalysts for new ways of living, anchors in a world of change, and many other things that… are difficult to define…’

“Debate away about what these other, difficult-to-define things are, but do not discount the core of what it means to practice architecture.  (Program a building based on a client’s needs, schematically design a building, develop the design, prepare construction documents including construction details and specifications, assist the owner in bidding out the project to builders, observe the construction process to determine whether construction is proceeding in accordance with the contract documents.)

“And for people who are looking for ways to describe to the public what architecture is, why not start with the basics that I mentioned in the paragraph above?  It’s what’s most important in the eyes of the public, governments, lawyers, insurers, and CLIENTS.  The basics MUST COME FIRST.  Licensure is a basic requirement for the practice of architecture.  The difficult-to-define qualities of the practice of architecture can come after that.”

“Sunset Review” of Licensure for Architects

Every decade or so, the State of Colorado asks itself if architects should continue to be licensed and regulated.

Oh, yes, they do. 

It’s called a “sunset review.”  They do it for engineers, too.  Can you imagine states not regulating these professions?  It’s already like the Wild West here in Denver sometimes.  Imagine if there were no rules or requirements governing the qualifications of people who design the bridges we drive under, the schools our kids learn in, the buildings we work in, the houses… oh, wait.  That’s right.  There are very few rules governing some of the people who design the houses we live in, and that’s fine.

But there’s a rule proposed that, if adopted, will govern one thing about some of the people who design houses.  And that’s a good thing.

The current statutes, or laws, indicate that unless someone is a licensed architect, he or she cannot claim to be an architect, and he or she cannot offer to practice “architecture.”1  But when it comes to enforcement of this statute, not much is being done to stop home builders and home designers from offering “architecture” to consumers, even if there’s no licensed architect on their staffs.

Now, State laws do not require that the person who designs a house be a licensed architect.  Actually, there are a lot of building types that the State does not require a licensed architect to design2 (one-, two-, three-, and four-family dwellings, accessory buildings commonly associated with such dwellings, AND garages, industrial buildings, offices, farm buildings, and buildings for the marketing, storage, or processing of farm products, and warehouses, that do not exceed one story in height,exclusive of a one-story basement, and, under applicable building codes, are not designed for occupancy by more than ten persons.)

So, you don’t need to hire a licensed architect to design your new house, or your new garage, or your new small one-story warehouse.

But, some people who are not licensed architects are using the term “architecture” on their websites and in marketing materials.  These unlicensed home designers are not architects, they have not passed the licensing exams, they have not demonstrated that they possess a minimal level of competence, they cannot get professional liability insurance, and they cannot be prohibited from continuing to offer home design services even if they have proven to be incompetent.  They are not regulated.  They are allowed to design homes, but they are not allowed to call themselves architects.  They should not be allowed to use derivatives of the word “architect,” because doing this misleads consumers into believing that they are hiring licensed, regulated professionals, who are subject to scrutiny by regulators who strive to ensure that consumers are protected.

According to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) sunset review report3 that just came out on Monday, “Sunset reviews focus on creating the least restrictive form of regulation consistent with protecting the public.  In formulating recommendations, sunset reviews consider the public’s right to consistent, high quality professional or occupational services and the ability of businesses to exist and thrive in a competitive market, free from unnecessary regulation.”

The report indicates that the practice of architecture is regulated because “there is a potential for catastrophic harm if these practices are performed incompetently. These professionals generally carry an immense amount of  trust in their competency. They all are trustees of the public financial welfare. Moreover, many architects and engineers deal with health-safety issues on a daily basis.”

The DORA report made 14 specific recommendations.  The primary recommendation is that the practice of architecture continue to be regulated by the State.  (This is a good thing, one that seems to go without saying, but which needs to be said every decade or so in Colorado.)

Recommendation number 13 is that the State should “Reinforce consumer protections by protecting derivatives of the word ‘architect.’”  Here’s the text of that recommendation:

“Title protection plays a vital, fundamental role in protecting consumers from unqualified practitioners. The use of certain protected titles and phrases informs consumers that the individual is regulated, has undergone a certain level of scrutiny, and is qualified to practice under state law.

“Some unlicensed/unqualified people skirt the intent and protections of the Architect Act by advertising that they perform ‘architecture’ or ‘architectural design.’ However, the use of these derivative terms sometimes confuses consumers who are procuring design services that are actually being performed under an exemption to the Architect Act. They believe they are hiring an architect because of the use of a derivative term.

“The Engineer Act prohibits the use of the derivative words ‘engineer’, ‘engineered’, or ‘engineering’ in any offer to perform the services to the public unless the person is a licensed professional engineer.

“Following the standard set by the Engineer Act, the General Assembly should extend a comparable scope of protections to the public in the Architect Act. Similarly, limiting the use of derivative terms in advertising to licensed architects will ensure that only qualified individuals represent themselves to consumers as architects.

“The General Assembly should reinforce consumer protections by protecting derivatives of the word ‘architect.’”

