What Do Architects NOT Do?

Sometimes I tell people I’m a Renaissance Man. (Since I am female, this statement often momentarily confuses people.1) I mean that I am interested in, am capable of, and dabble in, a wide variety of pursuits.

Many, many architects could have taken career paths other than architecture. Our brains work mathematically, scientifically, and artistically. I am an architect, but while I am doing some of the other things I enjoy (making a gorgeous cake, managing my family’s investments, repairing a threshold in my home, carving a jack-o-lantern), I’m not practicing architecture.

Some practicing architects are builders as well as architects. Some practicing architects are also developers. But while they’re doing general contracting or real estate development, they’re still architects, but they are not practicing architecture. Construction, development, and architecture all require different agreements with clients and different liability insurance policies, even within design-build firms.

A bit over a week ago, I read a blog post that I can’t stop thinking about: “Being a Professional Architect is about much more than just designing nice buildings.” This post is on the blog of Build, LLC, a Seattle company that offers architecture and construction services. It was written to outline “a common code of conduct that all professions should abide by.”

The post was inspired by a community news blog post account of a designer in Seattle who declared bankruptcy and “walked away from more than $10 million in debt…” Ten million dollars doesn’t sound like an amount of debt that a small architecture firm could easily rack up, right?

The community news blog post keeps referring to the “architect,” and mentions that the “architecture firm imploded.” But it appears as if it was a development company that failed, and the guy isn’t actually an architect. (Yes, he designs buildings, but he isn’t a licensed architect.)

I’ve written about protection of the title “Architect” before.2 And I’ve written about a news writer’s obligation to use appropriate titles to refer to different types of design professionals.3 This situation is a good example of why I think the title should be protected – some of the comments on both posts are about this guy giving all architects a bad name.

This shouldn’t be happening; this designer’s actions shouldn’t be giving architects a bad name, because what he was doing that caused problems wasn’t actually the practice of architecture, and he isn’t actually an architect.

Financing the construction of buildings is not part of practicing architecture. Practicing architecture does not include constructing buildings.4 Yes, people who practice architecture sometimes do these things, but they are not doing these things at the same time that they’re practicing architecture. Everyone should be ethical in his or her work, but in practicing different types of work, we have completely different obligations to our clients and to the public.

Some consumers actually have no idea what an architect does. Architects themselves should not muddy this issue further. Practicing architecture as a profession is all about designing buildings. An architect discusses a project’s needs with the client, and based on those criteria and other requirements such as building codes, the architect designs, and prepares construction documents for, the building. The architect observes the construction of the building to verify that the building is being constructed in general conformance with the construction documents.

Mixing up the roles of architect, contractor and developer misleads consumers, and might be giving all architects a bad name.

Architects love being architects. But let’s be clear with clients and with the public that when we’re not actually practicing architecture, we’re not working as architects.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. “Renaissance Woman” doesn’t conjure up images of someone engaged in artistic or intellectual or scientific pursuits…  I just think of peaceful women sitting or lying down, posing for paintings.
  2. Recent posts of mine about protection of the title “Architect”: “’Sunset Review’ of Licensure for Architects”:  and “Really?!? ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’”
  3. Post of mine about obligation of a journalist to use the correct title:  “Perpetuating a Misconception”  Note: In February 2013, AIA Colorado sent personalized letters to more than 50 editors and other journalists throughout the state educating them about the title “architect.”  I am thrilled.  http://www.aiacolorado.org/advocacy/about-architect.aspx
  4. Colorado law specifically excludes the “performance of the construction of buildings” from the definition of the “practice of architecture.” I suspect that other states do the same.

What is “Building Technology”?

I often mention “building technology” in my blog posts.  I’ve realized that I’m using a term that many people aren’t familiar with.

When I use the term “building technology,” I am not talking about information technology within a building.  I am not talking about the software technologies used to design buildings.  I’m not talking about only high-performance buildings.  I am not talking about only new technologies in building systems.

I am talking about “technology” in terms of its most basic, stripped-down definition: “1. The practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area. 2. A manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.”  (Definition is from Merriam Webster.)

