Assignment of design to constructors: A discussion and direction

Complexity of design is driving an increase in the quantity 
of specifications dealing with the deferred design process.
Complexity of design is driving an increase in the quantity of specifications dealing with the deferred design process.

Building codes allow registered professionals of record to defer or assign design solutions for building components to “others” using appropriate delegation or assignment language through the contractual language and specifications. Transparency by the RPR is required to keep the owner fully informed regarding what design will be performed by themselves and what will be performed by others.

The one limitation under state licensing guidelines isthe coordinating professional of record and the registered professionals of record are not permitted to defer, delegate, or assign their responsibilities for compliance with the building codes; the responsibility for deferred or collaborative design remains with the coordinating professional of record.

Design intent versus design

The phrases “design intent” and “design” are often used synonymously by registered professionals, as if they have the same meaning. Discussions arising from the concepts of deferred design require recognition of two separate functions associated with design intent and design.

Design intent represents the responsibility of registered professionals of record to the public regarding safety, and responsibility for incorporation of functionality and aesthetics described by the owner’s stated performance requirements. Design represents the solution or outcome derived from the design intent. These words are used within this discussion to represent these two aspects and to maintain a clear distinction between the design intent responsibility of the design professional and the design solution responsibility of the constructor.

The players and influencers

Most readers of this magazine are well aware of the traditional roles of constructor (contractor, construction manager, or design‑builder) and the architect/engineer (design professional, coordinating registered professional, or RPR).

The “other design entities” within the arena of professional involvement arising from the deferred or collaborative design process used to deliver deferred submittals during the progress of the work are not defined. Examples of these contributors have already been introduced as the supporting registered professional and the supporting certified/qualified contributors.

Supporting registered professionals are not mandated by the building codes, but delegation of design responsibilities to supporting registered professionals is a recommended mechanism—by most engineering associations—for the RPR to receive assurances from other registered professionals, who do not form a part of the project team and who can provide appropriate design solutions. Various professional associations at the provincial and state levels provide written guidance supporting the role of supporting registered professionals. The term used in this article may not match the definitions of those associations, but the concept of transference and acceptance of responsibilities is clearly described.

The term “supporting certified/qualified contributors” is the “someone else entity” for deferred or collaborative design solutions not requiring participation by a registered professional. This term accounts for contributions from certified or qualified individuals to specialty components or specialist knowledge that does not form a part of the coordinating registered professional’s or RPR’s range of experience.

Contributions by the supporting certified/qualified contributors include design services associated with firestop design covered by a certified fire protection specialist (CFPS) and door hardware schedules and specifications provided by a door and hardware specification consultant (DHSC). This group may also include other certified individuals having specialty knowledge.

State engineering associations only address:

  • professional practice;
  • how registered professionals respond to design requirements within and outside of provincial borders; and
  • how the RPR incorporates contributions from supporting registered professionals.

The relationship between the RPR and assigned-design contributions by supporting certified/qualified contributors is not specifically described, although the concept is the same as required by the supporting registered professional.

Design solutions for engineered components are considered delegated design. In these cases, a contribution by a registered professional is required in order to complete the deferred design component, or the component is directly associated with building code compliance. This category includes items such as:
structural steel connections;
• steel decking;
• composite steel (owsj, heavy truss);
• wind loadbearing studs;
• light gauge loadbearing cold-formed framing;
• stairs;
• guard and handrail anchors to structure;
• custom guards and handrails (non-pre-engineered systems);
• composite wood (trusses, mass timber, glued-laminated [glulam] timber);
• curtain wall anchors to structure;
• custom curtain wall—themed or non-pre-engineered systems (this would be better forming a part of pre-construction design-assist category);
• fall arrest anchors to structure;
• fire suppression systems; and
• seismic restraints for non-structural systems.

This list is not intended to be all-inclusive, and additional content will need to be considered for future development of delegated-design components.

Design solutions for specialty components are considered assigned design. A contribution by a registered professional is not required for code compliance, but certification or confirmation of properties is required. This category includes items such as:
• concrete mix design;
• door hardware (this would be better forming a part of pre-construction design-assist category);
• firestopping;
• skylights;
• pre-engineered guards and handrails;
• fall arrest systems (this would be better forming a part of pre-construction design-assist category, but is often dealt with as post-construction design-assist contribution);
• standard pre-engineered systems;
• custom canopies;
• pre-engineered structures; and
• integrated security systems (this would be better forming a part of pre-construction design-assist category).

Most architectural associations are silent on the concepts of supporting registered professionals and supporting certified/qualified contributors. This is the probable reason behind inappropriate or incorrect deferred design within the architectural project documents.

Deferring design must not be used to transfer design intent responsibility to the constructor because the RPR does not have sufficient time or budget to complete the design. Deferring design should only occur when the RPR does not have the necessary skills to complete the work, and the owner is informed and has accepted the need for deferral.

Owners have expectations of the RPR based on the fees paid; an expectation the RPR will provide a complete design, meaning any exclusions to the owner’s stated requirements are clearly identified prior to signing a contract with the owner.

Responsibilities of the constructor

Design intent of temporary facilities has always been the responsibility of the constructor, including any engineering of temporary structures and safety systems not part of the primary building work. This responsibility does not form a part of the deferred design discussion; this is simply work the constructor does as a part of their contract deliverables. The design professional may ask to review these design components as an informational submittal, but responsibility stays with the constructor for these components. Engineering of temporary facilities is specifically excluded from the services provided by the RPR under normal contract requirements.

Forms of collaborative design

Collaborative design typically occurs during production of the drawings and specifications, but it can occur as a cash allowance component during the construction phase. It is generally incorporated as a component of the information contained within the construction documents, and requires no further delegation of design responsibility to the constructor.

Obtaining design solutions using a design-assist approach without compensation to the supporting certified/qualified contributors or supporting registered professional demeans the value of those services and opens the RPR to scrutiny from peers if the design solutions fail to recognize the complexity of the project.

Collaborative design carries a responsibility for the RPR to maintain a competitive procurement process as well as recognize the professional’s responsibilities to the performance of the building as the coordinating professional of record/RPR.

The adage “you get what you pay for” is apt when obtaining design solutions from supporting certified/qualified contributors. The more complex the project requirements, the greater the need to pay for design-assist services.

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