What to expect when you're expecting an Architect to...
What is the point of an Architect? Do you need one? What are the phases of a project? Can the Architect just provide me drawings? The relationship between the Architect and the Client is broken into phases. The phasing changes depend on the product delivery method. The methods are:
1. DBB- Design, Bid, Build
2. CMAR- Construction Management At Risk
3. DB- Design Build
4. Integrated Project Delivery
For this discussion, let’s assume we are going to use the CMAR method, although DB is still the most popular method. With this in mind, we have the following phases:
2. Contractor Selection
3. Schematic Design
4. Design Development
5. Construction Management
Let’s begin with Programming. This is the phase where the Owner must organize and describe to the Architect their needs and their desires. These can start as a general description but eventually, they must become very detailed to assure the Owner will get the results they want. These descriptions may start as describing all of the desired spaces. They will then develop into more specific plans, including the size, purpose and location of those spaces. When completed, the program is a written list of all spaces, what those spaces are used for, and the number of people or machines that will be in the space. The Program will also identify any priorities and constraints of the project. To gather all of this information, the Architect will typically like to hold a staff meeting to get everyone’s input. Of course, the Owner has the final say but if done as a group of people, all of the desired spaces are covered. The Architect will help you with this and help develop the format of the program. With a developed program, one can more accurately make cost estimations. Typically, an Architect will require that you sign a programming completion document. The reason for this, is to prevent excessive changes to design after costs are established.
Contractor Selection is the next step. The Owner may already have a Contractor they would like to use, if not, the Architect can assist in selection. If the Architect is helping with Contractor selection it is common to invite three Contractors to bid the project so the client will be comfortable with their selection. Most general Contractors of any size will have documents concerning their experience, lists of projects, and many references. In the event that the Contractor is already chosen, this phase cannot be skipped because in this phase the contract and all terms are lined out between the Owner and the Contractor.
Schematic Design is when the Architect really starts to “put the pencil to the paper.” The project goes from compiled ideas to the first lines on paper. During the schematic design phase, your Architect will expect you to study their drawings and for you to voice opinions on the planning. Of course, not everyone can read plans so your Architect should meet with you regularly, if necessary, to review the design as it is developing. If there are details you are uneasy about, voice your opinion. It is much easier to make changes now rather than later. Once again, a phase close-out document may be signed here. This is to prevent large changes that would affect the Architect’s fee and the cost of the project. It is possible, that the Contractor could begin construction in this phase.
Design Development is the point in the design process where the Owner must make task making decisions. They must decide on the types of windows, doors, interiors, and finishes that will be used. This does not mean the specific color or pattern; it means the materials they will use to design the structure and to give an updated cost estimate. The Architect will assist the Owner with this by creating lists of products that require decisions. Then, they will assist the Owner with the decisions. There are many choices to sort through. This is fun and exciting, but it is sometimes difficult to land on a decision. There are many benefits to using an Architect, but this process will always prove the necessity of hiring an Architect. All of these decisions must be made before the Architect can move on to Construction Documents. At the same time, the Owner is making these decisions, the Architect is beginning to converse with his/her consulting engineers about spaces needed and their equipment requirements, such as duct placement, boiler room locations and size, utility entrances into the building, and more. The Architect will also be developing the site plan to properly relate to the design. This phase is once again finished when a phase close-out document is signed. This phase, after programming, is the most important phase to have final decisions on because this phase moves into the final drawing phase. It is likely that the Contractor has begun construction in this phase, if not already begun in Schematic Design.
Construction Documents are the part of project that most people think of when they think of an Architect working. This is the point in time when the final drawings start to materialize. This is a big load on the Architect. They are not only drawing the final building layout, they are also the coordinator of the structural engineer, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, and the civil engineer. This is the phase that requires the most time and thought. Many hours are involved. The Architect is also writing specifications. This is the written description of materials and equipment, describing functionality, and quality. Through-out this process, the Owner/ Architect has had the general Contractor advising and cost estimating the project. This is vital to keeping the project on budget. With the completion of this phase, the Contractor should have the necessary documents to complete construction. Although, you will see in this next phase description that there is still need for the Architect.
Finally, the day has arrived, and the dirt is being dug. This is very exciting for everyone involved. The Contractor is making lots of progress; the Architect and Owner are continuing to make material, color, and texture selections. The Architect is also making periodic inspections of the construction for compliance with the construction documents. The Owner must have the final color, and equipment selected very early in this phase. Any issue or questions the Owner has during this phase should be directed to the Architects. The Contractor will provide periodic construction progress meetings, include the Owner and Architect to facilitate a smooth construction process, answer any questions, and review scheduling. The Architect will also be completing shop drawings through-out this final phase. Shop drawings address specifications that the Contractor needs approval from the Architect on. As the project nears completion, the Owner needs to be available for a final walk-thru. It is imperative the walk-thru happens because a list of uncompleted or unacceptable items is generated and corrected. At the time, a second walk-thru is needed to review the items listed upon their completion. After completion of items listed, all items completed receive a certificate of substantial completion. This generally triggers the Contractor’s agreement to warrant the building of defects for one year.
Congratulations! You are now ready to move in.
Written by Merrill K. Gordon, AIA