One of the recent actions taken by the Colorado State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers, and Professional Land Surveyors has been in the news this year, and is a good example of why these professions should be regulated, and how regulators can protect consumers and the general public.  You may have heard about the Meeker Elementary School, the one-year-old school building in Meeker, Colorado, that was closed because of structural problems that made the school susceptible to structural failure (collapse) in the event of high winds.  The structural engineer who designed the structure for that building (which housed a whole elementary school full of kids for a year) has been disciplined by the Board of Licensure and has had restrictions placed on his license to practice structural engineering.4

Yes, those school building drawings went through the permitting process at the building department.  But the building department’s job isn’t to check all the work of the engineer or architect – the stamp and signature of the design professional means we checked our own work.  The structural engineer is the one responsible for those column and beam calculations (to make sure the roof doesn’t collapse).  The architect is the one responsible for things such as detailing the flashing properly to keep rain out of the building (so that steel structural studs in the wall don’t corrode and fail), and detailing the roof parapet coping properly (so that it doesn’t fly off in high winds), and for detailing and specifying below-grade waterproofing properly (to keep moisture out of below-grade spaces so that mold doesn’t grow in the walls, ruin finishes, and make people sick).

Licensed architects are expected by the State to do the things mentioned above.  If they don’t do them properly, they may be disciplined.  People such as home designers who are not regulated by the State cannot be required to do these things, and there are no regulatory consequences if they don’t do them; they can keep on doing what they’ve been doing.  Ok, fine, but unlicensed people offering home design services must not be allowed to imply that they are architects.

The recommendation by DORA to “Reinforce consumer protections by protecting derivatives of the word ‘architect’” is a good recommendation, one that the legislature should positively act on when the recommendation officially comes before them in 2013.

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Notes:

1.  From the portion of the  Colorado Revised Statutes that govern the practice of architecture: http://www.dora.state.co.us/aes/Statute-ARC.pdf  “12-25-305. Unauthorized practice – penalties – enforcement.  (1) Any person who practices or offers or attempts to practice architecture without an active license issued under this article commits a class 2 misdemeanor…”

2.  From the portion of the  Colorado Revised Statutes that govern the practice of architecture: http://www.dora.state.co.us/aes/Statute-ARC.pdf  “12-25-303. Exemptions. (1) Nothing in this part 3 shall prevent any person, firm, corporation, or association from preparing plans and specifications for, designing, planning, or administering the construction contracts for construction, alterations, remodeling, additions to, or repair of, any of the following: (a) One-, two-, three-, and four-family dwellings, including accessory buildings commonly associated with such dwellings; (b) Garages, industrial buildings, offices, farm buildings, and buildings for the marketing, storage, or processing of farm products, and warehouses, that do not exceed one story in height, exclusive of a one-story basement, and, under applicable building codes, are not designed for occupancy by more than ten persons; …”

3.  For the entire October 15, 2012 report, “2012 Sunset Review: State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers, and Professional Land Surveyors” go to the Department of Regulatory Agencies Website.  It’s the 3rd report listed.

4. Articles on Meeker Elementary from the Denver Post:

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_19605374?source=pkg

and

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_20293795/board-lays-out-case-against-meeker-school-engineer?source=pkg

Masonry: Something New Every Day

Masonry.  It’s an ancient form of building material, but there’s an awful lot to learn about it.

One thing that’s important to remember is that masonry (including brick, CMU, stone, and mortar) is porous and absorptive.

Masonry walls that are under construction should be protected from rain and snow (at the tops, and at window openings), so that the masonry wall doesn’t absorb too much water.  If saturated masonry is not allowed to dry out before being closed in, moisture-related problems, such as exterior efflorescence, or even interior moisture problems, may occur.

Here’s my latest post about this, and how building codes address this issue, in the brand new Denver Chapter CSI Blog: “Protection of Unfinished Masonry Walls.”

 

 

 

Cool Pictures of Old Buildings

There’s a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Phoenix that’s at risk of being demolished in a couple of months.  Here’s the New York Times article about it.  After Mike Brady, Frank Lloyd Wright is the most famous American architect ever,1 so how is this happening?  How is it possible that cool buildings designed by famous architects can get knocked down?  The answer is that sometimes the people who want to save them just get there too late.

But this post isn’t about “The Brady Bunch,” Frank Lloyd Wright, or mid-century modern homes.  It’s about Denver and its heritage.  Right here in Denver, buildings by less famous architects, buildings that are integral parts of their neighborhoods, buildings that are important parts of the city’s history, are at risk.

Once in a while, a century-old masonry building, that, with careful maintenance, would still be around for another 100 years, gets razed to make way for new construction.  Most of the new construction in Denver is unlikely to last as long as 50 years.  This type of replacement is not sustainable, this is not green, this is not good for Denver’s urban fabric and its urban dwellers.  People need to become aware of these buildings early, before they become at risk of destruction.  Sure, there are property rights issues that arise sometimes, but if we start talking about rights, we cannot ignore the property rights of the surrounding property owners, and the rights of the citizens to these parts of their heritage.

On to the cool pictures of the old buildings – or the links to them, anyway…

Two really special buildings that I’ve been in recently, the Croke-Patterson-Campbell Mansion and the Wilbur S. Raymond House, have been preserved and restored, and are currently the homes to a couple of bed and breakfasts.

