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.”

“Oh, But I Assumed…”

Owners, have you ever heard, “Oh, but I assumed…” or “Oh, but our bid was based on…” from a contractor?  It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

For some reason, in construction, too many people make too many assumptions that they don’t tell anyone else about.  Everyone does it – architects, consulting engineers, contractors, and yes, owners, too.  But there’s a way to combat this problem, which will decrease an owner’s pain during construction, and will increase the value owners get out of a project.

There are three parts to this simple solution, and the entire project team (owner, architect, and contractor) is involved.

  1. Have good agreements and a good project manual.  (The project manual, which includes the project specifications, is also known as the “specs.”  Sadly, it’s often observed being used as a paperweight or a doorstop in construction trailers.)
  2. Make sure the architect and the construction manager (CM), if a CM is involved, enforce the requirements of the contract documents during construction.
  3. Use the contractor’s payment as leverage to make sure that the requirements of the contract are complied with.  Do not pay the contractor what he is not owed according to the requirements of the contract.  (And make sure that you DO pay the contractor what he IS owed according to the requirements of the contract!)

Good Agreements and Good Project Manual

Owners, you need good owner-architect and owner-contractor agreements, and they need to coordinate with each other, with the conditions of the contract, and with the requirements of the project manual.  AIA documents are commonly used for agreements on private projects and some public projects, and have been time-tested.  The requirements in AIA contracts are usually easily achievable in practice.  Talk to your attorney when preparing the agreements – but make sure you’re talking to an attorney who practices construction law!  (Construction law is a unique animal.  Non-construction lawyers sometimes create uniquely unenforceable construction contracts.)

As the design team prepares the project manual, they must make sure it coordinates with the agreements and the general conditions of the contract.  If the architect mentions that there are some unusual provisions in the agreement or in the general conditions, and suggests that you consider changing them, ask why.  Try to understand the architect’s explanation, and discuss it with your construction law attorney.

Division 01 of the specifications (the general requirements) is a crucial part of the project manual.  Division 01 expands on the provisions of the conditions of the contract.  Division 01 is where you put all those things that people often make incorrect budget-busting assumptions about – whether or not there will be occupants in a building that the contractor will have to work around, whether or not the construction will be phased and the owner will move into part of the construction prior to completion of the entire project, whether or not the owner will have separate contractors on site that the contractor will have to work around (such as a furniture installer).  Making the wrong assumption on important items like these can blow a schedule and can blow a budget, which will make for a tense and unpleasant project.  Owners, don’t assume that the architect automatically knows these requirements of yours.  Don’t assume that the contractor knows these requirements of yours.  Make sure that requirements such as these are in writing in the contract documents.  (The contract documents include the owner-contractor agreement, the general conditions of the contract, supplementary conditions of the contract, the drawings, the specifications, and addenda.)

Owners need to know what’s in Division 01 as well as what’s in the agreements and the general conditions, just as much as architects and contractors do.   Some owners prepare their own Division 01, it’s so important.  Division 01 contains the “rules” for the project during construction, and lists all the procedures for the administration of the project (processes for submittals, pay apps, mockups, testing, operations and maintenance manuals, substitutions, project meetings, construction trailer requirements, record documents, demonstration and training of new equipment, and many other important things).  You do not need to leave these things up to chance and just hope for a good contractor who somehow knows what you are hoping for.  You put these things in the contract.

Enforcement

Enforcing the documents means doing unpleasant things such as not approving submittals until proper documents are submitted, requiring work to be redone at the contractor’s cost if it does not meet the specs, and rejecting pay applications when too much money is asked for compared to the percentage of work actually completed.

The first enforcer is the contractor.  The contractor has to enforce the documents with his subs.  The next line of enforcement is the architect.  The architect has to enforce the documents with the contractor.  As an architect, I’ve worked with “enforcing contractors” and with “non-enforcing contractors.”  “Enforcing contractors” review the subs’ submittals and reject them when they don’t meet the requirements of the specifications – the architect never sees submittals that the contractor thinks aren’t right.  “Non-enforcing contractors” would rather disagree with owners and architects than rock the boat with subcontractors, and sometimes send submittals to the architect that might be so far off, they’ll make everyone scratch his head and wonder if the contractor even looked at the submittal (or at the specs).

Working with a contractor who enforces the documents is much better for an architect and an owner, and much better for a project.  But sometimes there’s not a lot of control over the contractor.  What’s worse for an owner than a “non-enforcing contractor” is a “non-enforcing architect!”  An architect is not being “difficult” or “hard to work with” or “not a team player” if he or she is consistently enforcing the requirements of the contract documents.  That architect is just following the rules, which were set out in Division 01 of the specifications (and remember – the specifications are part of the contract between the owner and the contractor).

