Technical Peer Review

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Peer Review (and Change Order Management)

You have probably experienced change orders on every project built from your designs, and you may have come to expect them. Yet almost every new change order claim from a contractor is unexpected and relates to needs or requirements you thought your construction documents covered. They can result from information gaps or contradictions, where something that should be shown is not, or where a requirement in one place contradicts a requirement in another, even within the same drawing or specification section. Many claims may be based on a clear enough reading of the drawings and specifications: for example, you wanted blue, but your drawings or specifications actually call for yellow. Looking at such a claim, you are likely to wonder how yellow found its way into the drawings, when you thought you had been perfectly clear with your project team that you (or your client) wanted blue.

Change orders – even for seemingly minor items – can be frightfully expensive on a large project, and even the most empathetic clients can become irritated at having to write checks to cover perceived boo-boos. For the architect, such change orders can become an embarrassment that detracts from the reputation you hope to enjoy. Beyond embarrassment, it can adversely affect repeat business and referrals. Other issues related to the construction documents may go unnoticed during construction and surface as post-construction problems.

A Peer Review of construction documents can look for potential change orders and potential post-construction problems. An independent reviewer sees what you drew or wrote without knowing what you think you drew or wrote. As a fellow architect looking at your construction documents, the independent reviewer may recognize your design intent and be able to share useful observations about the documents to facilitate your effective completion of the documents for bidding and construction.

A Peer Review can help your credibility with your client by helping you find and address flaws in your construction document before bidding and construction.

I have been checking and reviewing architectural drawings (and related consultant drawings) and specifications for 35 years. Experience with unexpected change orders and observations of post-construction issues have sharpened my ability to spot gaps and inconsistencies in construction documents. The following are examples from a list of questions I generally consider in a review of construction documents:

1.    Do the drawing views (plans, elevations, sections, etc.) relate to each other well and come together as a cohesive and coordinated picture of the building? Do the basic views contradict each other? Is cross-referencing coherent?

2.    Do the drawings include sufficient views and information to illustrate and convey requirements related to the building enclosure configuration, including recesses, projections, ups and downs, material changes, air barriers and their connections, vapor control layers, and other construction conditions?

5.    Are details buildable? Do details allow for a basic, conventional sequence* of construction, or do they suggest an impractical approach, requiring, for example, the installation of finish materials before structure? (Attention to detail is always important but is especially important for projects that employ 3D modeling software and demand a subtractive approach to detailing vs. a conventional additive approach to detail development.)(*Although sequence is generally understood to be a contractor responsibility, the architect’s details should be in keeping with a reasonable sequence of construction.)

6.    Are roof slopes and drainage adequate? (This can be a problem area for buildings with low-slope roofs, especially if the designers focus exclusively on other matters or have difficulty visualizing low slope drainage conditions.)

8.    Do features of the building’s design challenge the weather-resistive performance of the building enclosure? (Do the features necessitate special attention to details and materials?)

16.   Are consultant drawings coordinated with architectural drawings and with other consultant drawings?

         a.    Are structural levels consistent with architectural levels? Do foundation, top-of-wall, top-of-steel, and deck elevations agree with related architectural information?

         c.    Do the structural drawings include the information referenced on the architectural drawings by notes such as “See Structural”? Conversely, where structural drawings refer to architectural drawings for information, do the architectural    drawings include the referenced information?

         d.    Are site utilities drawings coordinated with mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection (MEP&FP) drawings in terms of utility locations, inverts, sizes, site-to-building connections, and connections by one trade to equipment by another?


       21.    Are specifications complete and consistent with drawings in terms of materials and products to be used (e.g., if membrane roofing is indicated on the drawings by type, does the type specified agree with the type noted on the drawings)?

       23.    Are specifications complete with regard to bidding requirements established in applicable public laws (e.g., MGL c.149/149a)?

      The extent of a peer review of construction documents depends on the budget for the review, the available review time, the condition and completeness of the drawings and specifications, and the agreed scope of the review. The project’s architect maintains responsibility for deciding how to proceed in response to review comments, and the review does not relieve the project’s architect of any professional responsibilities or liability, nor is there any transfer of that responsibility and liability to the reviewer.

Reviews can be tailored to focus on specific matters such as building code compliance, accessibility compliance, or other criteria either exclusively or in combination with a basic review.

See also Constructability Reviews: From the Ground Up.

Contact Al Russell for more information. Ask for references.