I have encountered a many clients who would ask me to hand over approved and construction drawings to them when we are through with the administrative aspects of a construction project. Some never come back to me for any input during construction. As a prospective home owner, especially if it relates to a small project of a single house or dwelling, this always seems to be the preferred option as a means of saving on consultancy fees.
I always discourage and advise my clients, who care to listen, against this practise. Retaining an architect during the construction phase of the project is not only the standard or expectation when you are hiring an architect for your project, it is the phase where you need the architect the most. There is a long list of reasons for this long lists of reasons, but for now I’ll simply say don’t let go of the person who knows the design and the documents best if you care about the outcome.
There have been several people I’ve spoken with in the past who didn’t even know architects offered construction supervision (technically called contract administration) as a service. This is true with most residential projects. Sadly some clients elect intentionally not to have the architect have any involvement during construction (other than call with problems). It is generally related to the perception of saving money.
Here is my list of myths I’ve collected with respect to this important service.
- The contractor or foreman will work it out, it’s their job – Simply put they just want to build it, not figure it out or design it. I have found that contractors prefer when decisions have been made and documented. Then they don’t have to chase their customer/clients for decisions. The best thing you can do for your contractor is to give them the information. This cannot always be contained on the documents since the set of drawings would never end. Why not give your contractor the ‘author’ by granting them access to your architect for questions and collaboration? This will actually save you money that you don’t know you’re spending.
- Contractors or foremen don’t want architects on the job site – All good contractors that I’ve worked with are glad to have me around and call me often with questions. It’s a collaborative effort. They respect me and I respect them. Construction brings changes at times. Where should they go to discuss the ramification of a change? Are you capable of knowing this? Most people are not.
- They should be able to figure it out from the drawings – Yes they are experienced enough and intelligent enough but drawings are interpretive and they often need confirmation from the author to be sure they are understanding complex aspects before money is spent. The architect can be their best advocate and make their life easier and in turn save them money. The architect looks ahead at issues of coordination and can present or discuss them early in the process to avoid costly oversights.
- The client is paying twice if the architect and contractor are both there – The architect is the designer, the contractor is the builder. There is no overlap, just coordination and collaboration. That is always money well spent.
- The owner will be there to oversee the construction – It may end up ‘looking’ like the drawings. However, if you’re paying for a “design”, how will you know you got the design if the designer is absent? Are you really capable of making this assessment? Do you want it to just “look” like the design or “be” the design you paid for in the first place? You didn’t go through this process to get something like what you worked to design, you want it to be the design.
- Contractors always read the drawings – Good contractors study the drawings, true. However, the way they read drawings varies. Details are frequently overlooked at the early phases; drawings are frequently misinterpreted. Items are often missed. We’re all human, but we are there to be sure they read the drawings.
- The contractor’s opinion of equivalent is the same as the architect’s if not better – This can vary based on the experience and interest a builder has in keeping up to date on products and building performance science. However, it goes back to the architect as the author. They know the history and reason behind the decisions. Making a substitution needs to be done in context and with knowledge of what the implications of a substitution really are. The motivation for the substitution must be questioned. I’ve shown up on job sites after the owner was talked into “making a change” to save money only to find they’ve made a huge mistake. Is the change in the best interest of the owner, or does it simply make the contractor’s life easier?
- The owner can build this on their own and be their own contractor – Unless the Owner has construction experience, forget it. It always ends up in a big mess and without the anticipated savings.
I believe in collaboration, I believe in a team approach. Don’t kick out a team member midway through the game. This is truly not the way to save money or time. Tell your architect what the budget is and pay them to work with you and your contractor to hit it.