The Value of Quality Design and Engineering on Construction Projects


During the last 10 years I have seen a tendency by a number of owners to reduce their expenses by economizing on architectural and engineering services.  

This is a very slippery slope!! 

Let me relate my current experience on a project that demonstrates the shortsightedness of improperly selecting architectural and engineering services based upon their fee.  

The savings obtained by minimizing an architectural or engineering fee is as shortsighted as the general contractor reducing their payroll by laying off estimators!  

The specific project I am relating to is occurring as I write this article and has been plagued by continuous delays and confusion due to the owner’s decision to minimize the architectural and engineering budget in an effort to save money.  

The architect is a friend of the owner, the general contractor who is also a friend of the owner, convinces the owner that he should hire the engineers.  The result is that we have an owner who has a relationship with the cheapest architect on the planet and a general contractor who is so anxious to impress the owner that they offer to hire the engineers.  To make matters worse, upon investigation we find out that the architect is not licensed, and needs to submit the actual stamping of the documents to a licensed architect.  

Anyone in the construction business can immediately identify the negative issues that will occur due to this shortsightedness.  

What has occurred; 

 

  1. The  architect  has issued multiple 100% complete documents.  Why you may ask?  This architect  is anxious to stop spending time on the project due to his ridiculous low fee and now has NO money left.  Solution,  simply identify the drawings as 100%, no one really knows and we are done. This is a basic issue with low priced architectural services, they run out of money and call everything they create 100% complete.  It takes a knowledgeable person to understand this technique and in many instances they get away with it. 
  2. This project happens to be an addition to an existing structure.  Believe it or not, the architect has not taken the time to actually measure the existing structure. I don’t have to say anymore to you contractors who will instantly realize the disaster that this oversight will cause, however for the less educated, the so-called 100% documents are based upon assumed  dimensions.  The architect never measured the actual building that he is designing an addition around and basing all of his column line dimensions on. Yes this is a big deal!   
  3. Why is this important? It is important because the actual dimensions of the existing building are substantially smaller than the assumed dimensions that the 100% documents are based upon.  Smaller in both directions by over one foot. Yes, this makes a difference!! 
  4. The structural, mechanical and electrical engineers have followed the architect’s drawings and have developed their documents in accordance with the alleged initial 100% documents issued by the architect.  Anyone see the overall negative effect on the project that this lack of coordination and due diligence by the architect has caused? The overall effect is a basic disaster when it comes to coordinating dimensions and trying to minimize field costs and accurate material purchasing.  What happens to the structural steel when no one is sure of the dimensions of the structure? 
  5. The general contractor, friend of the owner, pushes the schedule, no matter what and  has  started the foundation based on the initial 100% documents.  Why not?  The owner is pushing to get the building constructed, the general contractor has dropped their cost to the minimum based upon owner requirements and the foundations are placed. Must minimize those general conditions and make the owner happy. 
  6. A consultant on the project, namely me, asks the basic question to the architect, “ you did measure the existing structure, correct “ ?  The answer was NO, I based the dimensions upon an old as-built document of the existing structure.
  7. Upon field measurement of the existing structure,  it is found that the building is in fact over one foot smaller in all directions than what is on the so-called 100% documents. 
  8. Foundations are placed, steel is being ordered, deck is being ordered and the entire layout of the new addition that wraps around the existing structure is off by at least one foot in all directions. How much will this all cost to correct this issue?
  9. Based upon the so-called economical process of buying the architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical design separately, theoretically to save money, all documents are based upon the incorrect architectural documents and are incorrect by over one foot in both the width and the length. 
  10. Once again, due to the lack of interaction or communication between the so called professional designers on the project, no one talks.  So each discipline starts to revise their documents. Why doesn’t anyone talk, because they have been hired by separate entities and have NO connection nor commitment to one another. 
  11. To make matters worse, the surveyor who has been given the project for once again, the lowest common denominator, simply continues to react to revised architectural and structural documents online.  Never going to the site, never really understanding any of the coordination issues, due to lack of financial support, this surveyor adds fuel to the fire of confusion and total and complete ineptitude. At this point no one knows what is occurring and no one has the responsibility of resolving the issue.  

 

Bottom line, The project is totally and completely turned around in terms of schedule and understanding of dimensions and coordination.  Why – because everyone on the onset of the project wanted to SAVE MONEY!!  

Adding to the negative situation, the general contractor started the project in September and is now in February of the following year.  Deep into a harsh winter and he hasn’t even ordered the correct structural steel!  

Where are the savings now, it is being totally and completely reduced by winter conditions, continued delays, subcontractor scheduling issues, material scheduling, and what will happen when the still to be ordered steel arrives, will it actually bolt up, in other words, will it fit? At this point, who knows?? 

This project has not resolved itself as of this writing, however I will update this website upon completion of the project.  I predict the following. 

  1. The owner will not understand the delay in the schedule and will blame the general contractor. 
  2. The general contractor, not wanting to upset the owner, who remember, is a friend of the architect, will attempt to find ways to either cut costs or artificially identify additional costs to simply break even. 
  3. The architect will slink away and not be a part of any of the controversy.
  4. The engineers will try to interact and help, however they are all at a disadvantage due to the architectural issues.  
  5. The project will be completed, they always are, however the general contractor will take the financial hit and either go bankrupt or lose substantial money. 

The moral of the story. 

The savings at the onset of any project should NOT be based upon contracting with the most inexpensive architect in the area.  The engineers on the project, namely, structural, mechanical and electrical should be connected to the architect and a part of the team.  It is essential that there be a focus on one entity that has the obligation to design and engineer the project.  Money saved on design and engineering initially will be lost exponentially during the construction of the project.  This is a fact and I have NEVER seen this not be the case.  

Find a competent architect that has complimentary engineers to take care of all the structural, mechanical and electrical requirements of the project.  DO NOT take the lowest bidder or a friend of the family. 

 Unless of course, you just want to spend money!! 

Contractors do not accept a project that does not offer a legitimate design team, it will only cost you money!! 

Legitimate and competent design teams are worth every penny!!  Find the best and hire them!!

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