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  • Lorianna Kastrop

It Takes a Team: Construction problems that could have been avoided

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

Lately we received calls from potential clients who want us to rescue a project that went sideways far into the design and construction process. This is so unnecessary and makes us sad for the building owner, who has already been through so much and is now facing additional cost and delay.

One situation involves a homeowner who refused to allow her architect to provide Construction Administration services on her remodel. Construction Administration includes answering questions from the general contractor to clarify the drawings, making changes or additions to the plans and specifications if necessary to address unforeseen conditions, and observing the project while it is under construction to see that it is being built according to the approved plans. She was told by her design-build contractor that he could handle anything she needed. She thought she was saving money by not having the architect involved. As it turns out, her contractor made changes when he was doing the construction, and he didn’t draw or resubmit changes to the Building Department. Now the Building Inspector won’t sign off on the final inspection because the construction didn’t match the approved design. The client is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She has a “completed” project that really isn’t complete. She needs the architect to change the drawings and resubmit them based on what was built. This is going to be a difficult thing to accomplish and it’s going to cost her thousands of dollars more than the few hundred she would have paid for Construction Administration in the first place. That also doesn’t guarantee that she can get it re-permitted without doing any demolition and reconstruction. The architect is not currently available to revise the drawings and may not be willing to take the project back for revisions.

A second situation (and a pretty common one) is that the owner of a commercial building had a contractor start doing improvements on his building without a permit from the City. Now that he has been “caught” there is a stop-work order, his business cannot re-open, and he’s losing money by the day. He desperately needs a licensed architect to design his project and get it permitted, but it is a small job and few busy commercial architects want to take on the rush and aggravation of a legalization project that is on a tight budget.

A last example involves a homeowner who talked to a contractor about what he had in mind for a remodel. The contractor told him that the project would cost about $300,000. The homeowner then hired an architect who completed the project and got it permitted, but with no further contact with the contractor. The contractor bid the permitted project at $700,000. This homeowner is unhappy with both the architect and the contractor for misleading him about what he could build for his available budget. He wants to find someone who will revise the design and construction documents to fit his budget.

In all of these cases, the general contractor was either not in communication with the architect, or there was no architect on the job at the time of construction. Don’t make the same mistake. Be sure to keep everyone involved all the way through the process and don’t skimp just because there will be some architectural fees involved. Remember, the “soft costs” (architecture, engineering and permits) will be far less than the construction costs. Those soft costs will save you many thousands in “hard costs” for construction, not to mention saving you the stress and delay of having a project go wrong. The client, the architect and the contractor are like a three-legged stool—each leg is vital for the project to “stand” effectively. Ideally, the three team members could be collaborating and communicating effectively all the way through the project—from preliminary design through final completion. At the very least, once the design is substantially complete, bids should be received so that a preferred contractor can be chosen to collaborate and assist in revising the final construction documents to fit the client’s budget. This process is usually referred to as “value engineering”. By using every opportunity to collaborate, the most advantageous outcome is possible.

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