What Do Architects Do

In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I address the most common question I’ve heard over the years from potential residential clients- “What? Me, hire an architect?” In my experience what they’re actually asking is;

“Can I afford an architect, aren’t they expensive?”

“Can’t I just by a builder house or buy plans from a book and still end up with what I want?”

“Isn’t an architect just going to design what they want and ignore me?”

These questions weigh heavily on clients, in reality; they couldn’t be further from the truth. However, hiring the services of an architect is not for everyone. Not everyone is building a custom home or taking on a significant renovation/addition. If you are considering/making such an investment, why not hire an architect to assist you in getting what you want? If you want your home to reflect who you are and how you live, hiring an architect is something you cannot afford not to do.

2013-09-16_blog_image_hiring an architect part 5 a


People often don’t think about the cost of a realtor or contractor. Engaging their services costs thousands of dollars. However, you realize the value that they bring to your home and I doubt you would attempt to buy/sell or build your own home without them. Architects should be viewed in the same light. We aren’t as expensive as you might think, our fees are as flexible as the type of project you have in mind. Your home is in all likelihood the most expensive investment you’ve made/will make. Wouldn’t you want to enhance your return by hiring an architect to help guide you through the design and construction process?

Hiring me an architect is not something reserved for the wealthy. The majority of my work is working with ‘every-day people’ with moderate budgets- much like me. No matter the scale of the project, be it a garage addition or a new million dollar custom home, architects offer services for a variety of budgets and project types. An architect’s value is problem solving, addressing clients’ needs/wishes/budget/schedule, and complying with local building and zoning codes- all while designing an aesthetically pleasing efficient home. I help clients design/discover a home that works for them and fits their individuality and preferences. The value of our services is occasionally related directly to cost savings. However, typically our value is in questioning, planning, clarification, detailing, and ‘solidifying’ numerous moving ‘parts’ into a cohesive design- which ultimately results in cost savings to the client. This in turn enhances our affordability.

Builder Mitten

You could buy a builder house or build a house from a ‘plan book’ or on-line source. Going that route will allow you to build someone’s house, it won’t be your house, but it will be a house. These houses and plans are typically designed for what the ‘masses’ want or what some market analysis determines they want. Either way, it’s not going to be a home tailored to how you live. You’ll be able to choose paint colors, flooring options, fireplace surround, etc. However, for the most part you’ll be locked-in to a floor plan that appeals to mass buyers. If that’s all you want in a home, than this may appeal to you. The best option is a home designed specifically for you. This home will be vastly different than one designed for someone else. I like to equate it as a builder/’plan book’ home fits you like a mitten while an architect designed home fits like a glove.

Architect Glove

When it comes to designing your house, an architect will have strong preferences and recommendations. However, ultimately it will be up to you to make decisions. An architect will not force a design on you which you don’t want; if they do try, than you didn’t follow this series about ‘Hiring an Architect.’ It goes without saying (typing isn’t saying, is it?), we will make recommendations; present differing options, and offer our professional opinion- which is why you hire us. However, ultimately you make the decisions- we work for you. Working with an architect will allow you to make well informed decisions. Architects will listen to your needs/wants and in the end you’ll have the home you wanted because your architect was able to assist you in bridging the gap between your vision and reality. You’ll end up with a home that fits you and your lifestyle.

2013-05-20_blog_image_disconnect k

Armed with this series, a potential residential client should feel a bit more at ease about hiring and working with an architect. If you still have reservations or questions fell free to comment below or send me and email.

All of the previous posts in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series can be found here:

Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search

Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself

Hiring an Architect: Part 3- Ask the Architect

Hiring an Architect: Part 4- A is for ‘Architect’

So the next time you find yourself asking “What? Me, hire an architect?” Be sure to answer with a resounding YES!


Design On,

** Another way to look at is that a builder house is like wearing a friend’s underwear, it’ll work, but it just feels icky!



In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I provide some general terms and definitions that a residential client should be familiar with when involved with a construction project. I know, I know… I hear you asking “But Keith, what happened to the funny sarcastic posts? I mean this series seems pretty serious.” Well, rest assured the sarcastic humor shall return. Read the post WWJD and other architectural abbreviations for some not-so-serious abbreviations and associated meanings. However, once and a while I feel the need to write posts that help in educating clients what is we architects do and what it’s like working with us.

