Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Okay, so the design phase is over, the contract documents are complete, and a general contractor (GC) has been awarded the contract. Now what?
For me, this is where the project gets really fun.
This, now, is the Contract or Construction Administration (CA) phase where, as they say, the rubber meets the road (who says this?). Months (or years) of hard work and late nights now become a reality.
The CA phase in the construction process is when the GC takes the design team's coordinated, detailed drawings and specifications and begins the building process.
In a project on an existing site, the GC begins by preparing the site for construction. There are often times when some remedial demolition work or a walk-through with the landlord and client may need to be done in order to identify any issues with the site. The GC then begins the partition layouts, followed by the mechanical and electrical services layouts. Invariably the team will run into unforeseen conditions that were uncovered after demolition, or other potential issues. As the architect, we are the arbiters of the solutions to such challenges and how they may effect the design intent.
Additionally, the GC begins the shop drawing and submittal phase where they issue detailed drawings showing how they intend to construct the architect's design, be it millwork, metal work, or curtain wall assemblies. It is the architect’s responsibility to review and approve them, or return them with enough redlines to give direction on how to resubmit. The contractor’s may then have questions that are submitted in the form of a Request for Information.
Weekly visits and field reports are other tasks that are part of the architect’s scope. This is to allow the architect to become familiar with the progress of the construction. The GC is still responsible for the quality of the work and adherence to schedule and budget. By being aware of the site progress, the architect can also sign the contractor’s requisitions for payment. Any changes to the design at this stage, regardless of reason, is known as a change order. At the end of the project, the architect produces a punch list that identifies the items that require the GC’s further attention for repair or replacement .
It may not sound like it, but personally, this is the most interesting part of the entire design and construction process. After the many hours spent drawing and envisioning the design, you can begin to see it in reality. You can walk through the site to get a sense of the spatial qualities you were designing, see how the natural light interacts with the built environment, and, ultimately, watch how others experience your design.
During CA, I speak with the builders and their subcontractors, such as the carpenters, the electrician, steamfitters, tin knockers, and millworkers, to name a few. Oftentimes they have tips from other project experience to help resolve a design issue or to even improve upon a detail. You learn that while we can draw to the 1/8”or 1/16” in Revit, construction detailing may require greater tolerances. As always, the contractor’s role is to build from your drawings as much as possible. When a conflict arises, I enjoy talking to the GC or their subs to hear/learn from everyone to come to a solution.
Construction Administration is the culmination of the team’s hard work in bringing a design to the real world.