Here’s a great old photo of Denver’s Croke-Patterson-Campbell Mansion, taken in 1892.  It looks almost too fantastic to be real.  The building has since lost some of that magnificent chimney, and many of the finials, but it’s still breathtakingly beautiful – here’s a recent photo (scroll down after the page opens).  The Croke-Patterson-Campbell Mansion has just started to operate as a bed and breakfast, the Patterson Inn.

Sadly, much of the original neighborhood fabric around the Croke-Patterson-Campbell Mansion has been lost.  But the Wilbur S. Raymond House is very much a part of a historic Denver neighborhood, the Wyman Historic District.  Here’s an old photo of the Raymond House.  It’s been the Castle Marne Bed and Breakfast since 1989.  This is my favorite image of the more recent images I’ve found online.  Here’s a good image showing its famous roses.

The neighborhood fabric and the Wilbur S. Raymond House enhance and enrich each other.  Cities aren’t made up of scattered signature buildings, and historic preservation shouldn’t be approached in that manner, either.  Cities are composed of neighborhoods, which are composed of buildings of varying significance.  We need to protect special buildings, but we need to go a step further and also protect the individual historic buildings that may not be as prominent, but without which, historic neighborhoods would not be complete.  Obviously, important buildings are at risk (such as that Frank Lloyd Wright house in Phoenix).  But neighborhood fabric buildings may be even more at risk.

Historic buildings are irreplaceable, whether they’re outstanding, or more “background” buildings.  As an architect and architectural specifications writer, and the owner of an old house, I’m intimately familiar with the differences between the construction practices of today and the construction practices of a century ago.  Buildings are not built the way they used to be.  In other words, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”  (“They” could, but “they” don’t.)  Old masonry buildings are more durable, they can take much more neglect and mistreatment, than new buildings (even new buildings with brick on the outside).  It’s because of building science – a topic for another post.

Architects, engineers, and constructors cannot make up for occupant behavior in most new construction, but old buildings, with plaster finishes, hardwood floors, and multi-wythe loadbearing masonry exterior walls, can take some abuse and neglect from occupants, and will continue to be able to withstand use.  Old buildings can often be adapted to new uses, whereas buildings built in the last 50 years are usually difficult to use for purposes other than their original uses.  Multi-wythe masonry walls and plaster finishes are more forgiving of moisture intrusion than buildings built with newer methods of brick veneer on exterior framing, and gypsum board finishes.

People used to build with multi-wythe masonry and plaster because they didn’t have other good options.  Today, we have less-expensive (and less-durable) options, which have made multi-wythe masonry and plaster much more expensive options.  If you want a durable building, in the long run, it’s probably a better value to use what you already have… and preserve an old building.

I encourage people who are interested in helping to preserve our built heritage to get involved with local preservation groups.  If you live in Greater Capitol Hill in Denver, as I do, your local preservation group is the CHUN (Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods) Historic Preservation Committee.  (If you don’t know what your group is, but want to get involved, leave a comment on this post and I’ll help you find your group.)

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Notes:

  1. I have to thank Jules Dingle for the Mike Brady comment.  Sophomore year in college, Jules said that Mike Brady is the most famous American architect.  Obviously, that comment still cracks me up today.

For further reading:

  1. In 1967, the City of Denver, in the Landmark Preservation Ordinance in the Municipal Code, declared that “the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and use of structures and districts of historical, architectural or geographic significance, located within the city or its mountain parks, is a public necessity, and is required in the interest of the prosperity, civic pride and general welfare of the people.”  And that “the economic, cultural and aesthetic standing of this city cannot be maintained or enhanced by disregarding the historical, architectural and geographic heritage of the city and by ignoring the destruction or defacement of such cultural assets.”
  2. Denver’s ordinance followed the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, in which the U.S. decided that“the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, economic, and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans,” and that “although the major burdens of historic preservation have been borne and major efforts initiated by private agencies and individuals, and both should continue to play a vital role, it is nevertheless necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to accelerate its historic preservation programs and activities, to give maximum encouragement to agencies and individuals undertaking preservation by private means, and to assist State and local governments and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States to expand and accelerate their historic preservation programs and activities.”

The Meaning of Teamwork

Ah, the meaning of teamwork is being discussed again.  In a recent online column, Michael S. Weil wrote that I don’t understand the meaning of teamwork.  (He was mixed up about my name, which is O’Sullivan, not Sullivan, but he quoted from my blog post on Integrated Project Delivery in his piece.)  This post is my response to him.

Sometimes, the most valuable player on the team is the one who demands that each member pull his or her own weight.

Many people understand my above statement pretty well from experiences in their personal lives, especially people who are part of a household with children and 2 parents who work outside the home.  It might take time for such demands to be appreciated and to be seen for what they are.  It is not always easy to be the “bad guy.”  I know both men and women who sometimes have to remind their partners at home that it’s their turn to do something for the kids or something in the kitchen.  Speaking up and reminding one’s partner is better for the relationship than not speaking up (and just doing it oneself and resenting it).  We need to team up on the things we can’t do alone.