Keep in mind, these definitions/terms are not all encompassing. However, they do give you a good foundation (*pun inserted*) of terms you should be familiar with. When in doubt or you don’t understand a term, phrase, definition, etc., ask your architect for clarification.

A sum of money set aside in the construction contract for items which have not been selected and specified in the construction contract/construction documents. The contractor will be responsible for purchasing these items when they are chosen by the client. If the client selects an item which costs less than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive a credit equal to the difference in cost. Similarly, if the client selects an item which costs more than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive an extra charge equal to the difference in cost.

Approved Equal
Material, equipment, or method proposed by the contractor and approved by the architect for incorporation in or use in the work as equivalent in essential attributes to the material, equipment, or method specified in the contract document.

A designation reserved, usually by law, for a person or organization professionally qualified and duly licensed to perform architectural services.

Building Codes
Ordinances governing the manner in which a structure may be constructed or modified. Regulations, ordinances or statutory requirements of a government unit relating to building construction and occupancy, generally adopted and administered for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare.

Builders Risk Insurance
A type of property insurance which indemnifies against damage to buildings while they are under construction. It is usually bought by the owner of the building but the general contractor constructing the building may buy it if it is required as a condition of the contract. If the project involves renovations or additions to an existing building, the owner’s existing property insurance may cover the work under construction, obviating the need for builder’s risk insurance. However, in the case of new buildings under construction, the owner may not have an existing policy that provides coverage.

Certificate of Occupancy
Typically referred to as a ‘”CO.” This certificate is issued by the local municipality and is required before anyone can occupy and live within a home. It is issued only after the local municipality has made all inspections and all monies and fees have been paid.

Change Order
An amendment to the construction contract signed by the owner, architect, and contractor that authorizes a change in the work or an adjustment in the contract sum or the contract time or both.

2013-09-04_blog_image_hiring an architect part 4 a

Construction Administration
In this phase, your architect observes the pace and quality of construction. As your agent, your architect looks out for your interests, keeping you informed of the project’s progress and overseeing any changes or problems that may arise. Construction phase services are helpful in keeping your project on track and within budget.

Construction Budget
The sum established by the owner as available for actual construction of the project, including contingencies for bidding to contractors and for changes during construction.

Construction Contract
A legal document which specifies the what-when-where-how-how much and by whom in a construction project. A good construction contract will include:

1. The contractor’s registration number.

2. A statement of work quality such as ‘Standard Practices of the Trades’ or ‘according to Manufacturers Specifications’.

3. A set Construction Documents/Drawings.

4. A construction timetable including starting and completion dates.

5. A set of Specifications.

6. A Fixed Price for the work, or a Time and Materials formula.

7. A Payment Schedule.

8. Any Allowances.

9. Clause(s) which outlines how any disputes will be resolved.

10. Written Warrantee(s).

11. Certificates of insurance (builders risk, general liability, workers compensation, etc.)

Construction Documents
Drawings and specifications created by an architect that set forth in detail requirements for the construction of the project.

2013-03-11_blog_image_pm tip 1b

A company licensed to perform certain types of construction activities. In most states, the general contractor’s license and some specialty contractor’s licenses do not require compliance with bonding, workmen’s compensation and similar regulations. Some of the specialty contractor licenses involve extensive training, testing and/or insurance requirements. There are various types of contractors:

General contractor– a contractor who enters into a contract with the owner of a project for the construction of the project and who takes full responsibility for its completion, although the contractor may enter into subcontracts with others for the performance of specific parts or phases of the project.

Remodeling contractor– a general contractor who specializes in remodeling work.

Specialty contractor– licensed to perform a specialty task e.g. electrical, septic/sewer, asbestos abatement.

Sub-contractor– a general or specialty contractor who works for another general contractor.

A method of project delivery in which the owner contracts directly with a single entity that is responsible for both design and construction services for a construction project.

Design Development
The architect prepares more detailed drawings and finalizes the design plans, showing correct sizes and shapes for rooms. Also included is an outline of the construction specifications, listing the major materials to be used.

5 DD

General Liability Insurance
Helps protect businesses in the event they are sued by customers or other third parties for injuries or damages.

