Construction Administration - DOs and DON'Ts
Most firms were unionized. Tradesmen were apprenticed and grew in competence with each year of experience. You often received good 'advice' from contractors, which you ignored at your peril.
This is the world that standard owner-architect agreements anticipate. Things have changed. That world doesn't exist anymore.
Perhaps a lot of the marginal firms disappeared during the 2008 Great Recession. My limited feedback on that idea is "No, they survived; and now they are short-handed as well."
While we wait for the robot revolution and 3D printed buildings, here are my suggested DOs and DON'Ts for Construction Administration.
Don't use Liquidated Damages. Liquidated Damages creates a distraction for the contractor. Liquidated Damages starts "driving the bus". My experience is that little or no money ever changes hands. The distraction from managing the project, however, can be substantial. (I know, sometimes you have no say in the matter.)
Don't use open bidding. Whenever possible invite three well-qualified contractors to bid. Open bidding almost always leads to a struggle to get what you have designed.
Don't let the Owner have free access to the site and the contractors. My experience is that this is rarely an issue, but it happens. Make sure that the contractor understands that instructions that don't come from you are worthless. Make sure you have 'the talk' with enthusiastic Owners. Send the Owner lots of pics showing what's going on. Insist on accompanying the Owner whenever he visits the site.
Don't accept the standard fee for CA. Technically 20% of your design fee is allocated to Construction Administration. i have never found this adequate. Either provide CA services at an hourly rate, or limit what you will do for the fee to a fixed number of hours with the understanding that, if necessary, you will be paid hourly thereafter.
Don't accept the Owner's O-A contract terms without clarification and compensation. Occasionally an Owner will have their attorney write the Owner-Architect Agreement. This is always a special treat. Attorneys know everything about everything. Except construction. Your grandmother knows as much as the typical attorney. An attorney will attempt to make you responsible for everything without compensation. Just say 'No'.
Don't agree to less CA than will be required. The flip side of the issue above is that you will occasionally find an Owner that doesn't see the need for your Construction Administration services. Many authorities-having-jurisdiction mandate a certain level of involvement by the architect during construction. Being involved reduces your risks - a lot. If the Owner is insistent, then contract clauses like these are called for.
DESIGN WITHOUT CONSTRUCTION PHASE SERVICES
It is understood and agreed that if the Architect's Basic Services under this Agreement do not include project observation or review of the Contractor's performance or any other construction phase services, and that such services will be provided by the Client. The Client assumes all responsibility for interpretation of the Contract Documents and for construction observation and supervision and waives any claims against the Architect that may be in any way connected thereto.
In the event the Client consents to, allows, authorizes or approves of changes to any plans, specifications or other construction documents, and these changes are not approved in writing by the Architect, the Client recognizes that such changes and the results thereof are not the responsibility of the Architect. Therefore, the Client agrees to release the Architect from any liability arising from the construction, use or result of such changes. In addition, the Client agrees, to the fullest extent permitted by law, to indemnify and hold the Architect harmless from any damage, liability or cost (including reasonable attorneys' fees and costs of defense) arising from such changes.
Do listen to Contractors. They sometimes have good ideas. Usually it is self-serving, but I have found a willingness to listen is the perfect lead-in to explaining how everything has been coordinated. Having said that, about 10% of the time the contractor has a really worthwhile idea.
Do hold a Pre-Construction meeting. This is the best opportunity to get the project's expectations in front of the people who will be building the project. Always make use of it.
Do avoid adversarial situations. Absolutely nothing is gained by having to play defense - you or the contractor.
Do insist on a full-time superintendent. Most standard construction contracts call for a full-time superintendent for a good reason. You can't manage what you can't see. "There's nothing going on" should be answered with "Do you understand what is required of each of your subcontractors?"
Do complain at the first sign of incompetence. I have usually gotten a better replacement. If you don't insist on competence, you will be pulled into fixing the mess later. If it can be fixed.
Do get pictures. Taking pictures is a non-issue anymore, so get plenty of them. Require the superintendent to take and upload 4 or more pics per day of the work being completed. When there is a question, get a picture. Pictures are gold.
Do protect your CA fee. A project has to be enormous before the traditional fee allocation will cover the work required. Here is a spreadsheet to see how quickly your likely involvement will use up the fee.
Do insist on timely, complete submittals. Submittals should all arrive during the first 25% of the project. Insist on it. This is a key tool in uncovering misunderstandings and unacceptable substitutions. Review promptly. Stay on top of the process.
Do document all Questions or Requests For Information. Use Trello, Basecamp, Slack or even email, but keep a written record. Questions or Requests For Information can take up hours per week as you are bombarded with "Why can't we just...?" questions. We had one superintendent who couldn't read drawings! That creates a special level of hand-holding. Always respond promptly. Don't let anyone make you the scapegoat for holding up the contractor.
Do proactively manage corrections in the work. The only satisfactory way that we found for getting work corrected was to make it happen right now. The sooner you request a correction, the more likely it is that it will actually get done. Otherwise, the Punch List will be long and take forever to resolve. We have experienced over 60 hours just for the Punch List.
Do insist on all Closeout documentation and requirements. Hold back plenty of retainage as leverage for getting the loose ends tied up.
4 Reasons To Do Construction Administration
The Construction Administration Phase - Part 1
How To Kick Off Construction
Construction Administration Economics
If you would like articles like this sent to your inbox, SUBSCRIBE.