Author: Brinn Miracle
In the next installment on understanding the role of an architect, we investigate what is included in the construction documents phase of work. We recommend starting with the first installment to get the best understanding of the whole design process. This series aims to explain all the steps of the design process in order to understand how architects add value to projects.
Construction Documents – The Basics
The process of design is often difficult to dissect and explain because each step is dependent upon all other steps in order to ensure a successful project. Design is often thought of as a continuum rather than a series of individual steps. Design, therefore, cannot be considered in a vacuum, and many parts of the design process tend to blur together. Construction documents is part of the design process that is often lumped together with materials specifications and the bidding process for the sake of simple conversation. However, specifying materials, creating a set of construction ready drawings and getting these two items priced accurately are all unique components to design. The creation of a set of construction drawings is both highly detailed and highly important, as these drawings are considered a pivotal component in executing a construction contract and getting a project built. Construction documents in a traditional sense of the term refers to the set of drawings that an architect or draftsman creates which shows the final decisions made from the steps of programming, site design, schematic design, and design development. The drawings will show things like the floor plan, exterior and interior elevations, and plenty of details showing exactly how the building should be put together. Construction documents employ the use of both graphic illustrations and technically composed sentences or phrases to convey the intention for construction. It is this set of drawings that provides a contractor or builder a guide as to how to build the project at hand. It is also the set of documents used to create final project pricing and becomes the authority on what will or will not be included in the final built product.
Construction Documents – Digging Deeper
Creating an accurate set of construction documents is of the utmost importance, as the drawings will become the authority on all future matters that arise during construction. If there is ever a question as to what materials go where, the construction documents will be referenced. Architects, designers and draftsmen must ensure that every component in their building corresponds correctly to all other components to avoid potential conflict in the field. For example, if a client requests a change be made to the location of an exterior door, the architect must verify that all drawings have been updated to reflect this change. The floor plan would be adjusted to show the door’s new location, while both interior and exterior elevations would also be adjusted to show where the door moved to. The door’s new location may create other conflicts, such as interfering with adjacent windows or requiring alteration of the roof above to provide an exterior porch or covered entry. A seemingly ‘simple change’ in design leads to a host of necessary alterations in the construction documents, and it is very important for the architect to coordinate all design elements for accuracy. This is one reason why it is important for clients to understand that changes made after approving a design development scheme can result in a multitude of time-consuming alterations in the construction documents. It is much easier to make changes during the schematic and design development phases than in the middle or end of the construction document phase. It is important to discuss how changes made late in the process will affect the designer’s fee well before arriving at the situation.
Accuracy of construction documents is highly important to the project’s success because it allows for contractors and quantity estimators to quote fair and accurate prices. A set of construction documents that is drawn neatly, clearly and correctly with an appropriate amount of details (graphic or written) assures the estimators that their prices are accurate. Poorly drawn, incomplete, or ambiguous drawing sets will cause estimators to include extra padding in their prices since they may not be certain of the efforts necessary to construct a detail as drawn, or are not confident in the drawing’s accuracy. Inflated quotes are often the result of drawings which cannot be easily interpreted and planned from. In addition to accurate pricing, a complete and accurate set of construction documents allows for faster and more efficient construction, which saves the client time and money and allows all parties to remain profitable. If a set of construction documents is errant, or ambiguous, valuable time must be spent answering questions and providing additional drawings to clarify the designer’s intent. While it is normal to have a few Requests for Information (“RFI” – contractors will ask questions when they are unclear about something in the documents), a host of RFIs would indicate that additional time should be spent in the creation of construction documents.
Next month we will take a look at Materials and Specifications and its role in the design process. 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