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Architecture and Design: Construction Administration 101

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For our final installment of the Architecture and Design 101 series, we will examine the construction administration phase of the design process. If you missed the past few articles, be sure to start with the first installment to get the best understanding of the role of an architect. This article series aims to explain all the steps in a design project in order to understand why architects are essential to ensuring a project’s success.

Construction Administration – The Basics

After the design has been finalized, documented and handed off to the winning contractor, construction commences. The client forms a contractual relationship with the contractor, and the architect serves as an ‘overseer’ of the project to ensure that it is built according to the design documents. The architect conducts periodic site visits to keep track of the project’s progression, and answers any questions that may arise during construction. Additionally, the architect will review any samples that are turned in by the contractor to ensure that the materials and specifications are upheld. If any changes are needed, the architect provides documentation which goes into the project records. The architect approves applications for payments from the contractor throughout the duration of construction, based on the amount of work completed as observed during site visits.

Construction Administration – Digging Deeper

During construction administration, the bulk of the work shifts from the architect’s shoulders to the contractor’s. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the architect’s role becomes that of an observer and record keeper more than a designer or draftsman. A schedule of regular site visits is established for the architect to become familiar with the progress of the project. For many jobs, there may be a weekly walk-through of the progress with additional visits scheduled around particularly important phases of construction. An example would be viewing the project before the wall studs are enclosed on both sides with gypsum board to ensure any in-wall piping or wiring is present and conforms to the documents provided for the project.

If at any time the contractor has a question about interpretation of the drawings or documents, a formal Request For Information (RFI) is submitted to the architect. The architect may get questions for additional dimensions, clarification on a drawing notation, or direction on how to resolve a specific problem. The architect may respond to such requests with written paragraphs explaining the answer, or they may choose to supplement the original document set with a sketch or digital drawing. If an RFI requires there to be a change that affects the project timeline or overall budget, the architect will have the owner approve or deny the change as a ‘change order’.

In all construction projects, there are unknowns and variables that can affect the final outcome of the project. One example is if a particular product is discontinued before it could be ordered. In cases like these, the architect can act as a valuable resource, helping the owner navigate through selecting a new product, or approving a choice made by the contractor. In most cases, the architect serves as the mediator between the client and contractor in the case of a disagreement.

The contractor submits samples to the architect for review, which then serve as a standard for the installed version of that product. For example, the contractor may be required by the specifications to submit at least 3 samples of back splash tile for review. This submittal process helps ensure that the quality standard set forth in the project is upheld and prevents defective products from being ordered in bulk only to be returned. Another submission from the contractor to the architect is called shop drawings. These are drawings prepared by sub contractors of specific trades such as carpenters. As an example, cabinets are often designated as a number of ‘equally sized doors’ in the architect drawings. This vague instruction allows the subcontractor to go to the site while it is being built and field measure the opening in which their millwork will have to fit. They then prepare drawings which the architect reviews for design intent and approves for construction.

When the project is almost complete, the contractor will provide a list of items that needs to be addressed before the job is considered finished. This ‘punch list’ of items is inspected by the architect and final payment to the contractor depends on satisfactory completion of the included items. Typically, the punch list consists of minor touch ups on items like paint or cabinetry or final installation of any missing items like hardware or appliances. If the client has a need, they can often move into their new building before the final punch list is corrected.

This concludes our series. Hopefully this will serve as a starting point for conversations with an architect or designer on your next project. Be sure to check out the growing talent pool that Archability provides. Always remember to ask lots of questions when working with a design professional. No question is out of bounds when your goal is success.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog, www.architangent.com/blog

January 25, 2013

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