Design Phase 5: Construction Administration

It’s time to build your house! It’s time to hand the construction drawings from your architect to your contractor to start construction, right? Well, not exactly. Don’t let your design team off the hook that easily. Their knowledge of the project is overwhelmingly valuable to you all the way to the end.

How are architects and engineers used during construction?

By the time construction begins your design team has been thinking about your project for months. No one knows more about the project. Using this knowledge during construction is a great resource to communicate the design intent to your construction team. Architects and other design professionals call this “Construction Administration.” Construction administration has two primary goals. One is to interpret the design and the other is to evaluate the work.

Interpreting the Design

General contractors, if not already on the team, now have a lot of information to interpret. Coming into a project after the pre-design is complete, has some real challenges. Thousands of decisions have been made, thousands of problems have been solved. During construction, having the design team there to answer any questions about those decisions or help solve any problems arising from the construction process can be valuable not just to the owner but to the entire team. Any changes or arising problems can be run through the design team to check for potential issues arising later in the process. Such issues may be related to building codes, others can be how the solution compares to the big picture design. Having a deeper knowledge of the project early on avoids issues not seen by the other professionals.

Submittals and substitutions are another significate part of design interpretation. Design professionals and builders sometimes are at odds with materials and products specified by the design team. These issues can be related to cost or local availability. The solution to this is submittals and substitutions. Say for example your architect specifies a brick that is difficult to find locally. The reduced supply and transportation cost causes the price to be higher than expected. The contractor can request a substitution of an easier to find brick similar to the original. The contractor would then provide the architect with a submittal that describes the substitution. The architect can then compare the proposed to the original. A few minutes of submittal review and design interpretation could get you something that works with the design and is more cost-effective. Similar to submittals are shop drawing reviews. Shop drawings are drawings created by fabricators prior to building components for two reasons. They help workers in the factory build the fabricated component and provide a visual for the design team to review design interpretation. You will usually find shop drawings for trusses and steel frames. Having these drawing reviewed by the design team is an essential part to have the construction process happen smoothly.

Work Evaluation

Work evaluations can sometimes be a more difficult conversation to have. Contractor work performance can sometimes be an issue. As the owner, it’s good to have a team member who knows construction and is looking out for your interests. Work evaluation doesn’t have to be an attack on the general contractor. Many general contractors are appreciative of having another set of eyes looking at the work. Many times design components are simply overlooked. Having someone to help evaluate the differences between design and construction helps prevent further problems down the line. This oftentimes saves you time with cost evaluation.

As architects, we are trained to observe and not interfere. It’s important for us not to call anyone to action on performing the work. Any differences between design and construction are reported to you, the owner. It’s up to you to decide whether the differences are worth taking action. We are there to help you understand the pros and cons of the on-site changes.

We have saved, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in poor design interpretation. Construction Administration should always be a part of your project.

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