Life Cycle Cost Analysis
The architect calculates expected future operating, maintenance, and replacement costs of desired designs and features to assist homeowners in developing a realistic design and budget estimate.

Payment Schedule
A pre-agreed upon schedule of payments to a contractor usually based upon the amount of work completed. Such a schedule may include a deposit prior to the start of work. There may also be a temporary ‘retainer/hold back’ (5-10% of the total cost of the job) at the end of the contract for correcting any small items which have not been completed or repaired.

Penalty Clause
A provision in a contract that provides for a reduction in the amount otherwise payable under a contract to a contractor as penalty for failure to meet deadlines or for failure of the project to meet contract specifications.

Percolation Test
Typically referred to as a ‘perc test.’ Tests that a soil engineer performs on earth to determine the feasibility of installing a leech field type sewer system on a lot. A test to determine if the soil on a proposed building lot is capable of absorbing the liquid affluent from a septic system.

A governmental municipal authorization to perform a building process such as; zoning/use permit, demolition permit, grading permit, septic permit, building permit, electrical permit, plumbing permit, etc.

The architect and homeowner discuss the goals, needs and function of the project, design expectations and available budget, pertinent building code and zoning regulations. The architect prepares a written statement setting forth design objectives, constraints, and criteria for a project, including special requirements and systems, and site requirements.


Project Budget
The sum established by the owner as available for the entire project, including the construction budget; land costs; costs of furniture, furnishings, and equipment; financing costs; compensation for professional services; cost of owner-furnished goods and services; contingency allowance; and similar established or estimated costs.

Punch List
A list prepared by the client or their authorized representative of items of work requiring immediate corrective or completion action by the contractor- a list of discrepancies that need to be corrected by the contractor.

Punch Out
To inspect and generate a punch list.

Schematic Design Phase
The architect consults with the owner to ascertain the requirements of the project and prepares schematic studies consisting of drawings and other documents illustrating the scale and relationships of the project components for approval by the owner. The architect also submits to the owner a preliminary estimate of construction cost based on current area, volume, or other unit costs.

Septic System
An on-site waste water treatment system. It usually has a septic tank which promotes the biological digestion of the waste, and a drain field which is designed to let the left over liquid soak into the ground. Septic systems and permits are usually sized by the number of bedrooms in a house.

A part of the construction documents contained in the project manual or included within the construction drawings consisting of written requirements for materials, equipment, construction systems, standards and workmanship.

Standard Practices of the Trade(s)
One of the more common basic and minimum construction standards. This is another way of saying that the work should be done in the way it is normally done by the average professional in the field.

Square Footage
Can be calculated as both gross and net square footage. No uniform standard for computing a residential square footage yet exists. Architects, builders and Realtors each measure square footage differently. Square footage is not always an indication of the livable space available in a structure. Clients are encouraged to ask for an explanation of which spaces were included in the square footage calculation and how it was calculated.

2013-09-04_blog_image_hiring an architect part 4 b

Substantial Completion
Refers to a stage of a construction or building project or a designated portion of the project that is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the construction contract documents, so that the owner may use or occupy the building project or designated portion thereof for the intended purpose, without undue interference.

Time and Materials Contract
A construction contract which specifies a price for different elements of the work such as cost per hour of labor, overhead, profit, etc. A contract which may not have a maximum price, or may state a ‘price not to exceed’.

In construction there are two general types of warranties. One is provided by the manufacturer of a product such as roofing material or an appliance. The second is a warranty for the labor. For example, a roofing contract may include a 20 year material warranty and a 5 year labor warranty. Many new homebuilders provide a one year warranty. Any major issue found during the first year should be communicated to the builder immediately.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance
A form of insurance that provides compensation medical care for employees who are injured in the course of employment, in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer for the tort of negligence.

2013-05-20_blog_image_disconnect b

As a bonus, download your own PDF definitions cheat sheet and insert into your project/idea book- or make paper airplanes, your call –> Working with an Architect

If you missed the previous posts in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, they can be found here:

Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search

Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself

Hiring an Architect: Part 3- Ask the Architect

Next up in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, Part 5- What? Me, Hire an architect? Stay tuned.


