Typically an “erection” would precede “gestation“, but the design process is an exception to this “typical” arrangement. Construction Administration (CA) is the phase of the design process where documentation is handed off to the “winning” contractor and a building or space can FINALLY be “erected”.
As a rule, the role of the architect/designer in CA is that of an ‘overseer’. She is contracted at this point to ensure that the project is built according to her design documentation but, the “bulk” of the work should shift from the architect/designer to the contractor.
More often than not, more design time is required during CA than originally “desired” or anticipated. Regardless of the hours on your design contract, if you don’t “perform” here, you will end up with a “flaccid” design situation. See, the contractor (unfortunately) doesn’t have the same level of pride for the build (even though he is building it, technically) because he didn’t nurture the project from conception. He is the foster father – liable for his construction window, his means and methods, his bid value and contingency allowance and his turnover dates, but once they are accomplished, he is on to the next project.
So how to we (as designers) “perform” during CA? We attend regular (weekly) site visits with the contractor and the owner to ensure that the “erection” is proceeding according to the design intent. Additional field visits are also conducted at critical stages of the process. For instance, before wall “studs” are enclosed with gypsum board, a review of in-wall “piping” or wiring would be pertinent…
If the contractor needs clarification for a conflict on drawings sheets or additional information to meet the intent is required, a formal Request for Information (RFI) is submitted to the architect. The architect responds formally to the contractor via sketches or written clarification. At times, the intent that was assumed by the contractor and clarified by the architect results in a change that will affect the construction schedule or budget. This is referred to as a construction ‘change order’ and usually requires owner approval to proceed.
You May Require a Blue Pill, After All (you know, just in case)
In every construction project, there are unknown variables. This is assumed. To account for them in the beginning, both the architect and the contractor will build in contingency. The designer will typically carry 5-10% of the overall design budget for design contingency and the contractor could carry anywhere from 10-20% of the construction budget for coverage depending upon what may be “anticipated”, but unknown.
Construction unknowns can result from something small (i.e. a specified tile has been discontinued) to something that could be very costly (i.e. a utility line discovered when footings were excavated). In these instances, the architect serves as a resource to the owner (for tile reselection) and potentially a mediator between the client and contractor in case of disagreement (in footing location).
The final design check to ensure what was specified by the architect/designer will be installed by the contractor is controlled through the design Submittal Process. This process is a quality control point for the designer as well as a final review of build documentation. Submittals come to the design team in the form of samples, shop drawings, or mock-ups and require design sign off and sometimes even owner approval.
The Final Punch
When the build is finished, a list of items will be generated that need to be addressed before the “job” is considered substantially complete. This ‘punch list’ of items is inspected for completion by the architect and final payment is only made when designer and owner agree the items have been completed to her standards.
Typically, the punch list items are minor (i.e. paint touch ups or installation of missing items), but there are times when the contractor is required to redo work that was deemed “unacceptable”. This punch is also the last chance for the contractor to be held accountable for incomplete or unsatisfactory work. As soon as close-out documentation is received and final payment is made, it will be up to the owner to maintain the project moving forward (with the exception of warrantied work or equipment). I warned you about wanting to put that newborn back “in”!
Now that you are (“semi”) happy with that postpartum figure, it’s time to maintain it!
So… Pick up those new conceptual plans and design gloves and get to work!