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What Can an Architect Do for You? - Part II

Updated on November 13, 2017
DanDnAZ profile image

Registered Architect, 40 years experience, investigative forensic specialist, engineering trained, college teacher, NCARB mentor, MBA.

Review from Previous Part

Before we go on to the new material, let us briefly review what has already been covered. First, there are three basic components to supplying a commodity. Those are time, cost, and quality. A transaction is created when all three of these components are in equilibrium, and a symbiotic exchange of goods occurs between the buyer and the seller. Next, everything has a cost; nothing is truly free. Anyone telling you different is lying to you, or selling something. Scarce resource requires us to decide which two of the three components are the highest priorities for each transaction; the third will have to be more limited. The quality component is usually most sensitive to cost.

An Architect should always be consulted at the beginning of any project no matter the scope or size. That is the entity best suited to see the ramifications on the project as a whole. The contractor and the Government worker may not have the equivalent training and experience. The Architect has a unique calling to serve the public. Contractors are not capable of doing what an Architect does, no matter what they say. Just because a person is a licensed contractor does not mean they will do the job correct, and even if a building permit was issued, it does not mean that it was appropriate, after all everyone makes mistakes, even government workers.

An Architect should be well versed in all aspects of life safety in buildings, and should be sensitive to long-term impacts created by the project, being a good steward of the entire resources of the client's. The practice of Architecture will tend to be in that form of design or production, with the most balanced practice being a compilation of both. You can read Part I here if have not already read it.

In this part we will be discussing some of the methods of service provided (delivery system) and the services provided primarily.

Delivery Systems

There are several ways in which an Architect can provide services. The traditional way is through what is called "Conventional Delivery", which is also sometimes called "Design, Bid, Build", because it is just that. The Architect will design the building, the owner will bid the plans out to several contractors/builders, and then select a contractor/builder to construct the building. This forces the project to be approached in a linear method. Each step is the next logical projection of the previous step taken. To be most successful, this method requires the Architect to be very accurate with the project budget, or very conservative. This method tends to lead to ambiguity when a problem arises as fingers point the other way, leaving the client in the middle without any unbiased help, as each member of the team tries to cover their own rear. To alleviate this potential "blame game", there is a method for this delivery system called "Partnering". Partnering occurs when the team members personalize the delivery system. This method encourages teamwork and cooperation, as well as providing incentives for the team members to perform. The down side of this delivery method is that cost reductions are harder to realize, as the contractor and suppliers do not have any guarantees so materials are not ordered until just before use.

The next delivery method is the "Construction Manager" or "CM". This is can also be referred to as “Project Manager” or “PM” based on the licensing laws of the State. This is where the owner directly hires a single entity (CM / PM), and the CM / PM hires all other participants. This method was an outcropping from the pitfalls of the Conventional Delivery system where the participants pointed fingers when problems occurred, and the owner, who had no expertise, being caught in the middle. This method allows the owner to have single point accountability, but it usually has increased costs associated with the system, as the CM / PM is an additional member to the team. Many times, to help offset additional costs to the project, a CM may self-perform some tasks. Because of this, under Arizona law, this method also requires the CM to be a Licensed Contractor. As the CM used to be a service that an Architect would provide, the contractor's license now precludes the Architect from performing such services. However, a "Project Manager" or "PM" can perform these services now and not be required to have a contractor's license. However, the PM cannot schedule or self perform any tasks, as those actions can only be undertaken by a licensed contractor. This method can develop additional risk to either or both parties if the contractual obligations are not effectively defined, so this delivery system has lost much of its allure to being used.

There is a derivative method from the CM and that is referred to as “Construction Manager at Risk” or “CMAR”. This delivery method has much more precise risk definitions, and so it has become much more popular. The CMAR usually gets a set fee for preconstruction activities which should include cost / budget evaluation throughout the design phase and a flat fee rate for construction administration. This may be in the form of a preset flat fee, i.e. “X” amount of dollars, or it can be a flat percentage fee of construction or GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price). My experience reflects that fee should not exceed three or four percent of the construction costs. This delivery method is “open book”, meaning the CMAR should be providing invoices directly to the owner for all costs, without a mark-up. The CMAR should provide the general conditions, and may even self-perform needed work. The CMAR should be providing the owner with a GMP about the time the design development drawings are complete, although I have seen the CMAR actually “bidding” work after the construction drawings are completed. In that scenario, I question what is the CMAR actually being paid for? That seems to be wasting the owner’s resources, as this displaces any risk the CMAR should carry back onto the owner, and why should the owner pay the CMAR for taking no risk and paying any additional risk themselves? The CMAR really wants to limit risk, like all entries would, but then why pay the CMAR as a risk entity. In that case just pay the CMAR as a non-risk entity.