Design On,

** Go find yourself an architect and define your project, it will be worth it!

Part 1 of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series discussed how to go about finding and hiring an architect, you can catch up here Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search. Part 2 of the series provides questions, you as a residential client, should ask yourself prior to talking with an architect. I’m a firm believer in educated clients who are vested in their projects. I want my clients to ask questions and be an integral part of the design and construction process. I don’t want a client who tells me “I have an unlimited budget, just design me something that you think is good…oh, and I don’t want to be involved with the process.” I know, I know, this goes against the stereotypical belief of what an architect wants. Wait, what? Let me re-phrase, I’ll be more than happy to work on such a project, but I prefer an involved client who has ideas/beliefs about their project.

2013-08-21_blog_image_hiring an architect part 2 b

There are several things as a client you can/will do when it comes to working with an architect. The first thing you can do is ask yourself some questions in preparation for meeting with an architect. However, at this point, don’t get caught up in specifics, keep it fairly loose and general. After you’ve answered these questions, you will be better prepared to meet with an architect. To get you started, below are 20 questions and 1 bonus essay! Feel free to add your own as you see fit:

1. What is it about your current home that you like? What do you dislike?

2. What is most important to you in the home?

3. How long do you plan to be in the home?

4. Do you, or any frequent guests, have special accessibility needs?

5. How do you ‘live’ in your home- entertain a lot, work from home, hobby specific requirements (i.e. dark room, music, media room, etc.)

6. Who will reside in the house? Include ages.

7. Do you use your yard- If yes, how? If no, why not?

8. Why do you want to change your home/build a new home- are you expecting children, are children grown and leaving the home, do you need/want more or less space, have your needs changed, etc.

9. Will you use the new/renovated home differently than your current?

10. Are there features you wish to include in the new home?

2013-08-21_blog_image_hiring an architect part 2 a

11. What do you envision the renovation/addition/new home to look like, both inside and out- clip images from magazines and such that you find appealing and organize them in a binder.

12. How much time can you, or do you, want to be involved during the design and construction process?

13. Do you plan on doing any of the work yourselves?

14. How much can you afford to spend on the project? Be sure to consider both the Construction Budget vs. Project Budget

15. If your budget, quality of construction, and size of project are incompatible, will you:

a. Retain the budget and compromise on less important features and qualities.

b. Adjust the size and quality where they will have negligible impact and increase the budget slightly if required to avoid further compromise.

c. Build what we want regardless of what it costs.

d. Employ less expensive materials while retaining desired size of house.

e. Employ high quality materials but reduce the size of the house.

16. Are there strict time constraints to the schedule?

17. Are there any covenants, restrictions, or outside design review committee required for your property?

18. Have you worked with an architect before?

19. What is it that you think an architect does and how can they benefit your project?

20. What qualities are you looking for in an architect?

*BONUS* Imagine that your house is complete and a newspaper wants to feature your house in an upcoming article about architectural design. Typically the first paragraph gives an overall sense of the house; its general aesthetic, setting in the landscape, materials, key features, etc. Write that first paragraph.


2013-08-21_blog_image_hiring an architect part 2 c

This is not meant as an all-encompassing list, but rather questions to start thinking about and serve as a catalyst for in-depth discussions with your architect. I personally use a 30 page questionnaire that I ask clients to fill out. While it may seem like a lot of work, most clients like it because they start thinking and dreaming of things that haven’t previously crossed their minds. It also serves to enhance the fact that they are an integral part of the process.

You’ll notice specifics are kept to a minimum in the questioning. At this point, the goal is to inform the architect how you live, not the kind of house you want. If your answers and discussions with the architect are detailed and informative, you’ll end up with the house you want. The more detailed information you can provide, the easier it will be for you and your architect to address your needs and reach a solution that fits you and your lifestyle.

Part 3 of the series will discuss questions to ask your architect, stay tuned!


Design On,

** Sorry, no scantron to answer these questions.

So you want to hire an architect, who doesn’t right? But how should a residential client go about finding and hiring an architect? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Part one of a three part series discusses how a residential client can find and hire an architect. While the process for most commercial projects is similar, this series is aimed at the residential client who is most likely hiring an architect for the first time. Once you’ve selected your architect, you can have in-depth discussions pertaining to your project specifics and their process.

