As construction began on a building, the architect’s field representative was approached by the electrical subcontractor. The subcontractor wanted the architect’s approval to install all distribution conduit at a specific level and prior to construction of interior partitions and mechanical distribution systems. It sounded like a great idea, a really clean and efficient installation for the electrical subcontractor that also appeared to offer post-construction advantages for the owner. However, it did not consider other construction and schedule needs. Had the architect given the nod to the electrical subcontractor, it would have interfered with the general contractor’s responsibility and authority for scheduling and coordinating the work of the subcontractors, and it would have interfered directly with the work of other sub-trades. Further, the owner had no interest in the advantages proposed by the electrical subcontractor. At best, it was a good idea for some other project.
An architect visiting a construction site can feel a rush of power as construction personnel approach with questions. “Finally,” you may hear them exclaim, “someone with answers!” This is an opportunity to show your knowledge of construction, the project, and the construction documents, and it is also an opportunity to make a complete fool of yourself. You have to be careful to stay within the limits of your contractual role*, which is normally to observe construction for consistency with the construction documents and to communicate with the contractor’s superintendent. This can be challenging when workers are gushing with excitement to hear your opinion about what should or could be done. A question may be valid and may warrant a prompt response, but the architect’s reply should be consistent with the requirements of the construction documents, and it should be made through proper channels. You have to observe construction, but you should do what you can to avoid a claim or the appearance that you personally directed a worker or subcontractor to make a change. One subcontractor can sound very convincing when presenting a question or a dilemma, but there may be other factors, interests, and requirements to consider.
[*The architect’s contractual role during construction is typically established by the General Conditions of the Contract such as AIA Document A-201 or by similar documents and/or amendments thereto.]