Should You Have Written Agreements
Everyone urges you to have written agreements for your design projects. There really isn't a good reason for not having a contract. However, we were rarely able to accomplish the goal of 100% of projects having a written agreement.
Our best effort to achieve this goal was to simplify the process. The two tools that we found helpful were a Letter Of Engagement, and our own Standard Agreement. There isn't anything wrong with standard AIA agreements. They aren't even hard or time-consuming to complete. But formality and exactitude get in the way.
A year after I started my own firm, I was invited to design a hangar for my Dad's golfing buddy, who happened to have started an airline that was growing by leaps and bounds. We designed projects for his airline for about twenty years until they were bought out by one of the major airlines. One of the main skills that allowed us to keep up with their growth was my knowledge of project delivery methods - mostly book-learning, driven by interest.
That first project quickly grew into a hangar / office building to house the whole airline, then just three of the seven departments because all seven wouldn't fit - and it was taking too long to peg what they really needed. So we pre-bid the site work, which included a lot of paving for aircraft. Then we bid-out a Pre-Engineered Metal Building for the hangar shell. Finally, the construction was contracted on a Cost-Plus basis for doing the work. Everything went smoothly. If I had been stuck, comfort-wise, with the traditional Design-Bid-Build approach, we would have been passed over for the hangar addition that we started designing 6 months later.
For this same client we used Bridging to get a hangar built in Florida; we used cost-plus-a-fee for a major remodeling; and we used Construction Management with the CM as Constructor (at risk) for their corporate aircraft hangar. Over and over, being able to guide the construction phase in the right direction was critical. That was the longest run we had with a client.
I've posted four brief articles about Project Delivery Methods that you can check out below. Then I will wrap up with some PROs and CONs on the different choices available to you. BTW there are standard AIA contracts for all of these options. This is far too critical for inventing your own contracts, but sometimes the Project Delivery Method isn't exactly what the AIA agreement envisions.
When you are looking for work, this may seem counter-productive; but it is a good practice to evaluate every job beforehand.
Your insurance agent, your attorney, and your marketing advisor will all agree that making sure this project is worth pursuing is a good thing. The insurance agent and the attorney are looking at the potential for trouble that working with this type of client, this particular client or this project type can lead to.
Your marketing advisor is looking at the big picture of where you want to go and whether this opportunity is a step forward, sideways or backwards. The type of work you do and the people you work for speaks volumes to all your clients and potential clients. Choosing the right projects and the right clients is a key element in developing your niche and reaping the rewards that come from not being a commodity.
From a purely business perspective, a project is like a new product line. You should evaluate both before jumping on board. For a project a detailed evaluation doesn't need to take much time, especially if you have an established method for doing the evaluation. The attached form came from combining several processes that were recommended to us over the years.
The thrust of the evaluation is to uncover any concerns you have about the project or client beforehand, and then to develop a plan for addressing those concerns or "passing" on the project.
We found it works best with just two or three people involved: the person who found the opportunity and who knows the most about it, a principal of the firm, and perhaps one other senior person.
Once you go through the process a few times you will find that you want to keep the form handy as a kind of questionnaire to use with potential clients.
My first experience with NFPA was the Life Safety Code, NFPA 101. Back in the day, the National Building Code was the building code. The Life Safety Code was used as a supplement. I thought that was it. Then we were hired to design a hangar...
It turns out that hangars have the military’s fingerprints all over the governing code, NFPA 409. When we were designing that hangar, the plan examiner insisted on a deluge fire suppression system. The then current version of NFPA 409 said we were under the limits for that very expensive (and unnecessary?) requirement - $500,000 in 1983 dollars. Testing and accidental deluges cost $25,000 each for clean-up and re-charging the system. Ouch!
So we appealed the ruling, and WON! Happy client. Angry code official...
Everyone's heard of AIA Documents. I just saw this ad in a magazine and wondered what the buzz was all about. They are now a browser-based resource rather than a computer-based tool. So you can be anywhere when you work on their contracts and forms.
