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Ralph Liebing, RA, CSI
Senior Member
Username: rliebing

Post Number: 214
Registered: 02-2003
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 02:35 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Have you had a chance to read AIArchitect's latest issue, and namely this--

What are your thoughts about this?-- and how do you see current directions of specifications writing fitting into this?
John Bunzick, CCS, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: bunzick

Post Number: 400
Registered: 03-2002
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 02:59 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

The article is a great theoretical exercise, but is not supported by what's actually going on in the industry. The article is correct in noting that the degree of effort put in by contractors to coordinate the work properly is low, and that construction fees would need to rise to do it right. However, contractors will most likely completely disagree with the effort they need to put in for the types of coordination described in the article. Instead, they will say that architect's documents are sloppy and incomplete. Well, they may be partly right about that, too, since there probably should be an increase in fee for the designer, too. On balance, though, I'm not sure that even case law would support the thesis of this article. I think that the profession and the construction industry are a long way past the scenario described.
Julie Root
Senior Member
Username: julie_root

Post Number: 16
Registered: 02-2004
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 03:01 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I have only scanned it and intend to fully read it. My first take it that it is once again giving away our design responsibility to contractors, owners, CMs. etc..... and we are soooo afraid of risk that we are giving up on design and good architecture. I am concerned that this thought simply brings on the 'whinning' by 'designers' in the profession once something is built and they are disappointed with the results. Thinking that it was beyond their control rather than owning the risk and bellying up to the bar when it comes to really understanding the craft of our service. More later after I have really read it.
Robert E. Woodburn
Senior Member
Username: bwoodburn

Post Number: 74
Registered: 01-2005
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 03:51 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

The lead paragraph says, "It may surprise some people to hear that the architect’s documents cannot be used for construction. Many are of the opinion that the architect prepares the documents and gives them to the contractor, and the contractor takes them and builds the building from the information contained therein. But nothing could be farther from the truth."


“It may surprise some people,” indeed! Shock may have some value in getting attention, but this is ridiculous. It makes no sense at all. It’s just one more example of a meaningful distinction being transmogrified by misunderstanding and sloppy thinking (or worse) into a sweeping but totally fallacious statement.

It's one thing to say these drawings are "conceptual" in nature, conveying a "design concept" or a "design intent," and that they must be supplemented by shop and coordination drawings, and all the rest of the means of clarification and supplementation by the contractor that the article goes on to discuss in excruciating detail. But it's quite another to assert the contract drawings "cannot be used for construction." And it’s potentially quite harmful.

Think: If it were true that Contract Documents prepared by the Architect "cannot be used for construction," then what is the logical consequence? Forcing the Contractor to build WITHOUT using them. At all. Try that! If you see them in the job shack, you have to tell the superintendent, “Get those drawings off the site! They cannot - repeat, CANNOT - be used for construction!”

It makes no sense. The Contract Documents prepared by the Architect are the very foundation of the construction process. Try building without a foundation. Of COURSE THEY HAVE TO BE USED for construction. Without using them, what does the contractor do? Wing it? Improvise? Guess?

Bottom line (I’m amazed the AIA didn’t think this through): If architects’ drawings CANNOT be used for construction, who needs architects? Call a contractor! THEY produce the REAL drawings - construction drawings that CAN be used for construction!

No, it's not splitting hairs! This fundamentally misleading concept - a WRONG concept - set forth with absolute dogmatism (“Nothing could be further from the truth.”) in the first paragraph conveys the wrong impression - the very opposite of the truth. Many readers won’t get very far past that first paragraph. (It’s a long, detailed article.) Toward the end, the authors finally contradict themselves: “Contractor-provided construction documents are essential for constructing a project, and it is evident that the architect’s drawings alone cannot be used because they are conceptual in nature and inherently inadequate for that purpose.” But it’s the first paragraph that will stick in people’s minds, gumming up the thinking process for far too long. And it will be quoted with glee by contractors for a long time to come...and will mislead untold numbers of naive architects and students, who will take it as just one more confirmation that they can just draw up a “concept” and everything else will somehow fall into place.
Margaret G. Chewning FCSI CCS
Senior Member
Username: presbspec

Post Number: 66
Registered: 01-2003
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 03:57 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I haven't had a chance to read the whole thing, but as I read the first paragraph, my first thought was, I need to get these guys in a Fundamental Formats class! Not sure they'd pass the CDT with that kind of thinking.
Doug Brinley AIA CSI CDT CCS
Senior Member
Username: dbrinley

Post Number: 103
Registered: 12-2002
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 04:08 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I'm inclined to agree with Julie about this concept being an erosion of our (perceived) responsibility. However, our cohorts across the Atlantic Ocean have been practicing in a similar vein for many years. And I don't think they are wrong to do so. They certainly have some crappy detailing, but that's beside the point.

Our clients are informed and accepting of the fact that the architect does not provide sufficient drawings (including from our consultants) to build from: HVAC units; fire suppression systems; structural steel; masonry. Architects cannot set control points for buildings to be laid out from. We lead; but we do so with understanding of our limitations.