2013-08-15_blog_image_hiring an architect part 1 b

I’m assuming that as a client you’ve already determined the value that an architect can bring to your project- if not, be sure to read Architect’s Value? 60 to Contemplate. The good news is that you understand the importance of an architect and now you’re ready to find one suitable for your project. Where to start? There are many resources to assist you in finding an architect. The most readily available is to talk with friends and neighbors who have completed projects similar to yours. Online research is another great tool, your local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is a good resource for locating architects. You can go to the national AIA website and search for your local chapter. The local chapter web site should contain a list of local architects along with bios and their areas of expertise. It is worth noting that membership in the AIA is voluntary. Just being an AIA member does not guarantee that they are the best, or better than another, architect for your project. It’s also worth noting that one does not need to be an AIA member to be an architect. Additionally, numerous sites exist, such as Houzz, that allow you to view local architect’s work and obtain contact information. In addition, Houzz is a great site for you to start- if you haven’t already- collecting images that appeal to you and what you wish for in your own project. You can also search for ‘architects <insert your city here>’ on a search engine of your choice. Visit the architect’s web sites and view their portfolio of work. Using these three methods should yield enough information to compile a list of potential architects.

2013-08-15_blog_image_hiring an architect part 1 a

Now what- you’ve talked to friends and neighbors, viewed numerous websites, looked at online portfolios, and found architects whose work you like- is it over? Nope, you’ve got some more research to do. Selecting the right architect is very important. You’ll be dealing with the architect for several months if not longer. Trust is paramount between you and your architect. You need to have confidence, and yes a bit of faith, in your architect. Your research should have resulted in a list of architects you feel are appropriate for your project. I recommend interviewing the top three from your list. Ask lots of questions. Not sure what to ask? No worries, in Parts 2 and 3 I’ll give you some suggested questions to get the discussions started. Obtain a list of references from the potential architects and call them. I know, I know, nobody lists a bad reference. However, you should still call them… by call, I mean no email or letter, actually speak with the person. Ask them anything you feel necessary. For the final question, ask the following “If you were to do it over again, what would you change about the process?” The response should reveal whether or not the architect in question will be a good fit for you.

Having a discussion about architectural fees with the potential architects will serve as another gauge as to how well you can communicate with, and what the working relationship will be like. There are four basic ways architectural fees can be calculated- percentage of construction cost, hourly fee, fixed fee, or a hybrid of hourly and fixed fee. I won’t go into the specifics of each, perhaps a future post on the pros/cons of each. Your architect will describe their method(s) for determining fees and how/when you will be billed. As the client, you need to be honest with the architect about your budget for the project. In addition, you need to be aware of the difference between a Project Budget and a Construction Budget and be sure you’re both talking about the same budget. These discussions will be useful in determining if you and the architect will have a good working relationship and can have open honest communication.


Trust. I can’t state this enough, you need to trust your architect. You need to be comfortable in talking with them. You should be able to envision having meals with this person and inviting them to a party- architects love parties! You don’t have to be bff best friends with your architect; you do need to like them though. You need to have confidence in their integrity and skill set as an architect.

Armed with all your research, you can now select an architect for your project. If you read between the lines, it should be obvious that architectural fees shouldn’t be the deciding factor in your selection. You want an architect who has completed projects similar to yours, one who shares similar beliefs as you with regards to the project, and above all, one whom you trust. Have your architect forward a contract for your review. Ask the architect to clarify anything you don’t understand. Make sure all the fees, and what those fees cover, are clear. Be sure to understand what is not covered in the proposed fees and what may be constituted as an additional fee. While architectural services contracts for residential projects are typically straightforward, you always have the option of having a lawyer review your contract. When you’re satisfied with the contract, have come to an agreement on fees and schedule, sign the contract and return it to your architect… the fun’s about to begin!


Now that you’ve hired an architect for your project- what’s next in the process? Keep in mind, each architect will approach your project differently. This is how I work, and in general, most architects will adhere to a similar process. The typical design/construction process:

1. Programmingdeciding what to build

2. Schematic Designinitial sketches and ideas

2a. Construction Budget vs. Project Budget

2b. Preliminary Construction Cost Estimate (PCCE)

3. Design Development refining the design

4. Construction Documents- finalizing the working documents – (future post)

5. Construction Administrationconstruction phase of your project

Parts 2 and 3 of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series will be posted soon. These posts will provide you with suggested questions to get discussions started between you and the architect.


