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9 Misconceptions about Architect Services during the Construction Stage

Sometimes I meet clients who only want to engage the architect for the design stage, who do not know that full architect services include follow-up on site. In other cases clients choose not to have the architect involved during the construction so that they save money (they think).

Informed people make better choices, so here we can confront nine reasons why people think they don’t need an architect in the construction phase. You should also see our earlier post on Partial Services.

1. The building contract doesn’t need to be administered by an architect.

The building contract is between the building contractor and the building owner. If an architect is engaged for services during the construction stage then the architect will administer the contract, ensuring that:

  • the builder’s cost claims are checked and approved,
  • provisional sums are correctly accounted for,
  • work is proceeding according to the drawings, specification and the agreed timetable,
  • clarification is provided when the contractor requires it,
  • more information is provided when the contractor requires it,
  • the design intent is followed.

If there is a dispute between builder and owner then the architect can assess the differing claims according to the contract. If there is a dispute when the architect is not engaged for services during the construction stage, the dispute can delay work for weeks or months while resolution is sought – who wins, and at what cost? Weeks of delay can certainly cost as much as the architect’s fee for the stage, to say nothing of the stress.

2. The building contractor will figure it out, it’s their job.

To put it simply builders want to build. For a professional contractor to provide a competitive tender price they need assurance that the design has been thought through in advance and that the construction will be able to run smoothly. Contractors do not want to have to pinpoint problems and to try to solve them on site in a last minute conversation with the owner. If the architect is not around who can they ask what was the design intent? It is easy to lose sight of the overall picture when the contractor is demanding an answer ASAP.

3. The owner has to pay twice if both the architect and the contractor are present.

The architect and the contractor perform different roles. The builder builds, while the architect makes sure that the design intent survives the construction.  There is no overlap, only coordination and cooperation – surely money well spent.

4. Building contractors do not want architects on the construction site.

It may well be true that some contractors are happiest dealing direct with owners. For example, if the architect isn’t around it is easier to get substitutions approved, and variations can get confusing if the communications are not formally recorded. In our experience, however, all good contractors are happy to have the architect available to answer questions, and as a single point of contact for instructions – to build a good result, as well as to build a relationship.

5. Building contractors always study the drawings.

Builders have experience and knowledge, true, but drawings are abstractions, simplifications of reality, and are sometimes misinterpreted.

The details are not the details. They make the design. Charles Eames

Details can be overlooked in the earliest stages, and confirmation is often needed from the project designer to be sure that the detailed aspects are properly understood and included in the construction program. The architect can be the best guarantee – for both owner and the contractor – that the process will move smoothly, which saves money for both sides. The architect stays ahead of potential problems and can find solutions early in the process, which avoids costly oversights.

6. Building contractors know what will meet the BCA.

The Building Code of Australia is a complex document referencing many Australian Standards. Most builders do not have time to keep up to date with details and variations in the BCA as we must. Furthermore, the BCA is an absolute minimum requirement. Retaining the services of an architect is a signal to the contractor that you want work of a standard higher than the bare minimum.

7. Subcontractors always study the drawings.

On small projects subcontractors sometimes don’t see all of the drawings; the main contractor provides rough guides and the subcontractor attempts to resolve their own details as they emerge – how can the owner know that this is being done correctly? Subcontractors often consider their work in isolation from the rest of the project without understanding the whole. If the architect is involved the big picture view will be clearly communicated.

8. The owner himself will be on site to oversee the construction.

What often happens is that the building becomes an amateur’s interpretation of the drawings. If you pay for an architectural design, then remove the architect from the team that constructs it, do you really know that you are getting what you paid for? When the builder wants to make a substitution for a material or fixture specified in the documents, how do you know it is reasonable and won’t impact on the overall quality? Are you really able to make this assessment? And do you have the time to be there on site when you need to be?

9. The owner can build it on their own.

There are many ways to procure a building, and self-building is an option for some. But unless the owner has good construction experience – or plenty of time to gain that experience on their own project – it’s probably best to leave it to experts. You are better off doing your own work and hiring professionals to do the building and contract administration.

In conclusion, you do need an architect in the construction phase, to complete the work begun in the design stage, and make sure you get what you have paid for.

Clients who agree to have the architect continue the architectural services during the construction phase sleep better.

It is not easy to do something good, but it is extremely difficult to do something bad. Charles Eames

by Peter Hill