Years ago, when I was the architectural project manager on a school addition/remodel project, I had assistance from various coworkers throughout the project.  For the more technical items, such as the design and detailing of the roof assembly and parapets, an architect who was much more experienced than I assisted me.  Sometime early in construction, a question from the contractor came up about parapet height and the tapered insulation on the roof.  I discussed the issue with my boss, and I offered to figure it out.  He said no, have the architect who originally detailed it figure it out and fix it

I never discussed his reasons with him, but I see a few good reasons for his response:  First, it’s good to have people clean up their own messes.  (This was not a mess, just a minor miscalculation, but the idea is the same – require people to finish what they start.)  Second, it’s important to maintain continuity of thought throughout a problem-solving process – only this other architect knew what factors she had taken into account from the beginning – giving the problem to someone else to solve would have thrown away that knowledge.  Third, it’s good to pick the most appropriate person for the task based on skills.  Since the other architect was more experienced than I, she was the more appropriate person on our office team to draw those details.

Teamwork on a Construction Project Team

Teamwork!  It often means working by oneself, and bringing the products of that work back to the team.  Work must be broken down into discrete tasks, and the tasks have to be given to the people on the team who are best-suited to those tasks.  Many of these discrete tasks (such as detailing a roof parapet) are best accomplished in solitude.  Some (such as compiling a GC’s bid on a bid date) need to be accomplished while working constantly with others.  In either case, people must give their all – team members cannot expect others to pick up their slack. 

My January 2012 blog post “On Collaboration” discussed my vision of teamwork: 

“I think about construction project team collaboration kind of like this:

“If everyone on a project team gives 101%, if everyone does his own job as thoroughly and as best as he can (accounting for the 100%), PLUS goes an extra 1% (tries to anticipate and be proactive about locations where gaps between the work of team members might occur, and tries to overlap a tiny bit) we’ll get to 100% (our best work as a team) on the project.”

The Teeter-Totter

There’s a teeter-totter kind of mechanism in every relationship – if things are to keep moving, the less one party does, the more another has to do.  The more one party does, the less another has to do.  (You may have grown up calling it a seesaw.  I grew up calling it a teeter-totter.  It’s a board on a fulcrum; kids often try to bounce each other off it.  This activity may end in tears.)

A question for general contractors who have done Construction Manager as Constructor projects – have you ever received unfinished drawings at GMP pricing time and been asked for a ton of input at that point from the architect?  Did it feel like a bunch of someone else’s work was dumped on you?  

A tough question for architects – have you ever gotten stumped, busy, or lazy on a Construction Manager as Constructor project, and decided to ask the CM for technical design advice, on a question like the appropriate height of a roof curb or flashing, or the appropriate thickness of material for a metal door, or the proper type of paint for the metal bollards, instead of researching it yourself?  Do you realize that you were asking the CM to do some of your work for you?  (I have done that sort of thing myself, on one project.  I was young; I didn’t know what I was doing.  It was a mistake.)

The Right Party for the Job

Some CMs have the knowledge and the contacts to do a good analysis of what would be an appropriate design solution in a particular situation.  But my personal experience with CMs leads me to believe that many only analyze by cost, and many seem to just forward their questions on to their favorite subs.  If the question just goes to one subcontractor, there’s no analysis, just an answer driven by convenience and economics, not by a comprehensive look at what product or detail would be best for the owner, short term performance-wise, or long term performance-wise, or aesthetically.

On a project team, such as the kind we have under a CMc agreement, the contractor is the best person to answer questions about cost and schedule, and the availability of installers for systems and assemblies, but the contractor is not the best person to answer questions about specific products and technical construction details.

A good technically-minded architect (who understands building science, durability, product interfaces, assembly transitions, and building codes), someone who does not have anything to gain financially by recommending a particular product or solution, is the most appropriate person to explore solutions involving specific products and technical construction details.  Now, that architect (a firm’s technical director, or the firm’s construction specifier, in many cases) will be getting some of his or her information from people who do have products to sell.  But that architect ought to be doing independent research, and ought to be talking to more than one technical sales rep about more than one product for more than one possible solution.  The contractor, even a CM getting a preconstruction fee, might not do anything more than talk to one person about the question.  The CM is probably not the right party to do this research.

Ethics

As I commented on Antony McPhee’s blog post, I do not doubt that IPD will make the construction industry more efficient.  But, I think it will not make aesthetic design better overall, and I think that worse aesthetic design, in general, will be bad for the built environment.  There’s also the ethical side of more-contractor-influence for owners to consider.  Under design-bid-build and CMc, when different solutions involve products and systems and assemblies that someone sells, the design professional doesn’t get a “cut” or percentage of that sale for specifying it on the project, but the contractor’s profit figure is always based on the cost of the project.  In a team relationship such as CMc, the design professional is supposed to be the party evaluating different solutions for their aesthetic value and their performance value over the life-cycle of a building, and the contractor is supposed to be the party evaluating these different solutions for their scheduling and cost issues and installer issues.  The contractor, because of the profit factor, should not be the only party evaluating different solutions.  Architects should not be taking direction from contractors on products under CMc.  What is the expectation under IPD?  Everyone designs!