Wow! This is starting to sound like a long process… it can be, however, it is also extremely rewarding. Your architect is there to represent you, your project, and your best interests, all while making the process fun! Along the way your architect will have educated you and made it an enjoyable experience. In addition, they may not admit it, but your architect will have learned from you and your project as well. In the end you’ll have the home you wanted because your architect was able to assist you in bridging the gap between your vision and reality. You’ll end up with a home that fits you and your lifestyle.

So go find yourself an architect, it will be worth it!


Design On,

** You can always just contact me if you don’t want to search for an architect.

This is the second installment of a new series here on Architect’s Trace. As a public service to the AEC profession, we offer Project Management tips (PMt’s) based on our experiences. The basics of project management can be distilled into two ‘tasks’- scheduling and open communication. Master these and you’ll be well on your way to successfully managing projects and becoming a competent architect/ pm. If you missed the first post of the series, it can be found here: PMt No. 1- S.A.F.E.T.Y DANCE

There’s an old phrase I’m sure most of you have heard. The basic format is “Do you want the good news first or the bad news first?” It gives one an option on how to receive conflicting information. Do you want the bad news first and then good news to cheer you up? Do you want the good news first to ‘cut the edge’ of the bad news? At parties it morphs into horrid jokes such as:

Doctor: “I have some good news and I have some bad news.”

Patient: “What’s the good news?”

Doctor: “The good news is that the test show you have 24 hours to live.”

Patient: “That’s the good news? What’s the bad news?”

Doctor: “The bad news is that I forgot to call you yesterday!”


When it comes to the AEC profession, this format doesn’t apply so well. Clients expect the architect/ pm to give them good news. Good news is, well it’s good. Usually no big hooray from the client when it’s delivered, that’s what they want, and expect, to hear from the architect/ pm. Bad news is… well… it’s bad and most are uncomfortable addressing. However, to be a successful architect/ pm, you need to be comfortable with bad news. Construction is a complicated process and stuff will happen that’s bad. To provide your clients with the best service possible, you better channel your inner MJ and tell them Who’s Bad!

2013-04-02_blog_image_PMT 2 MJ


To be an effective architect/ pm and run successful projects, you need to be the bearer of bad news. This falls under open communication and ranks up there as a difficult technique to become comfortable with. However, mastering this will have a lasting impact on your client relations- does that sound dirty? Clients don’t recall much of the good news of a project. However, they do recall every bit of bad news and how it was handled. Don’t wait for someone else to inform the client of bad news. Phone the client, or better yet meet face to face- no email, no singing telegrams, no text messages, no twitter update, and no sky writing– and inform them of the issue.

Explain the how/why it happened, what it may impact- budget, schedule, etc. Most importantly, explain how it will be addressed and resolved. Clients understand (for the most part) that sh** happens. It’s how the architect/ pm deals with the sh** that matters. If you bring the issue to the client’s attention and explain how it will be resolved, your client’s going to know that you are actively managing the project and truly have their best interests in mind- which you must! However, what will the client think of you if they hear bad news from someone else or worse, there’s an attempt to ‘hide’ it from them? If you don’t know the answer to that, none of my PMt’s can help you.


2013-04-02_blog_image_PMT 2 conc


Continue to deliver the good news to the client, after all it’s good. Everyone loves hearing good news, but keep in mind that’s why they hired you, good news is expected. To endear yourself to your client, become adept with bad news and its’ delivery. Stay tuned, future posts will offer even more tried and tested PMt’s that you can implement on your projects… or ignore, your call. A revised good news/ bad news joke more apt of the AEC profession:

‘Seasoned’ Architect: “I have some good news and I have some bad news.”

Intern: “What’s the bad news?”

‘Seasoned’ Architect: “The concrete slab pour is wrong and it’s going to set the schedule back 38 weeks!”

Intern: “Oh crap, that sucketh. What could possibly be the good news?”

‘Seasoned’ Architect: “You need to ‘learn’ how to deal with bad news… text the client and let ‘em know… see you tomorrow!”



Design On,

** Shamon! I pulled these images of the intra-web thingy, If they’re copyrighted please inform me and I will remove. Shamon!