I think AIA Documents do a good job for all parties, and they have a good reputation as an industry standard. These days they are very easy to use, and the browser-based aspect is very nice. The other thing about AIA Documents is that they cover way more types of situations than you can ever do justice to - all types of construction contracts, change orders, BIM, sustainability, and on and on. There are 180 documents. Many of them would appeal to non-architect design professionals, too.
I think they are especially good for public projects. If you get into a legal shoot-out, you don't want to be 'armed' with your home made documents.
So how do you get them and how do you use them?
Back in the day, you bought them from your blueprinter or the local AIA office; then you filled them out with a typewriter. That was only slightly easier than stone tablets and chisels. Now, as I mentioned above, the AIA Documents are browser-based. In a nutshell:
The service is kind of pricey but there are buying options. And under the terms of an AIA Agreement, the cost of these forms for bidding or construction would normally be a reimbursable expense! At least with the unlimited licenses, maybe the individual document service too, you can save standard clauses for re-use. Here are the purchasing options from most to least expensive. The cost for AIA members would be less.
How Zoning Affects Your Project
In contrast to building codes, zoning applies to the property on which your building sits. Zoning restricts how you may develop your property. It prescribes what uses are permitted on the property. Unlike the building code, zoning can prevent a project from being built. If the proposed use is not a Permitted Use you can be out of luck.
Zoning is promulgated locally and a zone change may resolve the issue of Permitted Uses. However, the requested zone change may not be granted. Besides Permitted Uses, zoning governs many other development issues, namely setbacks, height restrictions, parking, exterior signage, fence locations, landscaping, storm water management, paving, curbs, access points to roads, steepness of grades, erosion control and exterior lighting levels.
Next after the major issue of Permitted Uses are the key site planning issues that control building size and placement: setbacks, height limits and parking. Setbacks determine how much land must be reserved at the perimeter of the site. Parking regulations determine how many parking spaces will be required. Height limits determine the number of stories permitted above the ground.
Both zoning and building codes should be investigated at the same time before starting design because of their overlapping criteria when it comes to building size and use.
What You Should Know About Building Codes
Every project must comply with the building code. Building codes apply to the building itself and usually are statewide. Compliance is always possible. In worst-case situations, the cost of compliance is what ruins a project's feasibility.
Code requirements fall into major and minor issues. The minor issues are things like fire ratings of materials, use of plastics and other flammable materials, handicap accessibility and structural requirements. All of these are easy to comply with and rarely increase costs significantly. Complying with the building code for new construction is rarely problematic, but additions and remodeling may run up against the major issues.
The major issues are Height and Area Limits, Construction Type, and Use Groups (especially change of use). Building codes limit the area per floor for each Use Group depending on the Construction Type. The number of stories permitted is also limited. These are the height and area limits. The Use Group is the type of function that the building houses: residential, business, education etc. The Construction Type is a measure of fire- resistance. The more fire-resistant, the larger the building is permitted to be. In order to determine the maximum size that you are permitted, you must determine your Use Group and Construction Type.
In the case of additions, the allowable area may be exceeded because of the Construction Type of the existing building. The solution may be to separate the addition with a fire wall, sprinkler the whole building or upgrade the Construction Type.
Remodeling an existing building can run afoul of these requirements if the Use Group is changed. This triggers the need for the building to be brought up to code, including adherence to height and area limits. It is wise to evaluate these code restrictions before embarking on a design that may not be permitted.
When you find yourself working with a Building Committee, you will normally find that they do not have any particular experience of serving on building committees or managing a building project.
There are exceptions - public schools, higher education, hospitals and organizations with a facility manager - but your first step is to determine what work they have done so far.
You want to know if they have a documented plan for the project as most Owner/Architect contracts state. So, if they have a documented plan and program, budget, and schedule, and they all seem realistic, you are ready to start designing.