Sometimes, architects have to enforce the documents against their own best interests, and sometimes against the financial best interests of the owner.  Owners, please try to understand this.  Under AIA A201-2007, a commonly used form for the general conditions of the contract, during construction, the architect is supposed to interpret the requirements of the contract documents.  Owners, if the architect omitted something from the documents that you had told him or her to include, it’s simply not in the contract between you and the contractor.  It’s not something the contractor owes you for no additional cost.  The problem of the omission is a problem to be discussed between owner and architect.  It’ll probably have to be added to the project, added to the contract, and yes, it’ll probably cost you, the owner, additional money beyond the original contract sum.  This is not a dispute to drag the contractor into – there’s nothing he could have done about it.

The architect who enforces the documents consistently will speak up and interpret the documents fairly, and admit the omissions of his or her firm, if there are any.  Consistent enforcement of the documents by the architect is key to having a smoothly running project.  I believe that it’s easier for contractors to hear about their mistakes, and fix them, when they know that the architect has been honest about his or her own mistakes.   

Payment as Leverage

Owners, you’re not being “mean” if you don’t pay the contractor the full amount requested when the pay application includes work that’s noncompliant with the documents, you’re merely complying with the requirements of your agreement.  Don’t pay for work that’s not in compliance with the documents.  Architects shouldn’t certify pay applications if they’re not certifiable.  (There’s one project in my past that never got certification from my firm on the contractor’s final pay app.  The work wasn’t complete.  I didn’t approve it; nobody from my office approved it.  The owner paid the final payment to the contractor anyway, and lost leverage to get the punch list items completed, and may have taken on some liability that the architect might have otherwise had.)

Don’t Make Assumptions!

Write down all your assumptions!  Discuss them with the architect, even if you already have standard published requirements that are supposed to go in Division 01, as many public agencies do.  Put them in writing, as part of the contract, whether they belong in Division 01, or in the conditions of the contract, or in the owner-contractor agreement.  Once they’re in the contract, they’re no longer just assumptions.  They’re contract requirements.

Make sure they’re enforced.

Support the architect, who is in the weird position of having to be the neutral enforcer of the contract.  Architects have to be as hard on themselves as they are on the contractor – it’s an awkward position to be in, but they can’t be defensive about the documents, they have to enforce the contract.

Owners, back up the architect’s enforcement of the contract with payment for compliant work and with non-payment for non-compliant work.

Those are the rules!

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!

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.

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.

Today’s Webinar on Submittals

This afternoon I attended a great CSI Practice Group webinar. You don’t have to be a CSI member to be part of the Practice Groups. There are practice groups with free webinars for BIM, sustainability, specifying, product representation, and construction contract administration. For info on CSI Practice Groups: http://www.csinet.org/Main-Menu-Category/Communities-2109-14280/Practice-Group

Today’s Specifying Practice Group topic, presented by Dave Stutzman and Louis Medcalf, was “Submittals.” There’s one little tangent from the presentation that I want to elaborate on here:

On a recent project of mine, the lack of a submittal for the contractor’s proposed solution to an unexpected situation caused a problem. The contractor didn’t think that a submittal was required by the contract documents, and the architect didn’t realize that a submittal was required by the contract documents. The contractor could have saved himself some money and time, and could have saved the architect and the owner some time, if the contractor had just prepared a submittal for the architect’s review before proceeding with the work. (Oh, yes, some freshly-installed flooring underlayment had to be removed before the project could proceed. THAT was a waste of time and money.)

If something is added to a project, because of an unforeseen condition, everyone (architect, owner, contractor) often acts as if it’s the first time this sort of thing has ever happened. It’s not. Unexpected things happen all the time on construction projects, and that’s why we have standard processes to deal with them.

Anything that wasn’t originally in the project, but is part of the project now, is in the contract as the result of either a change order or a minor change to the contract. Whether it’s a moisture mitigation treatment for an existing slab, or a whole new roof assembly, whether it was initiated by an owner as a late addition to a project, or it was initiated by the contractor as a solution to an unexpected condition, or initiated as a substitution request because of a sudden product unavailability, it ends up in the contract as the direct result of a change order or a minor change (such as the type authorized by an ASI, Architect’s Supplemental Instructions). Even when the change results in no added cost to the owner, and even when its purpose is solely to repair a mistake made by the contractor, it’s a change, and it should be documented (and submitted on).

