Architects are faced with questions all the time. Clients ask questions. Consultants ask questions. Contractors and subcontractors ask questions. The list goes on. Architects generally want to be helpful, they like to be asked questions, and they want to have the answers – ideally, all the answers – at the ready. But, they don’t always have the answers. Instead, they may know more about where to get the answer and who is the most appropriate person or entity to provide the answer. If they don’t know on first thought, they may be able to figure out who should answer the question. Although the persons who ask the questions usually want a direct answer and may even be suspicious of a suggestion that another party may have the answer, that suggestion may in fact be the best answer the architect can offer.
Architects visiting a construction site are likely to be asked questions by subcontractors that should be answered by the General Contractor (G.C.). For example, the architect may want to answer a question about sequence, but there is a risk that the architect’s best answer will contradict the General Contractor’s plan of attack for the project. Knowing that the G.C. is responsible for deciding sequence, the architect should refer the subcontractor to the G.C. Even if the subcontractor’s question appears to be about the content of plans or specifications, the architect should only answer it in the presence of the G.C. and should address the answer to the G.C. This may seem overly formal or “stiff”, but the architect must respect the G.C.’s authority on the job site. This approach allows the G.C. to answer the subcontractor’s question.
Another kind of question that an architect might be asked is one that should actually be answered by an owner. The question might relate to use of a particular space, and the architect’s information about the use of the space may not be complete enough to answer the question. In that case, the owner must be consulted for the answer.
It’s healthy for the architect to recognize questions, whether they are actually asked or simply appear as decisions or choices to be made in the design process, and to consider who should answer the questions or make the decisions or choices. In some instances, the questions will be best answered after consultation with more than one party.
We hear architects talk about “getting into trouble”, and it is often the answers they offer or recommendations they make that get them into trouble. One way to minimize the “trouble” is to consider who should answer a question before offering an answer.