Architects’ Fees

Sometimes, some architects dump some of their work into the laps of CMs.  But there’s that owner-architect contract and those general conditions of the contract that spell out the architect’s roles, responsibilities, and obligations, and that delineates architects’ fees.  Whether or not they actually accomplish all those obligations, whether the contractor is designing the roof-edge drainage system, or the architect is designing the roof-edge drainage system, the architect gets the fee for designing the roof-edge drainage system. 

Architects, do you plan to transfer more of this type of work in the future, under an ever more team-oriented agreement such as IPD?  Do you think that “teaming” means doing less of the work that architects have traditionally done, and getting the same fees?  Do you understand that if you keep giving away work, such as technical design work, you will keep receiving lower and lower fees over time?  Do you know what IPD may lead to in the future? 

Under CMc, the CM usually gets a preconstruction fee.  Preconstruction services are often a great value to a project and to an owner.  But that fee has to come out of the one project cost “pie” that the owner has.  When one party does less work, another has to do more work, and should be compensated properly for that work.  There’s one “pie” of one size.  The more work architects give away, whether contracted to do that work or not, the lower their fees should be.  Is this what architects want?  It’s not what I want.  

The Technically-Minded Architect

Architects, get, and keep, a technically-minded architect on your team.  In house, out-of-house, wherever, but keep this person under your umbrella.  Pay this person fairly.  You know you need him or her under design-bid-build, to reduce change orders and to preserve your reputation.  CMc can be a better value for the owner if the architect has this technical person on the design team.  Architects, if you want less erosion of architect fees under IPD, you need a technically-minded architect on your team.  If you don’t have people like this, and you want to start developing some, a good place to start is by getting some of your team members involved in CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute.  There are CSI chapters all over the United States.  Canada’s equivalent is the CSC, Construction Specifications Canada.   

Teamwork Summary

Demand that each member pull his own weight.

Put the right party on each task.

The right party to evaluate the suitability of products and assemblies and systems, without the influence of profit to gain, should be on the design team.  This will provide the best value to the owner.

Architects, if you don’t have one, get a technically-minded architect on your team. 

GoooooOOO TEAM!

Integrated Project Delivery: What Do Architects Gain? More Importantly, What Do Architects GIVE UP?

Many architects are excited about the concept of Integrated Project Delivery.  The AIA defines Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) as “a method of project delivery distinguished by a contractual arrangement among a minimum of owner, constructor and design professional that aligns business interests of all parties.”  It describes IPD as “a collaborative project delivery approach that utilizes the talents and insights of all project participants through all phases of design and construction.”  It sounds great.  We architects love to collaborate, and we understand that good buildings depend on collaboration with other team members, such as owners and contractors. 

The AIA’s “Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide” indicates that IPD’s benefits to designers are the following:

“The integrated delivery process allows the designer to benefit from the early contribution of constructors’ expertise during the design phase, such as accurate budget estimates to inform design decisions and the pre-construction resolution of design-related issues resulting in improved project quality and financial performance. The IPD process increases the level of effort during early design phases, resulting in reduced documentation time, and improved cost control and budget management, all of which increase the likelihood that project goals, including schedule, life cycle costs, quality and sustainability, will be achieved”.   

These are good benefits; this is important information for architects and engineers to have, so that they can do their best in providing their design services to the owner.  But design professionals can get these benefits through other means, such as by hiring a construction cost estimator, and by doing a better job of coordinating all the design disciplines. 

Architects who engage in IPD need to understand that their role is different under this project delivery method than it is under other project delivery methods.  Under IPD, architects are less autonomous than they are in traditional project delivery methods, architects are less influential over design decisions than they are in traditional delivery methods, and the architect’s relationship with the owner is watered down compared to the relationships in traditional delivery methods.  This isn’t merely how IPD happens, this is actually how it is contractually conceived.  

IPD is one solution to some of the problems in the construction industry today (such as poorly coordinated construction documents, constructability issues with designs, projects coming in over budget, and poor project management by architects during construction contract administration), but IPD is not the only solution

Architecture firms should not wade into these IPD waters without fully understanding what they’re getting into, and what they’re giving up.  They need to understand that they are giving up the chance to work by themselves on the early phases of the design of buildings.  They need to understand that they will never have a one-on-one relationship with the owner on an IPD project.  They need to understand that they won’t be the party passing communications between the owner and the contractor.  They need to understand that although the contractor will have heavy input on the design, the design professional will still have professional liability for the design.

Architecture needs to improve itself as a profession if it is to thrive under IPD, just as architecture needs to improve itself as a profession if it is to thrive at all.  IPD isn’t the savior of the architecture profession.  IPD cannot make up for architects’ deficiencies in building technology knowledge, deficiencies in understanding of, and administration of, construction contracts, and deficiencies in understanding and implementing building codes.  If architecture can improve itself in these areas, maybe architects will find IPD less attractive.  If architecture cannot improve itself in these areas, architects are likely to find our profession in just as unhealthy a position when IPD becomes prevalent.