And I am talking about “building” as defined by Webster, too: “The art or business of assembling materials into a structure.”

When I use the term “building technology,” I mean knowledge of the technical processes and methods of assembling buildings.  Drawing proper construction details requires understanding building technology.  Identifying conflicts between the construction documents and the way things are being built on the job site requires understanding building technology.

Knowledge of building technology is an important part of the practice of architecture, but it’s an area in which many of today’s young architects are weak.  This is an area in which I was weak, until I started writing specs and suddenly had starting points for researching my questions (or rather, I suddenly realized what questions I ought to be asking).1

We hear a lot about high-performance new technologies in buildings, but somehow, we seem to have lost the basics of knowledge about detailing foundation, roof, and exterior wall assemblies that meet the minimum of the applicable code requirements.

Without an understanding of basic building technology, an architect cannot properly prepare construction documents for submittal to the authorities having jurisdiction for the purposes of obtaining a building permit.

From the 2009 International Building Code (which has been adopted by many municipalities), Chapter 1, 107.2.4 “Exterior Wall Envelope”:

“Construction documents for all buildings shall describe the exterior wall envelope in sufficient detail to determine compliance with this code. The construction documents shall provide details of the exterior wall envelope as required, including 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.” 

Without an understanding of basic building technology, an architect cannot demonstrate (to an owner, to a contractor, or to the building department) the constructability of a design.  A building is not made up of bits and pieces erected next to each other; a building is composed of interrelated systems and assemblies that work together to contribute to the building’s proper functioning.  If these components are not carefully selected, specified, and detailed, with the designer taking into account these components’ effects on all the other parts of the building, the completed building may not be able to protect its occupants from drafts, moisture intrusion, mold, condensation, cold, outside noise, or excessive heat.

When I worked as a project architect, I often put off the detailing of tricky conditions until the last possible time.  I know that some other architects do, too.  Drawing construction details is hard work.  There are other, more fun, more easily achieved, tasks that also must be accomplished before a set of construction documents is finished.  But waiting to detail the tough transitions is a problem – when we finally get into the meat of these things, sometimes we realize that the assumptions we’d carried all along were incorrect, and we need a taller parapet, or we need more rigid insulation in the cavity, or we need a building expansion joint.

This detailing work can be less tedious, less torturous, and less time-consuming when we have more knowledge and more understanding of these things.  We produce better construction documents, and help to get better buildings built, when we know more about building technology.

Without an understanding of basic building technology, we can’t contribute much to high-performance building initiatives, such as those by the Building Enclosure Technology and Environment Council (BETEC) of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Building Technologies Program, the U.S. Green Building Council, and many cities and states.  Just as the IgCC (International Green Construction Code) is an overlay to the other ICC codes (such as the International Building Code), high-performance building technology does not replace, but enhances, basic building technology.

But… who’s teaching architects about basic building technology today?

Architecture school curricula have gotten heavier on design; architecture graduates are supposed to learn almost everything else they need to know during their internships.  But as more and more knowledgeable gray-haired architects retire, many of the mentors for interns and young architects know less about basic building technology than the mentors of the past.

CSI (the Construction Specifications Institute) recognizes this problem, and is currently exploring the concept of a Building Technology Education Program.  The task team for this program has been charged with formulating “the concept of a building technology education program for participants in the design/construction industry that will benefit the industry by raising the technical knowledge of the participants.”  I don’t think a program like this exists today, and I don’t think that any other organization is working on anything comprehensive like this proposed education program.2

This program is envisioned as being for everyone in the construction industry – not just for intern architects and emerging professionals.  (Architects, remember: we’re part of the construction industry.)  The more that everyone in the industry can understand the concept that all parts of a building are interrelated, and that a modification to one assembly may require modifications to other assemblies, the more effective all of us in the construction industry can be.

Notes:________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Here are some links to past blog posts of mine that discuss technical weakness in architects – including my own past technical weakness.  I have greatly increased my understanding of building technology – anyone can.
    1. https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/architects-take-back-the-reins/
    2. https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/the-fervor-of-a-convert-part-one/
    3. https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/the-fervor-of-a-convert-part-two/
  2. Here’s the roster of the Building Technology Education Program Task Team on the CSI website http://new.csinet.org/csi_services/committees.aspx.  (Scroll down to “FY 2013 Building Technology Education Task Team.”)  If you have suggestions for the team, please contact one of the members.