Architects and specifiers can make sure that the contract documents require submittals for things that weren’t originally in the project. Requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction is a good idea. In fact, requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction may be even more important than requiring submittals for things that were originally part of the design, since the new element wasn’t originally thought through along with the rest of the design. The contractor’s preparation of the submittal, and the architect’s review of the submittal, act as a double-check mechanism to help make sure that the added item will be appropriate.

If the architect is creating a new spec section as part of an ASI or Proposal Request, the architect should include in the specs a requirement for submittals – just as the spec sections in the original documents did. If the architect is modifying a spec section as part of an ASI or a Proposal Request, the spec section probably already calls for submittals. The architect needs to dictate those submittal requirements in the documents issued during construction.

Then, the architect just needs to make sure that the contractor provides the submittal required by the contract documents; the architect then just needs to enforce the contract documents.

We have typical processes that state submittal requirements for Substitution Requests and for contractor-generated Change Order Proposals. So the architect doesn’t need to reinvent a process; the architect just needs to enforce the contract documents.

If there’s a substitution request generated by the Contractor, the Division 01 spec section “Substitution Procedures” can include language that requires product data and samples to be submitted as part of the substitution request. MasterSpec’s master language already does this very well.

Contractor-initiated Change Order Proposals that are the result of unexpected site conditions are addressed in the Division 01 spec section “Contract Modification Procedures.” The MasterSpec version of this section includes some language for this, but more specific language could be added by the specifier.

When unforeseen site conditions pop up, people often panic, and rush through things, trying to find a solution quickly, to stay on schedule. Just remember – there are probably already processes for these situations in your contract documents, in Division 01 of the specifications. Do not ignore them. This is the worst time to throw out the rules.  Your schedule may suffer even more if you ignore submittal requirements. If the requirements for typical submittal info get written into the “rules” (Division 01) and are in there BEFORE unforeseen situations come up (before the contract is signed), it’s easier for the architect to enforce the submittal requirements. It can be difficult to extract a submittal from a contractor after a substitution request or a change order proposal has already been submitted and informally approved.

 

The Fervor of a Convert (part one)

People who read this blog know that I’m a specifier, and therefore pretty technically-minded.  But many people don’t know that I haven’t always been technically-minded.  I migrated to the technical side of architecture from a place of relative technical weakness.  (I wasn’t utterly ignorant; I did know the actual dimensions of a 2 by 4.  Some architecture grads don’t.)

I first realized the importance of specifications when I started doing CA (construction contract administration) on the projects that I’d produced drawings for.  But it wasn’t until after I started preparing specifications myself that I started to learn and understand more about building technology, building science, construction detailing, and building codes, and finally started learning how to find out information about how buildings actually get put together. 

In hindsight, I realized that the technical weakness that I had when I was working as an emerging project manager and project architect was a pretty bad thing, though not uncommon.  That type of technical weakness is changeable, it is fixable – but it is NOT defensible.

In this blog, I try to write to the person that I used to be – the intern architect or architectural project manager or project architect who doesn’t fully realize the importance of building technology, building science, and construction detailing.

I have broadened my own focus in architecture.  Others can, too.  But they have to be open to learning about these technical things; they have to understand the importance of the technical before they can start drawing good construction details.  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.    

I write so relentlessly about the importance of the technical things in architecture because I know what it’s like to not think they’re important.  I know the results of that attitude – embarrassing moments on the jobsite – because I used to have that attitude.  Now that I’ve become a more technical person, I see this issue from another side, and I see clearly that we can do better as a profession.

Looking back now on the early years of my career, I suspect that I had a number of opportunities to learn about building technology and construction detailing that I didn’t take advantage of, because I just didn’t realize the importance. I knew that there were things I needed to learn, but there were so many areas I needed to learn about.  I focused on some other areas of practice instead of on building technology.  I had to learn how to put together a set of drawings.  I had to learn how to communicate with engineers and general contractors.  I had to learn how to communicate with owners and potential clients.  I had to learn how to write proposals for fees and services.  I had to learn how to budget my hours on a project.  I had to get up to speed on new versions of AutoCAD when they came out.  All these things are important to the practice of architecture, and, of course, spending time on design is important, too.

But I have realized that when it comes to that stamp and seal, knowledge about building technology and codes is absolutely essential to the practice of architecture.  Our professional obligations mandated and regulated by governments, building owners’ expectations, and our obligations addressed in our owner-architect agreements and covered by our professional liability insurance, are related to building technology and codes more than to anything else about architecture. 