The last method we will discuss here is the "Design / Build", or DB, system. In this delivery method, one entity becomes the only point of client contact for the entire project. The client / owner has one-point accountability. This makes it easiest for the client / owner if anything goes amiss; there is only one entity that is held accountable. The down side to this is the owner is relying on that entity to represent the owner's interests. With the right entity, the project can be incredibly successful. This success would be realized through savings in time and costs. These saving are created in that if each supplier knows for certain that the project is theirs, then a sale on raw materials will be captured well in advanced of the project's commencement and stock piled for use when the project starts. Time can be saved, in that, instead of waiting for an order from a material supplier, the materials are already on hand.

The most commonly led DB team right now is the Contractor led team. However, the original lead for the DB team was the Architect. Going back to Michelangelo, or even Frank Lloyd Wright, these were Architects that built what they designed. Through the centuries, and by this profession's own idiosyncrasies, Architects have lost the status of the "Master Builder" that was once owned by the Architect. At one time the American Institute of Architects (AIA) had an ethical prohibition on this very role that was once the heritage and legacy of those who came before us. The Master Builder. I personally like this method, as an Architect experienced in leading DB teams, I know how beneficial it is to the project, and once again the Architect becomes the Master Builder. What a way to step back into history. Intrinsically the Architect is crossed-trained in many disciplines, which makes the Architect the perfect DB team leader.

The difference is that of perspective. The Architect is called to focus on society first, while the Contractor, who is a business first, focuses on cost primarily. That is not to say that is wrong; that's just the way it is. I have worked with many VERY qualified and competent Contractors/Builders in my career, that I have implicit trust, but they do tend to see the world in numbers. The Architect tends to see the world in different colors and textures. It is not a matter of having a "correct answer" but having an "acceptable solution". There are many ways to accomplish what the Architect does, not just one way. That however may not be the way some Architects portray themselves, but that is the way life is. No one person has all the answers or is capable of doing everything by themselves.

Controlling Costs through the Services Provided

All projects have a constraint, often called a budget; so it often requires reductions in costs to maintain certain budgetary goals. One way these cost controls occur is by reducing the scope of services. This however requires that these services be picked up by some other method; otherwise the project will suffer deficiencies that may be detrimental to the project as a whole. One way to reduce these costs is by limiting the services provided. When project cost constraints exist, reductions in design fees can be realized by limiting design services. These reductions come with a cost. The buyer must now be able to offset the loss of that expertise. Failure to make such compensation may cost dearly if a large issue rears its ugly head, which in my experience is inevitable. Many times some of these services can be provided in an "on call" manner, or as an added or hourly charge to the Architect's scope of work. This still maintains access to the required expertise. However, it has the potential of lowering costs if no major events come up. This still leaves the buyer in a risk position, but that may be a risk that the buyer is willing to maintain. The decision to reduce services should be made in light of the selected Architect's skill set and the entity that represents the owner's interest as these two entities must balance each other with respect to these expertise. The most basic question one must ask is, "What is the skill set needed for this project?"

To begin, design services are generally produced in phases and all these phases must have some one capable of taking up the critical issues whether it comes from the Architect or owner/client. These phases are:

  • Site Selection
  • Site/Master Planning
  • Programming
  • Preliminary Design
  • Design Development
  • Construction Documents
  • Bidding Services
  • Construction Administration
  • Project Closeout

Now we will briefly describe each of these phases.

  1. Site Selection:
    • This is an analysis of the parcel of land for design considerations (views, topography, access, etc.), location (access to transportation, traffic conditions, impact on neighborhood), use (deed restriction, zoning and zoning stipulations, maximum building size, etc.), and existing conditions (boundary survey, environmental impacts, soils conditions, etc.), open space requirements (land that cannot be built upon - usually by jurisdiction edict).
  2. Site/Master Planning:
    • Develops the overall plan for the parcel, making zones to separate major uses, circulation (pedestrian and vehicular), parking, landscaping, and site or community amenities.
  3. Programming:
    • This is the analysis of the site and building's requirements, such as what size, what spaces and their relationships, what construction methods, project budget, what incentives are to be exploited (tax, energy, sustainability, accessibility), what look is desired for the building, what amenities, building/site security,
  4. Preliminary Design:
    • This transforms the programming data into a design. This step usually includes site plan(s), floor plan(s), exterior elevations, maybe building and wall sections, and possibly outline specifications. Often times the jurisdiction will require approval of this design. Community Associations (Homeowner's or other) that will require approval of the design should be reviewed at this time to avoid time delays due to re-work on the design later.
  5. Design Development:
    • Refines the preliminary design, introduces initial engineering
  6. Construction Documents:
    • Completes the design with final engineering, obtaining permits and jurisdictional approvals
  7. Bidding Services:
    • In "conventional" delivery this would be where bids are taken and assessed for completeness and qualifications, with the conclusion being award of contract to a winning bidder.
  8. Construction Administration:
    • In a "conventional" delivery this is where the Architect would offer observations during construction, review of payment applications from the contractor, response to field inquiries, issue clarification sketches, issue owner directed changes, review of shop drawings, determination on substitutions, and possible review and negotiation of change orders, prepare punch list of final items for contractor, and determination of substantial completion.
  9. Project Closeout:
    • Review contractor submitted "as-built" drawings, review special inspection reports, review commission reports, review warranty / guarantee manuals submitted by contractor.