A Silly Solution

DesignIntelligence has published a new article by Scott Simpson, FAIA. “What Have We Learned?” is well-written and lays out some of the problems in the profession of architecture right now. http://www.di.net/articles/what-have-we-learned/

The article mentions that most owners find architects’ construction documents inadequate.

I just posted the following comment on the article. It’s not showing up yet. It might soon, it might never. I feel strongly about this, so I am sharing it here.

The article states that “…92 percent of owners do not believe that architects’ construction documents are suitable for the purpose intended.”

How can attempts “to prove that ‘good design is good business'” possibly solve this problem? Will SOMEONE ELSE fulfill the task of producing adequate construction documents while architects busy themselves with “becoming conversant” in “good business” and making up new “value propositions” to offer to potential clients?

Adequate information with which to construct buildings will still be necessary, whether it’s in digital form or on paper. Someone needs to produce this information. For hundreds of years, architects have been the people doing this. This is what architects are licensed to do. It still needs to be done. 

Encouraging architects in different directions, without addressing how this need for adequate construction documents is to be fulfilled, is silly.

Bad behavior in toddlers is best addressed by redirection (“Don’t pull the flowers off the bush; here’s a ball instead!”) Redirection is NOT the appropriate remedy for inadequate performance of NECESSARY duties.

Architects ought to be producing good construction documents. I believe that this is our primary obligation under the terms of our licensure. If we don’t, who will?

The Construction Specifications Institute can help. Have you seen the new CSI logo? The new tagline is “Building Knowledge. Improving Project Delivery.” Good construction documents are achievable, but you can’t produce them unless you understand building technology and the principles of construction documentation. If you want to start building your own knowledge about how to produce good construction documents, check out CSI. http://www.csinet.org

New directions for architects may be necessary. But basic obligations of architects are not being fulfilled. We must master the basics before we can move in new directions.

Perpetuating a Misconception

Do we have an obligation to stop perpetuating a misconception that we know is out there?  Or is it ok to keep it going, because it’s easier to gloss over it, instead of stopping conversation to correct the misconception?

Nope, I’m not talking about the girlfriend of a certain football player from my alma mater.  I’m talking about the misconception that someone who has a degree from an architecture school and designs buildings is an architect.

Now, there’s a difference between cocktail party conversation and written articles that reach a wide audience.  There are social skills and then there are conversation stoppers; there are manners on one hand and truth in journalism on the other hand.

I recently emailed with a newspaper writer.  He had written an article about the beautiful remodel of a home, and in it, he referred to the “architect” several times.  The designer of the remodel appears to be in the middle of taking his licensing exams, but does not appear to be a licensed architect.

I wrote to the writer that I felt compelled to inform him that a design professional cannot be called an “architect” in Colorado unless he or she is actually licensed as an architect in Colorado, and that although a licensed architect is not required for design work on a house, only a licensed architect is allowed, by law, to call him- or her- self an “architect.”

The writer wrote back that he knew all that, but in his mind, and in the mind of almost all readers, since the design professional has a degree in architecture, he’s an architect.    

What is the writer’s obligation as a journalistAccuracy, or an article that flows like a cocktail party conversation?

What is my obligation as a licensed architect?  I have been told by the Colorado arm of the American Institute of Architects that it is my “duty as a licensed architect to report anyone that is using the term architect and is not licensed to the state licensing board, per the licensing law.”

The architecture profession does a great job of letting the profession know that intern architects shouldn’t call themselves “architect” until they’re licensed.  But the architecture profession doesn’t do a good job of getting the word out to the general public.  And I believe that this can cause problems for consumers.

Here are a couple of recent posts of mine about this issue:

“’Sunset Review’ of Licensure for Architects”: https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/sunset-review-of-licensure-for-architects/ and

“Really?!? ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’” https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/really-who-cares-whos-a-licensed-architect/

If anyone (besides Manti Te’o) has suggestions for me, about how to continue to correct misconceptions, while continuing to practice good manners, please let me know.  I’m really at a loss, here.