Some comments from others on the subject of IPD:

Thoughts from Barbara Golter Heller, FAIA, in a 2008 article:

“Architects usually assume that their design will be the controlling factor in integrated project delivery; owners want technology to facilitate their control over the project and its process. Owners who focus on cost-saving efficiencies and expedited schedules may not be managing a project in a way that is congruent with the expectations of designers and engineers. If large owners focus as aggressively on economics through technological capabilities as they are currently doing with project delivery methods such as design-build, architects are threatened with lost autonomy. If architecture is to thrive in the new world of technology aided integrated project delivery, architects must clearly communicate the human value of design in the context of cost-driven business incentives.”  –  Barbara Golter Heller, FAIA

From Antony McPhee, an Australian architect, in a recent blog post:

“Current proposed IPD models marginalise architects… They push the architect out of their role at the beginning of projects, when traditionally architects have had the most influence.” – Antony McPhee

 “It explicitly reduces the traditional influence of architects at early stages of a project, and therefore the main driver of design excellence.”- Antony McPhee

 “In theory BIM and IPD will provide improved quality of outcomes. But that improvement doesn’t necessarily include better architectural outcomes. It does include reduced time, reduced co-ordination mistakes, the ability to model alternative scenarios. But those scenarios are not necessarily ones involving improving architectural design. As only one member of a collaborative team, it is unlikely the team will appreciate the advantage of letting the architects work through design alternatives. Contrast that with current practice where the architect spends most of the early stages of a project doing just that.”- Antony McPhee

For more thoughts on why architects should become more TECHNICALLY competent, for the sake of DESIGN, see the following:

Ron Geren’s blog post “Towards a More Irrelevant Architect”

Walter Scarborough’s “Specifying Mediocrity? Without a Technical Foundation, Design is on Shaky Ground”

My blog post “Architects, Take Back the Reins!”

And, finally, a paper by Dr. Kevin Burr that explains why a future full of IPD is likely inevitable: “Moving Toward Synergistic Building Delivery and Integration”  (scroll down the page to find the paper).

I have not experienced an IPD project, so, even more than usual, I welcome your comments on this post.

Why Does My Spec Writer Ask So Many Annoying Questions?

Many full-time specifiers were project architects at some point. We’ve been in your shoes. We are thinking about ourselves in your future shoes, a few months from now, during construction. That’s why we ask you all these questions during the Construction Documents phase.

How do spec writers keep all these questions in their heads?

Well, they’re not always bouncing around in our heads. When we use our master spec sections to prepare project specification sections, we get prompted to think about many little details of construction, spanning a range from bidding to layout, rough construction, finished construction, to warranties and life cycle maintenance. We also think about sequencing, and how things will all get put together, a little more than some other members of the design team do.

But I still have design work, and other stuff to do right now, during CDs. Why do I have to think about these questions now? Why can’t we just address these things in the field?

The process of writing a spec section, much like the process of drawing a construction detail, is part of the process of design. Your spec writer is a design professional, just as your consulting engineers are.

Sometimes spec writers think a little bit like estimators – when we look at product data and specification masters, we consider different product options and selections that need to be made. That’s one reason we ask the project architect questions. We don’t want you to have to make these selections during the submittals part of construction. We want to specify it now. Why? It’s not because we’re control freaks, and it’s not that we’re so concerned about your work load during construction contract administration (although some of us might be control freaks, and I personally am concerned about my architect-clients’ work load during construction). We want to spec these things now because now, during CDs, is the right time.

Some product options are standard and others cost more. We’d rather specify the color you want, now, before the contract is signed, so that there won’t be extra costs in the form of change orders for silly things like colors that are more expensive than the color group the contractor was expecting (and priced).

Sometimes we think like installers or subcontractors. We might ask questions about whether the owner wants vinyl tiles to be under the casework, or to butt to the casework. This is something that might be in spec sections for casework and for vinyl tile. Someone needs to make the owner’s expectations explicitly clear to the contractor. The owner might not care. But the owner might care – the project architect should ask the owner.

Things that ought to be addressed during CDs, and aren’t, often end up costing the owner more money, end up costing the architect more time (and therefore burning through more fee and therefore reducing the firm’s profit) and end up causing the general contractor more stress, because of having to obtain a price on documents that aren’t really complete, and having to then address (argue about) discrepancies between what was actually desired (but not specified clearly) and what was priced (based on fair assumptions).

SOMEBODY HAS TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES. The most qualified person, and the person who might actually be legally obligated, to address these issues, is the architect. The contractor often ends up making these decisions, and it’s not always the way the owner or the architect would have liked it – it’s better to explain how you’d like it, so the contractor knows, instead of letting him do it however he decides, and then asking for it to be redone later. Redoing things costs the owner extra money.

THE ISSUES HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED AT SOME POINT. They will not just go away. The time to address these things is during construction documents phase, when everything can be considered together before it’s too late. (Before it’s too late to make necessary changes to other things in order to get everything to turn out the way you envision. Nothing in design and construction can be considered in a vacuum. Everything affects, and is affected by, other things.) Try to address everything now, and you’ll have fewer surprises during construction.

Your spec writer is thinking about these relationships between building elements right now, and has taken the time to ask you the questions, and wants to write the specs in such a way that your intent can be achieved during construction.

