Who is right — the Architect, or the Contractor?

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August 27, 2020
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Both are professionals that want to do a good job for their clients.

When issues arise during a construction project people start pointing fingers.

Architects are hired to create architectural designs for a client’s project and turns those designs into blueprints. In most situations, the blueprints are then handed off to a contractor who usually handles the permitting fees and pulls the permit after the plans are approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction.

The permitting process is that great divider or gulf that separates the completion of the plans and the project’s construction. I wrote in detail on the permitting process and the pitfalls and hurdles that come along with the current system in place to vet the plans in conformance to applicable building codes.

Courtship: Dating 101

Once the Contractor is retained to build the project, he or she will review the plans to see if any concerns may be resolved before construction. Frequently, the Contractor will reach out to the Architect and request minor revisions or modifications that may reduce the construction cost and/or help reduce the timeline to complete by tailoring the plans to fit the Contractor’s best use of their subcontractors and align with their knowledge base.

These changes may have cost implications for the Architect due to the design time to make the modifications. The Contractor may cover the cost to avoid billing the Client for changes they requested because the changes will help their bottom line.

This is the time just before the construction begins where everyone is happy; “The honeymoon phase”. The Client is delighted to have movement on their project and see it materialize before their eyes. The Architect is pleased to see the fruits of their labor take physical form, and the Contractor is happy to start scheduling their crews to begin building.

Other entities surrounding this project are happy as well that should be noted: The Banker, The City/ County services department, water, sewer and power companies, the site work company, concrete companies, framers, HVAC installers, roofing, and an abundance of material suppliers, etc.

Shotgun Wedding!

Is this Architect/ Contractor a match made in Heaven or a forced union based on the lowest fee submitted to win the project? This is the first concern where issues can derail this union. Cheaper is never a good choice when it comes to selecting a contractor to build your office building, personal home, or place of worship.

It is all too enticing to move forward with a company that promotes itself to be the lowest cost to the Client or brings a list of testimonials from past clients to ensure the project is in good hands. These companies are often smaller in size and can only handle a few projects effectively. Once their resources have been stretched to capacity, quality begins to be compromised.

When selecting the most qualified Contractor, the best rule is to allow at least three companies to submit bids on the plans. Usually, there will be a low, mid, and high amount bidder. The costs’ variance can be as high as 30% but do not fret because on average, the estimated cost to build something that has never been built before in an identical manner will have a wide cost range.

The American Society of Professional Estimators states that “at best, the most accurate estimation you can receive on a construction budget is 20%”. Therefore, if you receive bids that range from $100,000 to $140,000. That is a lot to consider based on the financial capacity of the Owner. But do not fall for the flowers and sweet talkin’ from the lowest bidder. They may be the one-nite stand that will leave the moment an issue arises on-site and never be heard from again.

To make the best decision in selecting the Architect and the Contractor, you must be selective, wise, and patient.

architecture blueprints


But Whom shall I Believe?

The Architect is your advocate that has experience in the design and construction process to guide the Client through this adventure. The Contractor can also be on your side, but they are usually brought into this arranged marriage as a third party, bringing another dynamic. Can they be trusted? Of course, they can but taking council from your advocate should always be internalized.

Architects offer services beyond the permitting phase of a project that is commonly called Construction Administration. This is a bridge into the construction phase that can provide oversight of the project’s construction and provide reports back to the Client.

Also, the Architect can review and approve the Contractors invoices for payment to ensure that the amount of work completed to date is commensurate with the amount of money that this being requested.

Towards the end of the project, the Architect will walk the job site with the Contractor and provide a list of items to be completed, called a Punch List, prior the Contractor billing for the remaining amount of money under their contract for construction.

Issues may arise when the Contractor claims that more money will be required to complete the project due to issues with the plans. This is a common strategy that some contractors use when they need to charge more for a project that has not been budgeted appropriately or a subcontractor bills a higher amount than their original bid submitted to the Contractor. This money trail down the rabbit hole can lead to distrust, broken relationships, and extended timelines when persons are not on the same page.

This should not be a client issue, but inevitably it makes its way up to the Client. Sometimes, the Architect becomes the scapegoat because he or she is not intimately involved in this Contractor and internal subcontractor issues. Now the blame game has begun, and the Client is in the middle helplessly watching a battle between two sides as if one is watching a tennis match. There is no side judge to monitor the game being played according to the rules, so how can the Client make the best judgment ruling over a game they know little?

Owners of larger projects hire an Owner’s representative group to be that side judge and to rule what’s best for the Client. They, therefore in effect, are the clients one and only advocate with some authority to execute judgments. On smaller projects where an Owner’s representative would not be financially viable, the ruling falls back to the Client without any support.

Happily Ever After?

All is well that ends well! No matter who wins the disagreements between the Architect and the Contractor, the project will ultimately be completed. Both parties want to serve this “shared” Client to the best of their abilities despite their differences. There is always compromise when cooler heads prevail and realize that everyone can share some responsibility and credit. The Architect can point at a building and say, “I designed this building! I made this possible!”. The Contractor can say, “I designed this building! I made this possible!”. Both are right, and both are inevitably tethered together until the end of time. THE END!