Construction collaboration to achieve design intent

What is the basis of collaboration?
It is difficult to say who knows more about the building under construction: the architect/engineer or the contractor. Each knows something different about the same thing.

The architect/engineer has categorical knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of the building obtained through programming discussions with the owner and months of design development. This knowledge and visual information is immediate, direct, and extremely useful to those constructing the building.

The contractor has intuitive knowledge acquired from years of practicing its trade and working cooperatively with others to construct buildings. The means and methods of constructing a building from a two-dimensional depiction comprise the contractor’s institutional knowledge. This company knowledge is passed along from one management team and one generation to another, becoming the bedrock of its business. The contractor is the final examiner of the building documents; further, likely having worked on similar projects, he or she can be a valuable resource to the architect/engineer.

A directed, collaborative approach to construction representation has many benefits for the architect/engineer. However, the architect’s construction representative may need better training in how to control the risks associated with fieldwork. This may make construction administration more expensive, but it will reduce risk.

To minimize the legal hazards of construction collaboration, the architect’s construction administrator should be guarded in conversations with the contractor. He or she should stick with categorical knowledge and carefully researched information from the building documents, avoiding sidetracked discussions of the contractor’s means and methods. The CA should always make a written record of any discussions about the documents, sending a copy to the owner, construction manager, and contractor. A written report, with photos of every site visit, should also be filed—sometimes a single photo will alert a team member to something amiss.

The architect/engineer’s withdrawal from active construction participation has created a vacuum that is being filled by other enterprising companies offering a range of accounting and construction services to the client. Many of these services are simply knock-offs of those traditionally provided by architect/engineers, but lack the same level of acumen, categorical knowledge, and self-interest.

By walking away from an active construction administration, architects could be leaving the fate of their projects in the hands of others who may lack commitment to the design intent—the natural province of the architect/engineer. Instead of paving the way for others to get paid for an imitation of the services that architects traditionally provided, the A/E should be pricing its services to include the cost of additional risk onsite collaboration entails.

The architect/engineer has the professional training, categorical knowledge, and experience to guide the construction to its ultimate destination—the achievement of the design intent. The contractor has the skills and experience to create the design intent out of the two-dimensional plans and specifications in cooperation with other contractors. This natural collaborative relationship should be encouraged, not avoided.

Further reading…
This article represents the research and opinions of the author. It is intended for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine the complex interaction of laws, suggestions, and illustrations of specific situations.

Paul Potts is a technical writer and construction administrator. He has worked in the construction industry as an independent contractor and administrator for architects, engineers, and owners in Michigan. Potts can be contacted via e-mail at

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