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  • Lorianna Kastrop

When the drawings look nice, but aren’t adequate for permitting or construction

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

In the April 5th issue of Engineering News Record magazine there is an article that addresses the issue of contractors encountering design documents that are not complete enough to build. The article raises a number of concerns, but this is the one that caught my eye:

“younger, tech-savvy designers who are replacing retiring baby boomers. Stuart Coppedge, a principal with RTA Architects, Colorado Springs, recalls how his experience on summer construction jobs during high school provided valuable preparation for his future career. Now, he says, finding architecture-school graduates with construction experience is increasingly difficult. ‘They may not intuitively understand work processes and how materials work,’ Coppedge says. ‘It’s up to a firm’s leadership to train people and help them understand what they’re doing.’ Virtual design and construction technology, often cited as a boon to productivity, can be a double-edged sword as well. ‘It lets you draw a whole lot, but it doesn’t guarantee good results,’ Coppedge says.”

We have come upon this problem numerous times when clients bring us projects. They say that they “already have a design”. They have drawings that look nice on paper, but when seen with an experienced eye we find numerous errors that will not allow the project to be permitted, much less built by a licensed contractor. Sometimes the drawings were created by an architecture firm (but an inexperienced architect). But more often the drawings were prepared by an unlicensed residential designer, interior designer, friend or family member, etc., using design software. The software creates drawings that look like formal construction documents, but without the experience and knowledge of a licensed architect they are just concepts, not construction documents.

It upsets the client when we explain that we can’t use much of what they gave us, often needing to start completely from scratch. Common problems include:

  1. Not considering setbacks, floor area ratio, or other applicable zoning ordinances.

  2. Not using accurate measurements from the existing structure.

  3. Not following Building Code requirements.

  4. Not understanding enough about construction to specify the electrical, plumbing, heating elements properly.

  5. Not understanding structural needs, for example creating a large open room without a beam appropriate to support the roof.

  6. Doors and windows of odd sizes and in odd places, such that they don’t meet construction standards.

  7. And the list can go on and on.


Some of the code books we have in our office library.

Sometimes a client has spent quite a bit of money and time to get to the point where they are ready to submit for a building permit. Then the permitting agency tells them that they will need an architect. Of course, they want the architect (us) to just stamp the drawings that they gave us. No, we can’t do that. Not only because we can’t take legal responsibility for substandard work produced by a non-licensed designer, but also because we will have to spend many hours fixing mistakes that we would not have created in the first place. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies to construction as well as to many other things in life. Design and construction documents by an experienced licensed architect will cost you more up front than going to an unlicensed designer. That is undoubtedly true. But you will ultimately avoid costly errors and time lost in making corrections to fix hidden mistakes in the drawings. Don’t assume that because the drawings were created using architectural design software that they are necessarily correct. The software cannot substitute for architectural, engineering, and construction knowledge.

As always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”. Best wishes on your project.

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