Right, or Not Wrong… or Just Plain Wrong

The gist of David Stutzman’s August 2010 blog post, “’Right’ or ‘Not Wrong’ – Choose Your Specs Wisely,” has remained in my head since I first read it.  “Right” or “not wrong” is something that I think about as I make my way through the preparation of project specifications in an early design phase of a project.  For progress sets in Design Development Phase and early Construction Documents Phase, I always shoot for “right” or “with-lots-of-notes-to-architect.”

In that post, Dave wrote:

Specifications can be written so they are “right” or so they are “not wrong.”   These two are very different.

“Sometimes specifiers are forced to write a “not wrong” spec. This usually occurs when the design schedule is short, when the specifier is asked to start near project completion, when little documentation of product selections exists, or any combination of these. The “not wrong” spec is generic, non-specific. It lists basic products and materials, but does little to address project specific conditions. The detail of terminations and interfaces with adjacent materials – issues that can easily lead to failures – are glossed over or not even mentioned.  This lack of specificity can lead to unnecessary, expensive change orders. Processing these change orders increases construction administration costs, and can result in budgetary disaster on a project.

“To produce a spec that is “right,” the specifier must understand the project and the design intent.” ~ David Stutzman

When “not wrong” specs are further edited to be project-specific, and therefore “right,” they can save time and money for the contractor, owner, and architect.  “Not wrong” specs tend to push design decisions into the construction phase.  Design decisions cost less money when they’re made in the design phases, and specs that are “right” are issued.

Now, from the “Things I Shouldn’t Even Have To Say” file:

“Not wrong” specs are not great, but sometimes I see “just plain wrong” specs.  Sometimes such specs actually contain mentions of the wrong owner, the wrong building, or the wrong city.  (If the spec section is for an engineering discipline, or audio-visual systems, or kitchen equipment, this is often the only way I, an architect, know it’s wrong.)  This is an embarrassment to the entire design team.

I think this happens because of a combination of two factors:

First, in early design, people figure, “oh, we’ll do it like that one project, except for this, and that…” and they think it’s ok to issue, as part of a progress set, the finished specifications from that old project, to make the set look more complete.  It’s not ok.  Every project is different.  If you need a “placeholder,” then consider issuing a complete Table of Contents for the Project Manual, naming all the spec sections that will be included in the final issue, and indicating which sections are not included in this progress issue, but will be included in the next.  Do not issue something that is wrong.

Second, many design professionals simply do not understand the importance of specifications.  Specs are much more than just a “deliverable” due to the owner.  Specifications are an inextricable component of the construction documents, even in early design phases.  If someone is estimating the cost of the project (and someone almost always is, even in early design phases) that person is using the issued progress set specs to help to determine what is supposed to be in the project, and therefore, how much the project will cost.  Don’t issue a spec section if it doesn’t say what you want it to say.  Hint – you must read it before you can know whether it says what you want it to say or not.

“Not wrong” specs can lead an estimator down the correct path, just not quite far enough.  “Just plain wrong” specs usually lead that estimator all the way down the wrong path, wasting time and money for everyone.

If you’re not finished preparing your specs when your deadline comes, issue something less, issue something smaller, but don’t ever issue something that’s just plain wrong.

A Holiday Tale About [Construction] Communication

Some dear relatives-by-marriage of mine hosted us for the Thanksgiving weekend in a warm place.

For Thanksgiving dinner, in addition to my husband, kids, and me, they invited some friends. Twice during the day Thursday, I asked what time people were coming over. The first time, I didn’t get an answer. The second time, I was told that the turkey should come out of the oven at 5:30, so we’d probably eat at 6:30, and that the guests would come over “whenever we tell them to.”

I went for a run, came back to an empty house, and took a shower.

So at 5:00, I was in the kitchen slicing crudités, in strange comfy clothes, with wet hair half up on my head, and wearing no mascara. My husband was still at the beach with the children, one of the hosts was on the lanai, smoking and still wearing golf clothes, and the other was in the shower…

… and the guests walked in.  