I am still learning about construction, codes, building science, and detailing.  We all are, because technologies and codes change – but I still feel like I am catching up to where I should be on these issues, because I still have to research a number of things on almost every project.  But I can catch up.  All of us can.

As a brand new intern architect, I didn’t know what specifications were.  When I first started doing project management, I barely comprehended that specs and drawings were supposed to work together.  Then when I started doing CA on projects, the importance of specifications hit me like a bomb.  And now I’m a specifier.  We all start somewhere.  Regardless of the starting point, and regardless of the career destination, architects who want their constructed buildings to look like the designs in their minds must understand building technology.

When I graduated with my Bachelor of Architecture degree, I knew that there was a lot I would need to learn on the job.  But I didn’t realize how much there was to learn, and I didn’t realize which things were most important.  One reason I write this blog is to tell others the things that I now realize that I should have been trying to learn earlier in my career. 

For more about that degree, see Part Two of this post, coming later this week.

Indemnification: I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

I’ve been reading contracts again.  The AIA A201-2007, General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, has an Indemnification article in it.

Article 3.18 “Indemnification” starts like this:  “To the fullest extent permitted by law the Contractor shall indemnify and hold harmless the Owner, Architect, Architect’s consultants, and agents and employees of any of them from and against claims, damages, losses and expenses, including but not limited to attorneys’ fees, arising out of or resulting from performance of the Work, provided that such claim, damage, loss or expense is attributable to bodily injury, sickness, disease or death, or to injury to or destruction of tangible property (other than the Work itself), but only to the extent caused by the negligent acts or omissions of the Contractor, a Subcontractor, anyone directly or indirectly employed by them or anyone for whose acts they may be liable, regardless of whether or not such claim, damage loss or expense is caused in part by a part indemnified hereunder. “

I’m not an attorney, but I’m pretty sure that this clause means that if a passerby is injured on a jobsite, because of something that the Contractor did, if the Owner and Architect get sued for that passerby’s damages, and they have to pay the injured person, the money for the damages attributable to the Contractor will ultimately come from the Contractor, instead of from the Owner and Architect.

I looked at the AIA Document Commentary for this document for some further insight.  It says “The contractor’s obligation to indemnify is triggered by an act or omission of the contractor or one of the contractor’s agents or employees, and covers the indemnitee’s loss only to the extent that it was caused by such act or omission.  This is comparative fault language: for example, if the indemnitee and all other third parties are found to be 20 percent responsible, the contractor’s obligation to indemnify would extend to 80 percent of the loss.”

The indemnitor is the Contractor, and the indemnitiees are the Owner, Architect, etc.  What this says is that if the Owner or Architect is partially responsible for the damages, the Contractor wouldn’t have to pay for the part of the damages that the Owner or Architect is responsible for.

That all sounds fair to me, but, of course, I’m not an attorney, and I do consider myself to be impartial.  It sounds fair to me that each member of the team should be required to pay for damages caused by himself, and only for damages caused by himself.

I have come across several Contracts for Construction and General Conditions of the Contract for Construction which have a similar indemnification clause – identical, actually, except that the Architect and the Architect’s consultants are not included.  I have worked on at least one project in which the Owner used AIA A201 as the General Conditions, but, through the Supplementary Conditions, deleted “Architect, and Architect’s consultants” from the indemnification clause.

I got into a discussion with someone over lunch today about this particular situation.  I asked “How does it help the Owner to exclude the Architect from the Contractor’s indemnity?”  I did not get a good answer.

Here’s how I interpret this phenomenon:  Owners who do this (strike the Architect from the protection of a Contractor’s indemnity) mistakenly believe that excluding the Architect from this indemnification clause will help to protect the Owner’s interests. 

There’s a benefit to an Owner to require that the Contractor pay for damages caused by the Contractor

There’s a benefit to an Owner to require that the Owner not have to pay for damages caused by the Contractor

But leaving the Architect exposed to liability for damages caused by the Contractor provides no benefit to the Owner.

The Owner can always sue the Architect.  This indemnification clause doesn’t prevent that.  Any third party can always sue the Architect.  This indemnification clause doesn’t prevent that.  If an indemnification clause such as this includes the Architect, it only means that if the Architect gets sued by some passerby, for damages caused by the Contractor, the Contractor will have to cover the Architect’s costs for attorney fees and any damages awarded to the person who brought suit against the Architect.

Owners, please don’t do the extra work of striking the Architect from the AIA A201 indemnity clause.  It doesn’t help you, and it could really hurt the Architect.

Please. Stop the Reinvention Talk.

