Wednesday, June 12, 2013

First Things First

I have been in the architectural profession long enough now to realize that, for most people - including the building owners for whom we work - a building project is a complete mystery.  How can three different entities - the owner, the architect, and the contractor (the builder) - each with their own assumptions, interests, ways of working, and means of income, come together to produce a functional and beautiful building?

The bad news is that there is no perfect process, chiseled in stone and kept in a vault for eyes-only access, of designing, bidding, and constructing a building.  Period.  Every building project is different, which is why anyone initiating a building project needs the knowledge and experience that a licensed architect brings to the table.  But is the building owner at the mercy of the limited experience of that one architect who acts as his agent?

Actually, no.

The good news is that the American Institute of Architects has worked with building owners and general contractors nationwide to produce a document called A201 - General Conditions of the Contract for Construction.  It was first produced in 1911 as a revision to the highly successful Uniform Contract published in 1888.1  It has been revised approximately every ten years since then.

On the surface, it might seem like one more stack of paper, filled with legalese, meant to keep lawyers in business.  Practically, however, it provides the construction industry - and the unsuspecting owners who walk into it - with clearly defined standards for how the owner, the architect, and the contractor are to cooperate in the common pursuit of that functional and beautiful building.  It contains time-tested guidelines for...
  • to divide responsibility in the most sensible and equitable way possible.
  • ...what to do if something goes wrong, whether someone is at fault or not.
  • to protect the financial interests of everyone involved.
If you are an owner - our lingo for anyone who initiates a building project - or a potential owner, you should know that A201 is nowhere near as simple as I am attempting to make it, to say nothing of the complexity of the contracts you will hold, the drawings, the specifications, bidding documents, change orders, and permits.   But if you would take a word from me, you will be sure to see that A201 is incorporated into the contract documents.  It is over one hundred twenty years worth of wisdom and experience that you should not do without.

Above all:

"Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight."2..."How much better to get wisdom than gold!  To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver."3
 - Solomon, ancient king of Israel and experienced building owner

Did you know:

Architects are licensed in the state in which they practice.  State law requires that drawings and specifications be prepared and sealed by a licensed architect for most new construction and renovation.  In other words, state law recognizes how important architects are!

(1) The American Institute of Architects.  Official Guide to the 2007 AIA Contract Documents.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009; pp. 21-32.
(2) Proverbs 4:7b ESV
(3) Proverbs 16:16 ESV