At least once a week I’ll receive a correspondence from a former colleague, contractor, Ivan Doroschuk (not really), consultant, random guy on the street, etc. asking me questions about managing a project. As a public service to the AEC profession, this is the inaugural post of a reoccurring series (at least the intent) of Project Management tips (PMt’s). The basics of project management can be distilled into two ‘tasks’- scheduling and open communication. Master these and you’ll be well on your way to successfully managing projects and becoming a competent project manager.

2013-03-11_blog_image_pm tip 1a

I was never ‘taught’ project management or became certified as a project manager- perhaps a later post as to why I don’t ‘buy-into’ that route of project management. My methods are based on trial-by-fire. These are based on my experiences and what works, or doesn’t work for me- feel free to implement them or discard them as you see fit. All the PMt’s in this series have been personally used by me at some point. My experience is based on nineteen (19) years of successfully managed projects ranging from single family reno/adds to high-rises to mixed-use to custom homes and various other types in between.

Who wouldn’t want a slight safety-net built into the schedule? Gather around some Men Without Hats as I give you PMt No. 1- S.A.F.E.T.Y DANCE:

This falls under scheduling and ranks up there as one of my favorite techniques, if not my favorite. With this technique you can typically gain yourself three more days in the schedule. The only set-up required is to schedule a deliverables deadline for a Friday afternoon. The Thursday afternoon the day before the deadline, phone the client:

Architect: “Hi Client… hey listen, I know we promised you the drawings tomorrow, but there are a few things we’d like to ‘tighten’ up. You’re not going to do anything with them until Monday anyway so… is it okay if we send them over then?”

Client: “That’s fine. Just send them over Monday, thanks for calling and have a great weekend!”

BOOM! (air high-fives and hand pistol gestures) Three more days. You now have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to wrap up the deliverables. Managing the project like a boss!

2013-03-11_blog_image_pm tip 1b

The beauty of this technique lies in the fact that the client is an active participant and will catch on quick- it becomes a delicate, unspoken dance between architect and client. However, it will only go this smoothly on the initial use. The second time you employ this the client will have caught on and will usually play-along; it becomes fun for them as well. However, they will now be playing the game as well. Around the 4th or 5th time you employ this technique, the conversation will go like this:

Architect: (has call on speaker and is trying not to laugh as the project team assembles around the phone) “Hi Client… hey listen, I know we promised you the drawings tomorrow, but there are a few things we’d like to ‘tighten’ up. You’re not going to do anything with them until Monday anyway so… is it okay if we send them over then?”

Client: (has call on speaker and is trying not to laugh as the project team assembles around the phone) “You know, we are planning on working with them this weekend. Let’s hold the deadline. Send them over tomorrow, thanks for calling and have a great weekend!”

At this point, something else may ‘tighten’ up other than the drawings. You better be ready to deal with it as this will be a true test of your project management skills!

You’ll be surprised how fun this little ‘game’ can be, go ahead give it a try. Stay tuned as future posts will offer more tried and tested PMt’s that you can implement on your projects… or ignore, your call.


Design On,

** Seriously, I do this.

2013-02-15_blog_image_ca operation

Lately I’ve read a lot of ‘chatter’ about Construction Administration (CA) on numerous social media sites and the architect’s role and whether or not he/she is even involved. As an architect you need to be doing CA; and as a client, you want your architect doing CA. Simple and clear.

You wouldn’t represent yourself in a court of law, would you? Maybe you would if you’re on Judge Judy- but that’s not real court unless you can tow your home. You don’t self-diagnose and then perform your own surgery, do you? If you do, stop reading, put the scalpel down and walk away. So why would you think you could represent yourself during a construction project? The construction process is inherently complicated. As a client, you need someone representing you and your best interests. Who better for that role than the author of the design/documents?

What exactly is CA? This is the construction phase of a project. The term CA refers to the role of architect during construction, which is to administer- and sometimes enforce- the agreement between you the client and your contractor. Basically, the architect is involved during this process to see that during construction the contractor is following the Construction Documents. An architect is also available to both the contractor and client to answer questions, mediate any disagreements that may arise, and in general serve as a resource for the project. During construction, there will almost always be questions, unforeseen circumstances, etc. The ability of the client, contractor, and architect to work through these events as a collaborative team will have a significant effect not only on the final product, but also on the client’s level of stress throughout. It’s important to note that CA not only occurs at the site, but also in the architect’s office as he/she reviews, prepares clarifications, responds to questions, etc. regarding the project.