Take the time now, read your spec writer’s provoking emails now, think through everything now, ask your spec writer questions now, and get all those design decisions made now, so that you’re not scrambling later, under the gun, in the field, during construction.

This is what the sophisticated owner expects.

While You’re the Caretaker of an Old Brick Building…

We’re doing some maintenance work on our home, a 1904 brick foursquare in Denver (a “Denver Square”).  Someone painted the brick years before we bought it, and it’s time for fresh paint.  Preparation of the brick for repainting revealed that we needed much more repointing (tuckpointing) of the mortar joints than I had anticipated.  So… what does that mean?

Old brick buildings are really interesting.  The brick is often pretty “soft,” and the mortar is even “softer.”  By soft, I mean that you can gouge it or wear it away pretty easily; it’s, well, kind of weak.  Our house has butter joints – really skinny mortar joints – with mortar color that matched the brick color.  The house must have been so beautiful before someone came up with the “genius” idea of painting the brick… but I suspect that they painted because they thought they could substitute painting for repointing those mortar joints.  Well, now we’re repainting AND repointing, so THAT didn’t work!  Whoever made that decision decades ago really wasn’t acting in the best interests of the house.  Sometimes, it’s better to do nothing at all than to do the wrong thing to a building.

Masonry walls need to be able to let water out, and need to be able to let water VAPOR out, and individual bricks in a wall need to be able to move a bit, in case they expand due to water absorption.  Yes, bricks are a bit porous, and water gets into brick walls.  You just can’t keep water out, so you always need to provide ways for it to GET out.  Unless you want damaged bricks, you need the bricks to be able to move, and you need the brick wall to be able to “breathe,” at the locations of the mortar joints, so you need the mortar to be “softer” than the brick (weaker and more porous).

When it’s time to do repairs on an old brick building, you need someone who knows how to do it right.  (Mortar-in-a-tube is not the right thing to use on an old building!  Old mortar was made with much more lime than today’s mixes have – for old masonry, you really need a specialist.)  We hired a mason who specializes in restoration of historic masonry.  No, we didn’t need some of the fancy things that masonry restorers are capable of doing, such as matching new mortar color to the existing historic mortar color.  (Ours will be painted over).  But not everything that we do for buildings is for appearances.  Much of what the caretakers (you know, the owners) of old buildings need to be doing is for the long-term FUNCTIONING and durability of the buildings.  Building elements that function well, and are durable for the long-term, contribute greatly to the beauty of buildings.

Durability should be a primary focus of the sustainable (green) building movement.  Build buildings well in the first place, maintain them properly over the years, and keep all that embodied energy in our cities instead of sending it off to landfills.  Some well-meaning people are trying to ram an ethic of sustainability into a throw-away society, and it’s just not gonna work unless we develop, train, and properly compensate, our skilled building tradespeople, and develop in homeowners a strong sense of needing to care for their buildings, instead of just selling and leaving when maintenance needs present themselves.

I got off an important tangent up there.  Back to that paint – the new paint is a necessary evil for my house, since someone already painted the brick years ago.  Paint that is firmly attached to old brick should not be removed – removing the paint almost always removes the toughest part of the brick – the part that got fired.  The inside of the brick is a bit softer than the exterior fired surface, so once a historic brick building has been painted, it should remain painted.  Removing the paint could cause the brick to slowly erode away.  However – you want paint that will not keep water in that wall.  You want paint that can “breathe.”  Flat paint typically is more vapor permeable than glossy paint, and latex paint is more vapor permeable than alkyd or oil-based paint, so if you have to paint brick, use flat latex paint.  I wanted flat paint for aesthetic reasons, so I was thrilled to find out from Diane Travis at the Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute that I was on the right track functionally with flat paint because of its higher vapor permeability.  Diane emailed me this great brochure on “Maintenance and Repair of Older Masonry Buildings” when I contacted her for masonry contractor recommendations.  The brochure is a good resource, and so is the Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute!  You can download a copy of the brochure if you click here.

Regarding those skilled tradespeople – I got two recommendations for masonry contractors who specialize in historic masonry repair and restoration.  Both contractors were highly recommended, and were recommended by more than one person.  Both do commercial and residential work.  I met with Gary Holt of Olde English Masonry  and John Voelker of Cornerstone Restoration, and we hired Cornerstone because of schedule availability.  Cornerstone did great work.  If you need a masonry specialist, either contractor would be great.  They’re both busy, so plan ahead.  Your old brick building deserves to be maintained by an expert.  While you’re the caretaker of an old brick building, do the right thing for your brick.

If You’re an Owner, Do Yourself a Favor: Require Record Specs

I have a simple piece of advice for owners who are having buildings built.  Require the contractor to submit Record Specifications.   

Step 1:  Require, as part of the Contract for Construction, that the contractor submit Record Specifications at project closeout.  This should be easy.  You don’t even need to make up language for it.  It’s already in the commonly used AIA A201-2007, the General Conditions of the Contract.  Article 3.11, Documents and Samples at the Site, reads, “The Contractor shall maintain at the site for the Owner one copy of the Drawings, Specifications, Addenda, Change Orders and other Modifications, in good order and marked currently to indicate field changes and selections made during construction, and one copy of approved Shop Drawings, Product Data, Samples and similar required submittals.  These shall be available to the Architect and shall be delivered to the Architect for submittal to the Owner upon completion of the Work as a record of the Work as constructed.”

