Feature Article - February 2004
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Building Bliss

How to select the best architect and builder for your next construction project

By Kelli Anderson


QUALITY CONTROL

Knowing how quality of a project will be achieved is another important area of evaluation. As before, ask previous clients how the architect and builder have fared in the area of quality control. Different delivery methods, however, provide the checks and balances of quality control in different ways.

If the owner is captain and commander of the operation, the owner becomes primarily responsible to ensure that the design and build of the project is as intended. Understanding the constructability of an architect's design and knowing how to oversee its execution—usually with the help of the architect—becomes vital to quality success.

If hiring a GC, ideal for having one go-to person on a project, the owner should have either an in-house staffer or hire an outside agent to oversee the project's progress. In the case of a DBB project at Elmhurst College, Mather was primarily responsible for construction activity. The project went very well. He cautions, however, that GC contracts for fixed payment can offer an inherent incentive to cut subcontracting costs. When this occurs, financial shortcuts can lead to poor construction and costly errors, which become the owner's responsibility. Quality needs to be checked by an owner's representative.

A CM, an agent for the owner, provides a managing service for any delivery method and is the primary monitoring agent. A CM with a reputation for good people skills and for giving 150 percent is a good candidate for quality results. They can collaborate with the designer on the constructability of the proposed designs as well as coordinate and oversee the actual construction process, checking for quality and keeping schedules on keel.

If using a D-B firm, quality control is both an area for the owner to oversee and an internal factor for the firm, which should be addressed during the selection process.

The D-B should be able to describe the organization, lines of authority and responsibility, and planned method of quality control from design start through construction completion, Chapman says, as well as provide the organizational chart of the quality control network.

Past experience is a good indicator of quality design and construction. But in the contractual zeal to stay within budget, some D-B firms may make changes that the owner may not feel are adequate. Know your D-B firm and whether, in the case of quality effecting issues, they can be collaborative when it counts.

EXPERIENCE

Choosing a firm or individual with experience in the local community is also a plus. Being familiar with everything from soil conditions to local materials, codes and regulations will go a long way to avoid the costly and time-consuming pitfalls of ignorance. A lauded designer working exclusively in tropical climates is probably not going to be the best choice for a design in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Just as important, however, is not going with a firm or individual just because they are the community darling. If they've not had experience with your kind of project, be willing to think outside the municipal box and consider more experienced firms and individuals who've worked in your region.

In the case of the community in Grandview, Mo., it successfully worked with both a local architect it trusted and with an experienced architectural firm out of Minnesota. The larger firm had the expertise they needed, while the local team, not experienced with such a project, was nevertheless very eager to understand all their needs. They listened well, and it was that skill that ultimately gave Grandview the customized, unique results they wanted.