If they do not have a boni-fide plan, and if you begin designing in order to 'stumble upon' a solution that works for them, then you will almost certainly have some re-designing to do sooner or later. You and the building committee need a coherent plan for their project - a plan that will require little or no re-design.
If there is no plan, or if it doesn't make sense, then you will need to back them up and take them through the planning that they need to do. The engineers and contractors on the committee will balk at this. This is where you point out that you are being asked to go 'off-script' and to proceed in a way that is unpredictable and that is not anticipated by the contract. So either way, planning first or jumping into design, you will need a larger fee than has been proposed because the scope of your work has changed.
If you are asked to begin designing anyway, you should try to get the fee for Schematic Design changed to an hourly basis to compensate you for the inevitable redesign that you will have to do. You might consider spending some time, in that case, doing the planning that needs to be done so that the redesign doesn't come back to haunt you after Schematic Design is approved and you are back to a standard fee for Basic Services.
If you are given the chance to help them with the planning, here is an outline of how you might proceed.
orig post date Nov2012
Every project needs a building permit. Jurisdiction doesn't change the code that you must comply with, but it often changes the process of obtaining a building permit. I like to apply for the permit before going out for bids so that any changes that are required by the plan review can be included before the bids are received.
The components of a permit application are jurisdiction, the application paperwork, the printing of sets of drawings / specifications, delivery, and the response to the inevitable corrections letter.
Building Permit Application
Corrections Letter Response
You will almost certainly want to modify this process for your circumstances. But the point is to have a plan that you work toward implementing while you are completing the drawings and preparing to go out for bids. We have found in recent years new code-related requirements are cropping up. Two that come to mind are:
Having a documented process makes it easier to hit all the compliance bases without losing your momentum or encountering delays.
The newest product added to the Architekwiki Store is a set of templates. MGMT-01 is a collection of 3 master files related to Owner-Architect contracts: a Contract, a Letter of Engagement, and a Supplemental Authorization.
These documents were introduced in the earlier posts linked above. Hopefully you will get some useful ideas about contracts themselves or the process that can make it easy to manage getting a written contract.
The Letter of Engagement is a simple way to get an agreement as soon as you are asked to start work. It contains enough Terms and Conditions to lay a decent groundwork for your legal relationship with your client. Because it describes how you will get paid, it also is a good test to see if the client is for real. This Letter of Engagement is intended to be supplanted later with an AIA (or similar) contract; or with the Contract included here.
The third template is a simple one-page authorization form that you can use when the inevitable change in scope occurs or when additional services of another kind come up. This form gets the cost ramifications on the table as simply as possible.
There is also a ReadMe file describing how the templates are set up so that you can convert these masters into 'your masters'.
The PDF and Word versions are FREE with sign-up.
Six months ago I posted an article about Additional Services. There are a lot of circumstances that arise where additional compensation for Additional Services is called for. In that first post I offered a simple way to get the issue on the table and approved. The second part of the issue is recognizing Additional Services.
Architects are trained to work with fuzziness and to find creative solutions. This training gets in the way of recognizing changing circumstances as unusual extra work rather than just another garden variety challenge. The more involved you are with the design, the harder it is to spot the need for Additional Services compensation. And once suspected or actually spotted, it takes new training to get used to speaking up instead of telling yourself ’it’s not worth the paper work’. By the time you realize that it is worth the paperwork it is also embarrassing that you didn't bring it up earlier when the client had a choice or at least understood the ramifications.
A written agreement of any form is a critical part of making your case for Additional Services. Whether you use the AIA agreements or your own standard, it is just as important to say what is not included as what is. The AIA agreements cover this very well and provide a good model.
Everyone recognizes a significant increase in the size of the project as a change in the work for the architect. But what is a little more subtle is how the fee should change. Clearly you have earned your fee for the completed portion of the design. And the fee for the balance of the work is going up. When you use a fee that is a percent of the construction cost, this takes care of itself. What is negotiable is how far back to calculate the increase in order to compensate you for work that is now wasted or must be redone. Usually there wouldn't be a discount for what has been done, and often there might be a justifiable premium to compensate for lost momentum, and for effort that has to be expended twice to accommodate the changes. If the scope decreases this is an even more critical distinction to make. Perhaps you should consider going to hourly compensation until you are back to the same point as before the change - no matter what fee type you are using. However this is a fairly obvious situation that won't surprise any client.