They’d been told several days earlier to arrive at 5:00 on Thanksgiving. They could tell that we weren’t ready, and they appeared to be quite uncomfortable. Of the 6 adults involved in dinner, only half of us seemed to be bothered by this mixup, failure-to-communicate, lack-of-modification-of-original-instructions, whatever it was.

Surely an unusual situation, right? And those of us who were unsettled should maybe just lighten up?

Well, no. One story, two messages:

The first message: This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME in construction communications, and in… well, let’s put my personal life aside. It shouldn’t be happening. Construction documents must communicate clearly.

Sometimes, the Instructions to Bidders document will list one time, date, or location for the bid opening, and another procurement document will indicate another. (Oh, well, it was a typo, no big deal, right? WRONG! These are legal documents! Seemingly tiny conflicts like this could cause a project to have to be bid all over again, or worse! Architects or Owners must check for consistency before issuing documents like this!)

Sometimes, General Notes on the drawings might indicate different window treatments than the rest of the drawings and the specifications show. (Oh, but we talked to the Construction-Manager-as-Contractor about the roller shades; he knows we don’t want those horizontal blinds that the General Notes mention, so it’s ok to just leave that note, right? NOOoooooo! Of course it’s not! It’s not ok to knowingly issue documents with conflicts in them! How are the bidding subcontractors supposed to know what the design team wants? What if they only see the General Notes, and not the drawing notes where what is actually desired is called out? Architects must make sure General Notes on the drawings are relevant and correct.)

Sometimes, drawings will call out storefront, but the specs have a section for curtain wall instead. (But the bidders will figure it out, right? NO!!! Storefront and curtain wall are different things. Architects have to make the documents clear, so as not to waste the bidders’ time, and their own time, during bidding, answering the inevitable question. Architects must ensure that the drawings and the specs are coordinated.)

The entity who is responsible for sending out communications needs to communicate clearly, completely, unambiguously, and in a way that the entity who is receiving the communications can understand. The communicator is responsible for getting the message across.

The dinner guests were not able to divine that, although they had been told to arrive at 5, they should actually show up an hour later, because the host got distracted by family fun at the beach, changed her mind about what time she wanted to receive guests, and failed to tell them to come later than previously indicated.

Bidders, or the constructor, will not be able to know what’s in the sketches or project notebook on the architect’s desk at the office, or what conversations the architect had with the owner two months ago. All that the bidders have to go by is the construction documents. These have to tell the whole story. This is not just to be nice. This is the architect’s legal duty to the owner.

Yes, bidders have to look at the entire set of contract documents, but if a window treatment sub is getting a whole story by looking at just part of the documents, he’ll save himself some time, and stop after reading those General Notes. In the case above, he may have gotten the wrong whole story, because of the architect’s failure to communicate correctly.

The second message: If you, the architect, can’t get it right for the sake of getting it right, remember the guests, er… bidders. Think about how they’ll feel while trying to solve the mysteries of what you were thinking when you drew something that directly conflicted with other documents. Keep in mind that if you make them feel uncomfortable, or if you cause them to waste precious time during bidding, they will remember you for it!

The whole point of dining etiquette is not about using the right fork – it’s about making sure guests are at ease. We have commonly-accepted guidelines about using the correct silverware so that we are starting on the same page, as much as possible, and so that it’ll be easier for everyone to be comfortable, and have a good time.

Do this construction communication thing right. Issue clear, complete, concise, and correct construction documents, and make everyone comfortable. Bidding will go more smoothly, construction will go more smoothly, and your “guests” will be happy to be invited the next time.

Cor-Ten: Why Does It Look Like Rusty Metal?

Ever seen a gorgeous surface that looked like rusty metal?  Well, if it’s weathering steel, often called by a brand name, Cor-Ten, it looks like rusty metal because it IS rusty metal.

This material is really striking, has a great texture, has an interesting color, and is loved by architects.

However, it has some extremely problematic negative aspects… but we might be able to get around some of those.

Check out my latest technical article, published on the website of the Denver Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), “COR-TEN and Other Weathering Steel Alloys in Architectural Applications” .

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.

______________________________________________________________________________

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

“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!