January 2, 2024

Why have your architect involved during construction?

Adam Christie, an architect at Christie Architecture, is involved during construction of the Hillsdale Deck.

Would you walk blind into the wilderness without some kind of guide, map or other preparation or assistance? Sure, with the right experience, the adventure of exploring makes the wild fun. But construction is a process during which you want the least amount of new discovery. At all levels of project budgets, very very few projects have the elbow room to change direction mid-construction. Having your architect involved during construction can save you time and money. Their experience with hundreds of similar projects is essential to preventing impactful delays or expensive change orders.

After spending your hard earned money designing your project just the way you want and making the documents ready for construction, your architect understands:

  • the history and intent of all the jurisdictional constraints;
  • the history and intent of all the design details;
  • the specs of preferred materials and why they were selected;
  • the known knowns and the known unknowns [especially pertinent for remodel work];
  • the anticipated trade processes and sequences to predict and call out care for attention between trades;
  • the wholistic impacts of seemingly minor revisions;
  • the design’s budget strategy to achieve the most architectural impact for the owner.

Why do I need the architect involved during construction? The drawing set already has everything in it.

If only that were reality… Even the best construction document sets are not exhaustive step-by-step building instructions with all the fasteners quantified like you might find when you open an Ikea box. A good architectural drawing set describes the intent of the design and identifies the essential relationships, materials and processes to get there.

In order to do that efficiently, a good drawing set will address the design hierarchically. The most critical moments will get the most attention in the drawings and specifications. Lesser design moments or building systems conventionally understood by experienced, skilled trade partners receive less detailing. In remodel work, demolition reveals unknown conditions. And lastly, as diligently as your design team works to be thorough, no construction set is perfect.

Why do I need the architect involved during construction? I’ve done a remodel before.

  • Your architect has done many, many remodels before, not just one, or even two.
  • Your design team carefully prepared the documents, and your architect knows what’s in them in detail.
  • An ad hoc strategy for involving the architect “only when they’re needed” inevitably leads to situations where a seemingly insignificant detail was overlooked or misunderstood. Despite all the best intentions, no one involved knew enough to ask the right question or had the full understanding to see the issue.
  • Involving your architect during construction brings a third party to the table whose main interest is in advocating for you and your project.

Why do I need the architect involved during construction? The contractor is good—they can figure it out.

Your contractor brings their own important skills and experience to your project. Each trade must understand the implications of their work and look beyond their own scope to integrate their work with other trades. Your general contractor must schedule and guide the subs to integrate all efforts into an organized and successful build. But your contractor doesn’t come to the project understanding your particular site, your design or your ambitions and concerns. 

As many projects like yours that the GC has done, they have not done yours. Your new home, new office, or remodel isn’t a franchise rollout with a history of common solutions and processes already resolved. It also isn’t an opportunity to do your project the way they did the last one.

By having the architect involved during construction, and collaborating early and regularly, the GC can confirm their assumptions and understanding about the project; use their skills and experience to keep quality high; and work with their subs to install the right thing the right way the first time. If a contractor must change some part of their installed work, it’s already too late.

This doesn’t mean the architect needs to be onsite constantly, micromanaging the GC, nor directing subs. Regular opportunities to confirm the design intent early in the schedule allows the project to proceed confidently at the GC’s preferred pace.

GCs appreciate the ability to plan their work without caveats or disclaimers. Sometimes this means they need to do some preemptive coordination prior to showing up on site. But that added time in planning means they show up knowing what to do. It is exceptionally frustrating to receive last second questions with a warning that untimely answers will cause project delays or additional expenses. That sort of missive often indicates a failure to understand the project properly; no partner in the build process wants that. Not the GC, not the architect, not the owner.

“Architecture is not an emergency.” – Christie Architecture

Timing in construction is just as critical as dimensions or specified materials. However, with a complete drawing set published prior to bid, there is ample time to ask questions and plan out a project to a reasonable level of completeness. The various conditions of the project are available for early questions, coordination, and review. Even remodel projects with hidden conditions can be planned with some critical path scheduling.

Early and regular coordination also allows the build team a way to shake out unspoken assumptions that might otherwise negatively impact the designed building. Nobody enjoys late night calls, hurried collaboration, and last minute decisions. The high cost of construction makes it essential to control the anxiety around all this complicated work. 

Including the professional who designed the building eases that anxiety and assists the project to find the smoothest path to completion.

When is the architect involved during construction? And what do they do?

  • during bidding to answer contractor questions about the project;
  • during bidding to review scope of submitted bids for scope completeness;
  • during pre-construction to review any systems identified as design/build on the permit set like sprinklers, hvac or photovoltaics;
  • during foundations & framing prior to mechanical, electrical and plumbing rough install;
  • throughout construction to resolve design decisions when discovered conditions affect the proposed design;
  • throughout construction to coordinate consultant input (civil, structural, lighting, etc) and assist with any needed solutions;
  • throughout construction to review subcontractor shop drawings like cabinetry or custom metalwork;
  • prior to important finish installations like tile or flooring;
  • prior & during any specified mockups; and
  • during the final walk through to button up details.

The architect participates most heavily early in the project, as critical building relationships are established. Their involvement tapers off as the contractor installs major design elements.

Why have the architect involved during construction – a contractor’s perspective.

Don’t just take our word for it. Contractors also agree that having the architect involved during construction is a great idea. Hamish Murray, of Hamish Murray Construction says, “In our experience, there is no doubt that having the architect involved throughout the project leads to a far more successful outcome. Even the most thorough set of documents cannot cover all the minutia that comes up over the course of construction.”

This is particularly true for remodel projects. While we make our best effort to document the existing conditions before construction starts, there are always places where we discover something no-one thought about. Murray concurs, “An existing condition may not meet the plans exactly. But if the architect is involved during construction, we can resolve the situation while still meeting the design intent. For example, we recently had a situation where multiple materials all came together at an existing stairwell. Some of the materials were new and some were existing. Having the architect available to discuss this real life situation resulted in a much more aesthetically pleasing result.”

Successful projects don’t just happen.

Why abandon the project’s most knowledgeable partner just when the project is about to be built? By keeping your architect involved during construction, they can assist the build team to achieve the most successful build possible for you. Let’s talk about how Christie Architecture can help make your next project successful!