2013-02-15_blog_image_ca evel

To protect the incompetent, no names will be used. This did happen on a job of mine, I didn’t make this up- although I wish I had. Picture a freestanding garage under construction. Floor slab plan indicates a slope to the garage door of 1/8” per 1’-0. Standard stuff. Driving past the site one day I glance over and what I see nearly causes me to wreck my truck. What was witnessed can only be described as a prototype ramp for an ‘X-Games’ event- one involving the reincarnation of Evel Kneivel. Long story short, formwork was put up at a slope ratio of 18” per 1’-0. We weren’t contracted for CA on the project- client felt he could do it himself. However, we were morally obligated to inform the client and contractor. You can ponder what would have happened if that wasn’t caught by the architect- i.e. me, named because I’m competent. A blatant error and easy to catch. However, all issues are not always so obvious. There are numerous things, big and small, that can go wrong during construction.

At my firm we believe in providing flexibility to our clients and their needs/wants. However, there are certain CA services we feel we must provide to feel confident that the desired end product will be achieved and the client’s best interests are kept in check. In addition, things don’t always go as planned in the field. As the architect, you need to be involved to confirm that the design intent is maintained. Below is a typical schedule of our minimum level of CA service- we rarely accept a project if we do not perform this basic CA:

Pre-Construction Meeting
Prior to construction, this is a meeting between the client, contractor, and architect to review drawings, assign points-of-contact, discuss construction schedule, etc. This is done to establish a good working relationship, to make sure the drawings are understood and answer any questions about them, and in general to head off any potential conflicts.

Site Visits

1. Foundation and Footings- Site visit after excavation and prior to foundation/footing work. Site visit before framing starts to ensure foundation and footings have been done according to the drawings.

2. Substantial Completion of Framing- Site visit prior to any subcontractors moving too far ahead on their portion of the work. It is easier to make any field framing adjustments when they are not complicated by mechanical, plumbing, or electrical in the walls.

3. Pre-Electrical- Site visit to perform an electrical/lighting walk-thru with the client and the contractor, finalizing locations for switches, outlets, fixtures, etc. Boxes in-place for review, but not wired.

4. Before Drywall- Site visit before drywall is installed to review rough-in work of subcontractors, as well as insulation and sealing.

5. Trim work 50%- Site visit while trimming is ongoing to help resolve any issues in the field while they are there.

6. Substantial Completion- This is the point of construction when the project is sufficiently complete, so that the client may use or occupy the building project for the intended purpose, without undue interference. We will do a walk-thru with the client and contractor. The purpose of the walk-thru is to generate a punch list. The punch list indicates items of work requiring corrective or completion action by the contractor- a list of discrepancies that need to be corrected by the contractor prior to issuing final payment.

Keep in mind; this is the basic CA that we perform. There are various other optional CA Services we can provide. As part of CA, after ALL site visits, a field report should be issued to all involved parties. In a future post I will address the specifics of a field report and why you want a record of site visits.

2013-02-15_blog_image_ca construction alt

Still not convinced you need an architect during CA? Lee Calisti, author of the blog think | architect, recently had a post addressing CA as well. Listed below is his summary of ‘10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction:’

1. The contractor will work it out, it’s their job

2. Contractors don’t want architects on the job site

3. They should be able to figure it out from the drawings

4. The contractors know what will meet code

5. The client is paying twice if the architect and contractor are both there

6. The owner will be there to oversee the construction

7. Contractors always read the drawings

8. The subcontractors read the drawings

9. The contractor’s opinion of equivalent is the same as the architect’s

10. The owner can build this on their own and be their own G.C.

Be sure to read Lee’s full post here -> 10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction on think | architect.

A successful design and construction project is a team effort. The team is comprised of the architect, contractor, and client. Would you bench a team player at the moment in time you need him the most, specifically to interpret the plays? As a client, do yourself a favor and retain your architect for CA.


Design On,

** Architect, it does CA good!