Expectations the Client/Owner should have

I could not conclude this Part II without including something on this topic.  This is probably the most important section of this series.  What should expectation be?  What is reasonable or unreasonable?  Failed expectations lead to litigation, and all other messes when a project goes less than expected and at that point only the Lawyers win.  When we go to the grocery store and buy food, everyone knows the expectation.  It should not be spoiled, and it should be edible.  When we go to the gas station and fill up our tanks, we expect to receive something to make our vehicle run.  However when we talk about building a building, it is a lot more obscure.  So let us try to find out what are appropriate expectations.

First, let me say that, when building, there is no such thing as a "perfect" project.  There will always be something that was unexpected, no matter what.  It is always hoped that those unexpected issues are just minor, but sometimes they are not.  For example, my brother and his wife had a house that was about 30 years old.  One night, the soil in the front of the house gave way.  That was a hole in the ground that was enormous, it run completely under the house.  Upon investigation, the Soils Engineer that was hired said that back when the subdivision was built, that land was originally a ranch.  It appeared that where their house was built directly over some composting area, and the organic deposits were never removed properly, leaving all that organic material to decompose under the house.  It took 30 years, but the truth came out.  In another project, the jurisdiction had made comments during preliminary site planning, that the development across the street from a project was installing a main sewer line and our project could tap in, with a re-payment agreement and other arrangements.  When the project was constructed, the developer chose to reduce costs by not installing that entire sewer line, leaving our project in a bind, because we did not have the funds available in our budget to extend that line the required 750 feet. Even with government blessing, nothing is ever certain.  So much for my political soap box, time to move on.

All projects MUST include a contingency account that can alleviate these unforeseen surprises.  Just because it is a "surprise" it does not mean that someone made a mistake or was negligent.  It is not uncommon for one jurisdictional representative to make a commitment on a project, just to have another absolve the agreement.  If you think I am wrong, try calling the IRS.  They even tell you that any advice given on the help line is not guaranteed.  So why do they even offer such a service if the people they have on staff are not competent enough to give you the correct answer?  I guess that will have to be left for another time.  This is one of the failures for the conventional delivery system.  The design team can only design around known conditions, and the builder will only build what is on the plans.  A gray area is created between them, and the owner/client is the one caught in the quagmire.  Other delivery systems can eliminate this potential problem by requiring a complete turnkey project to the owner/client.  However these delivery systems may cost a little more to cover such risks.  Never forget the basic principle previously discussed, "there is no such thing as a free lunch."  Some one has to bear that risk, and that is the party that will reap the benefits from that risk.

If the client/owner chooses to use a CM or PM, and then reduce design fees by not including the biding phase, construction administration phase, and close out phase, the CM or PM will have to provide those services.  In order for a project to be successful and go as smoothly as possible, all the services MUST be provided by someone.  If the client chooses to utilize a real estate specialist for site selection, then that entity should be able to provide all the data required or there may be delay in the project while waiting for the missing data to be created.  Just recently, I had the real estate department for a big corporation buy an additional parcel of land for a building expansion on a shopping center, and that purchased parcel had a blanket easement.  This makes the land virtually un-buildable legally, and it cost the client tens of thousands of dollars to move utilities so the expansion could be built as intended, and then the client had to record a new easement for those utilities as they were located.

As a client, you must come to the conclusion that there is a high probability for these events, and the best way to resolve such an instance is best made through teamwork and cooperation of all parties.  If you as a client do not want to get involved with resolution of such matters, then the alternative solution is to pay a little more for the DB team to turn the completed project to you for a fixed cost.  Sure it will cost a little more, but it does eliminate any of your time, as the client, from being spent on these matters.  Many of these issues are magnified when remodeling an existing building, because no matter how much work is placed upfront in determining what is there, nothing is ever known for sure, until the walls are opened up.

In the next part we will discuss what skill set(s) should your Architect have for your project.

© 2009 Dan Demland


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