You may have seen the latest in the Reinvention Discussion – it’s an article on the DesignIntelligence website by James P. Cramer, called “Competing for the Future.” It starts out by intoning “Beware the unimaginative and the Luddites who portend the end of the profession, and open your mind to a future of relevant possibilities.” 1

Please.  Stop the Reinvention Talk, or do a better job of convincing me that the profession of architecture must be completely reinvented.  I am willing to listen, but I’d like to hear ideas that are more concrete than those I’ve read so far.

I am not a Luddite.  I am not unimaginative.  I am probably a cynic, but I do offer solutions (skip to the bottom for solutions).  The profession of architecture needs revitalization, not reinvention.  

Owners (the people who need buildings built) still have the same needs they have always had; owners need some entity to listen to and interpret their needs and ideas for their buildings, and to translate those needs and ideas into instructions to build the buildings.  Although technology has changed many things in the last several centuries, this particular need of owners has not changed.

Architects are the people who are best qualified to interpret the needs of owners and turn them into models, perspective drawings, diagrams, and plans that help owners explore and confirm their needs.  Architects have been the people who are best qualified to produce the drawings and specifications that serve as the instructions to build these buildings.  Notice that there are two parts to this; these are two of the fundamental components of being an architect.

Architects are no longer the only people fulfilling the needs above.  Owners are relying less and less on architects for all their needs (programming, master planning, schematic design concepts, placemaking, design development, construction documentation, guidance during bidding or negotiation with a contractor, and construction contract administration).

Some architects are not able to effectively meet these needs.  Other entities have stepped in to fill the voids.  (These others include, but are not limited to, “placemakers,” green building consultants, and Construction Managers.) 

We architects don’t need to reinvent ourselves as something else, and try to sell owners on something new that they may not need or want.

If we architects want more work, we must do a better job of meeting the needs that owners already have, that we used to meet, and no longer do. 

Owners’ needs haven’t changed – the profession of architecture has.  We have stopped being able to most effectively meet all of the needs of owners.  Some may argue that owners have additional needs, over what they used to have.  Some will argue that buildings are more complicated than they used to be, and we need more help.  These things are true.  But architects can get that help from consultants and keep it all under the umbrella of the design team – we don’t have to get that help from the contractor part of the team.  We have to prove our value to owners, and they will stop looking elsewhere for the services that we have traditionally provided.    

The Construction Specifications Institute can help architects meet the all the needs of owners that architects used to meet.  As I’ve mentioned here before, CSI’s Construction Documents Technologist program is a good start.  The CDT program 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.  This is basic stuff, people.  This is stuff that architects used to consider to be of primary importance… and then they didn’t… and then other people started doing the work that architects used to do…

Notes:

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1.  Here’s that article on the DesignIntelligence website: http://www.di.net/articles/archive/competing_future/ 

 

Facilitating Competitive Bidding for Construction Products

Architects and interior designers often make carefully coordinated selections of products based solely on their appearance.  Many of the products so thoughtfully selected have no equal – nothing else has quite the same appearance, and if a different product with all the same characteristics (except for color) were used, the carefully coordinated color scheme would be ruined.

In these cases, a sole-source product is specified, and no substitutions are allowed.

Is this important?  Sometimes, yes, it’s important.  Ask this question another way:  Is this important to the Owner?  Has the Owner actually charged the Architect with creating a unique look that is decided upon early in the project, and cannot be changed?

Why does this question matter?  When only one product is specified, and no substitutions are allowed, the supplier of that product sometimes increases the price, and may decrease the level of service.  This price increase is passed on to the Owner.  A decreased level of service (due to a lack of incentive to keep people happy, since the deal is already done) may cause schedule problems during construction.  The Owner may be paying a heavy premium for the luxury of selecting colors during design.    

Sometimes only a very specific plastic laminate will be acceptable to the Owner, because of specific furniture finishes that they’ve contracted for separately.  Sometimes only specific ceramic wall tiles and solid surface countertops will be acceptable to the Owner, because of a corporate identity they must maintain.  In these cases, the direction not to allow competitive bidding has come from the Owner.

But sometimes, the Architect, for his own reasons, is trying to create a very specific look that can only be achieved with one manufacturer’s tinted glass color (although 2 others may make a similar color with the same performance characteristics).  Does the Owner care about this extremely specific appearance?  Maybe not.  Has the Owner been notified that the choice of one specific manufacturer’s color of glass may increase his construction costs, for the benefit of the Architect’s portfolio?  …  [Crickets]…  Probably not.

When the Owner doesn’t have product preferences, if we, as design professionals, are to best serve the interests of the Owner, we should encourage competitive bidding, by specifying several acceptable products.