Most contracts for architectural services assume the architect is designing the building - period. These are the Basic Services that the AIA agreements are built around. There are plenty of subtle occurances lurking here. For instance. the client is expected to furnish the information necessary for the architect to design the building. This includes a written program describing what is desired, a budget, an up-to-date topographical survey of the site with zoning requirements, and a soils investigation. In my experience you will often be asked to get started without any of this information. The lack of this information will create more work for you as you make assumptions that prove wrong or as you take on additional tasks to discover what should have been given to you. You should ask for Additional Services to keep from losing money or having to cut corners elsewhere.
The bidding phase can be another time for subtle changes when alternate bids are requested that now mean re-working the drawings to describe the alternate. Or perhaps a change in project delivery takes place that means phased permits, fast track and multiple bid packages are needed. All take more effort and all are Additional Services.
During construction there can be dozens of instances where Additional Services are justified.
The challenge is to insist on being treated fairly while not creating an unhappy client. Discussing the Additional Services process and how to avoid the issue during the early days of the project will help. Encouraging your client to maintain a reasonable contingency budget also goes a long way in preventing each change from driving the project over budget - a key factor in client unhappiness.
Other common instances of Additional Services:
As you can see there are lots of ways to veer off course. Lots of ways to become a "non-profit by accident".
Separating an existing building from a new addition by a firewall always (it seems) has unanticipated consequences. This refers to a true firewall rather than a fire separation wall. No matter how hard you try, there is always a surprise waiting for you.
Technically a firewall must be able to remain standing after the collapse of the structure on either side. This means that the wall cannot help support that structure. A favored way around this is to use two walls, each supporting the structure that is on its side. This approach triggers the need for two fire doors at each opening, one in each wall. Two doors creates all kind of collateral issues, and usually results in a vestibule to separate the doors, which in turn is fire-rated construction.
The alternative is to use a free-standing firewall, which is basically a cantilevered wall anchored in its footing. Engineers tend to over-react to this situation. Maybe they should.
The two drawings below show how complicated the situation can become. Click the images to download a PDF for easier viewing; or download Plans here and Sections here.
We used single, self-supporting firewalls where we had to pass through the firewall. Elsewhere we resorted to the double-wall solution to avoid the underpinning required by the single wall.
The problem with a single wall that is braced by the construction on each side is that a collapsing building creates a wind load on the wall. There are ways to anchor the wall to resist the wind load; and there are ways to let the structure fall away. There just aren't any good ways of doing both on both sides of the same firewall. If your code official knows this, ...
If you are designing an addition to a complicated, large building that pre-dates modern codes, you might be asked to prove that exits are adequate. The method that worked for us in this scenario was this: show the results of our calculations on a floor plan by giving the occupant load of each space, the capacity of corridors and stairs, and the capacity of the exit doors. See the enlargeable legend to the left.
The building in question had six different levels including a basement and a 'mezzanine'. Previous additions had also obscured the exit strategy. The drawing below is downloadable as a PDF for better viewing.
The first effort was a table to show all this information but it was impossible to follow. Once we hit on this diagrammatic approach, we had the extra benefit that the code official could spot check us very easily. The result was that the plan was accepted once we reviewed the process and how to interpret the diagram. The original diagram was also color-coded by hand to show where the numbers came from. A color plotter would have eliminated that work.
Zoning is an odd duck. Zoning is unique among codes because you might not be able to build. Period. Every other code will allow you to proceed if you can show compliance, which is generally just a matter of money - more of it. With zoning, no amount of money can buy permission to proceed if you don't meet the requirements. Sometimes you have to wait a year before re-applying!