Step 2:  After Step 1 has been undertaken, request that the architect expand upon this contract requirement in Division 01 of the specifications.  CSI’s MasterFormat has created a place for this requirement to be expanded upon – Section 01 78 39 “Project Record Documents.”  Arcom’s MasterSpec has some great standard language in this section, including requirements that the Contractor “Mark Specifications to indicate the actual product installation where installation varies from that indicated in Specifications, addenda, and contract modifications.”  “Give particular attention to information on concealed products and installations that cannot be readily identified and recorded later.”  “Mark copy with the proprietary name and model number of products, materials, and equipment furnished, including substitutions and product options selected.”  “Record the name of manufacturer, supplier, Installer, and other information necessary to provide a record of selections made.”

Step 3:  If Step 1 has been executed, execute Step 3 (whether or not Step 2 was executed).  At project closeout, make sure that the Record Specifications have been submitted by the contractor, along with the record drawings (the “as-builts”).  Do not pay the contractor the final payment until these have been submitted.

Step 4:  Store the record specifications, in a safe place, along with the record drawings.

A responsible owner might ask me some questions, and I will answer them:

Q1:  Will this cost me more money?

A1:  Yes, this will add a little bit of money to the construction cost.  It will take a little extra time for the contractor to update the record specs every day during construction.  It should take a contractor no more than 5 minutes a day, as long as he keeps up with it every day.

Q2:  Why would I want to spend this extra money?

A2:  Spending this tiny extra bit of money now will save you money in the future.  If you have the Record Specifications to refer to in the future, you will save yourself time that you might otherwise have to spend searching for a product name or model number that you urgently need.  If you have the Record Specifications to copy and give to other people that you hire to do maintenance on, or an addition to, your building, you will save yourself money because you will be saving the people you have hired some significant time.

Q3:  What would these people be spending time on?

A3:  If you have an existing building that you want to do an addition to, you might want to match the storefront, the brick, the stucco color, the precast panel concrete mix, the standing seam metal roof profile and color, the tinted glass color, the asphalt shingles, the stone veneer, the tile floors, the wood doors… If you wish to match any of the elements in the addition to their counterparts in the existing building, the architect will have to track down the exact products that were used in the existing building.

Q4:  But can’t I just have the architect write “match existing” on the drawings?

A4:  Yes, but then the contractor or his subcontractors will have to try to figure out what was used on the existing building.  If they don’t really know, or if they have preferred vendors that they purchase from, and don’t try to look too hard beyond those vendors, they might just “do their best” to match the existing.  That might be ok, or it might not be ok, but what leverage will you have to make them match it if you really want it to match, especially if you had put your project out to competitive bid?

Q5:  Why do I need Record Specs?  Isn’t that information on the Record Drawings (the “as-builts”)?

Q6:  Usually, specific product names, manufacturers, and model numbers are not on the drawings.  That information belongs in the specifications.  For example, the drawings should show the extent of, and the details of, a standing seam roof installation.  But if you want competitive bids, the specifications should list several manufacturer names and the acceptable product by each, and specific information such as the dimensions of the panel.  The drawings might list a generic color, or a specific color might be in the specs, but the type of metal finish (such as Kynar or siliconized polyester) will be in the specs.    

Despite your best efforts, things might not go flawlessly.  The contractor might not do a great job with these record specs.  The architect might not realize that he’s supposed to receive them from the contractor.  You might forget to make sure that you get them before you sign that final check.  But it’s really, really worth enforcing this common contract requirement.

And, of course, even if everything goes well, you might still waste some time.  Last week, a former co-worker of mine received an email from an interior designer who is working on a tenant finish in a space that I worked on 11 years ago.  The designer wondered if we remembered the manufacturer of the demountable aluminum and glass partitions in the space.  I couldn’t remember, and my old firm no longer had the record documents.  The designer actually had the record documents, but “that information wasn’t on the drawings.”  I suggested that perhaps she wasn’t looking at the specifications, which were on pages 2 and 3 of the set of drawings.  I heard back a few minutes later… the manufacturer’s name was right there, in the sheet specs.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink…  But it’s well worth a try.

Lessons Re-Learned

Once again, I have realized that we need drawings for every little renovation on our century-old house, even when all we’re doing is replacing something existing with something that is new and (nearly) identical.  Last night I drew a soffit detail for the guys doing repairs on our soffit in preparation for painting the exterior of the house.  I am glad I still know how to draw with a lead holder and trace and triangle and parallel rule.  I still tear drafting dots in half to conserve them.  It’s been a while, but I did my best.

I do not mean to make light of the complex issues of international politics and human rights, but Aung San Suu Kyi said something this week that made me think of construction documentation.  “Unless we aim at achieving the best that is possible we will have to make do with the least that is tolerable.” 

Tolerable:  Telling people to take down what they installed yesterday, because it won’t work. 

The best that is possible:  Giving those workers a clear, concise, correct, and complete drawing before they install.

Onward!