Traditionally, zoning investigation was not the architect's responsibility. It is not in the scope of Basic Services. Many public bodies think they are exempt from zoning requirements. I don't think they should be. And many private entities are oblivious. In both cases, you will find that no one is going to look at zoning if you don't.
We use two strategies. 1] For public clients we take a quick look at the requirements before we are told to ignore them. We then report on any POLITICAL liabilities that might lie ahead due to zoning along with an offer to investigate and report back as an additional service. 2] For private clients we ask how they want to handle the zoning investigation so that we know how to design the building to keep them out of hot water. We point out that we can do it as an additional service.
To oversimplify, zoning permits certain uses, allows others conditionally, regulates setbacks from property lines to structures, curb cuts, and sets requirements for parking, signage, fencing, and often landscaping.
If you have a landscape architect or civil engineer on the design team, you might delegate the zoning issues to them. My experience is that you will still have to spend time reviewing the zoning ordinances yourself if you want to make sure of compliance. The LAs are too willing to recommend exceptions, which are time consuming and not guaranteed. The civil engineers are, well, engineers; and the first idea they have that meets zoning will be the last idea they explore.
To assist us in doing the zoning investigations, we developed two documents - a checklist and a standard format for the report. (Click the links to download.) These are both good starting points, but every project has its unique issues that need to be sussed out.
I call them Constraints. You may know them by another name. Obstacles. Restrictions. Hurdles. Red Tape. No matter the project, there are always constraints. There is nothing sexy or exciting about constraints, but you ignore them at your peril. Clients expect you to know about such things. In almost every case, you will have to surrender to constraint's influence eventually, often at great cost for re-working your design to comply.
As the world gets more sophisticated and complicated, the list of potential constraints grows. Building code and zoning used to be about the extent of the constraints you might face. Now the list is at least 15 topics. Besides Building code and zoning, we have added storm water management, hazardous materials, department of transportation, ADA (which now applies to everything), special inspections, and a number of issues that are client-driven but not always obvious. Our Constraints Checklist is downloadable here.
To address the growing list of client-specific Constraints, we have also developed a questionnaire template to try and elicit this information before it gets to be a headache. Here is the Questionnaire for download too.
Those pesky building codes!
Not many things can wreck your building floor plans like code requirements that sneak up on you. Overlooking a seemingly innocuous requirement can set you back hours in the beginning of design and days at the end of design.
The only solution is to review the code early and often. This doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it sounds. Use a checklist at the earliest opportunity to document the requirements that will apply to your project and how your design complies. At the end of the design phase, read over the checklist and update any changes that have occurred, making sure that you are still in compliance.
The designer needs to be the one who checks the code, even though most designers hate this. It is the only way to avoid constant re-designs to correct code problems uncovered by your in-house expert (after too much time has been spent doing it wrong).
There are a few checklists out there on the Internet that you could use*. Those rarely seem that useful. You could create your own. If your work is repetitive, this will save time. Even if your work is not repetitive, customizing the checklist to your needs will save time in the long run. The checklist below is for the International Building Code. It covers the issues that we usually need to check; your need is probably different! Use this one as a guide to make your own.
SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED a lot has changed. So it's time for an update.
Finding information on Architekwiki can be done in two ways.
The first way is by using the Google site search widget to filter the articles based on your key word(s).
The second way is by using the categories of the blog in question to filter the articles. We will address them one at a time. [Footnote: from time to time duplicates show up in the lists of categories for unknown reasons. I attempt to eliminate them.]
For the WIKI page there are 20 categories, listed below. Every article is tagged with one of the first four categories and also with one or more of the other 16 categories. (You will note the actual category list are in alphabetical order.)
WIKI categories and a brief description of their intended content.
For the DETAILS page there are 14 categories, each represents a category in the UNIFORMAT II system. This article will give you more information about UNIFORMAT. The one exception is Proj Dwgs, which is used to tag articles about an entire project.
For the BLOG page there are 6 categories as follows. Others may be added from time to time.
Updated: September 28, 2013