Contractors and subcontractors must coordinate their work. Owners must insist on this coordination. This is another reason why we have community colleges which teach drafting and 'construction technology'. That's why we have a university system that doesn't teach architects drafting. Instead, we as architects learn skills such as how to speak in front of others, design, etc. and sometimes "get around" to being competent detailers and project managers.

I think it fits pretty good even if at first blush it seems ridiculous to say that a building cannot be built from architects' drawings.
Anne Whitacre, CCS CSI
Senior Member
Username: awhitacre

Post Number: 238
Registered: 07-2002
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 04:40 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

The root issue of this article is lower fees -- for everyone. When I've talked with contractors in the Seattle area who were in business in the late 1940's and 1950's, they regularly put in 25-30% "overhead and profit" to take care of things like coordination drawings, working out issues on the job site and other complications. And we (as designers) had fees in the 10% range for new work and 15% for renovations. (anyone see a fee like that recently?)
The firm I worked for in the mid-70's used to also design, research and detail custom curtainwall systems, and custom ceiling systems. Our engineers did the engineering for these systems as part of their scope of work. In those cases, we did fully detail the work, and figure out how it went together.

Now, because of cost and time constraints, we issue diagrammatic curtain wall drawings that will be fully worked out by the curtainwall fabricator. Even if we fully detailed some system, there would be a cost savings substitution from the contractor using a different system and requiring new detailing.

I haven't met a contractor in a decade who would provide coordination drawings unless we had a requirement in the specs, and even then we usually get a cost reduction proposal to delete them.

Because we have no control over the ultimate systems in the project, our drawings are just the first (or second) step in what is ultimately the construction set of drawings. Unless we have an Owner who not only recognizes our authority to make design decisions, instead of continually wanting to save money with a "cheaper and better" system for the building; unless we have a contractor who actually pays attention to the drawings even when its not convenient to do so, we are essentially offering only partially constructable drawings. Someone has to be paid to do the work required -- and its usually not the design firm.

I think the article is a little alarmist, but perhaps its not a bad wake up call to some firms.
Nathan Woods, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 6
Registered: 08-2005
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - 04:51 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Very interesting discussion. I have not read the article in depth yet, but some of the comments made are equally stimulating I think.

In my opinion, based on primarly private developer lead projects, the Architect's role is sliding toward's insignificance, with regards to built work.

From the imperical role of the Master Builder, the Architect now does little more than suggest materials and describe the geometry of the shape to form them in.

We now live in a world of deferred submittals, a multitude of design-build systems, and an ever increasing number of multiple prime consultants on projects. It wasn't too long ago that all the consultants (even Geotech on occassion), were under my scope. Now, I typically do not have MEP, civil, or landscape. On a few projects, I don't even have structural under my scope any more.

The list of what we don't detail is beginning to exceed that which we do.

Our role in construction project management has been further diluted in contractor lead design-build, and CMA and CM@Risk projects. Some days, I feel like a glorified drafting service.

Almost makes me wish for Public Bid work again :-)
John Regener, AIA, CCS, CCCA, CSI, SCIP
Senior Member
Username: john_regener

Post Number: 227
Registered: 04-2002
Posted on Thursday, September 08, 2005 - 09:51 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I agree with Margaret Chewning.

Apparently, there is a fundamental misunderstanding or lack of understanding about the nature of construction contract documents. The material required for the CDT exam covers this well and cuts through the crap. The only thing that counts is what the contract requires.

It's about contract documents, not construction documents. The drawings, along with the specifications, the agreement and some other forms and affidavits, make up the contract documents. As long as the concept of contract documents is kept clearly in mind, and terms like "Construction Set" are avoided, there is solid footing for administering the construction contract.

That said, there should be caution about providing information that is not included in or differs from what is in the contract documents. For example and following the AIArchitect article, if the fire extinguisher cabinet is specified as a semi-recessed model but the drawings state "recessed fire extinguisher cabinet" there is a discrepency that needs to be resolved (i.e., the RFI process and potential change order kicks in).

That's when the Architect makes statements about design intent but the facts of life about recessing a 6-inch deep cabinet in a 4-inch deep cavity slap the Architect with a reality check. But what is inappropriate is for the Architect to submit to providing installation details, such as a dimensioned drawing of the wall framing for the cabinet recess showing an "additional" stud, a header and a sill at the opening, and how to coordinate the wall recess with the adjoining plumbing lines and electrical outlets. That is, to provide construction drawings.

Now, a super conscientious Architect with a generous fee, will detail the precise location and size of the fire extinguisher cabinet and claim that a certain model of a certain size is the Basis of the Design. This gets fouled up when coordination of building systems (the plumbing and electrical components hidden in the wall) reveals conflicts. Then the carefully prepared, detailed information gets used against the Architect, and perhaps justifiably so. If the actual conditions differ from what is shown and specified in the contract documents, the Contractor will claim justification for a Change Order and an adjustment of the Contract Sum and Contract Time.

There is a dynamic tension between the contract documents indicating WHAT to build and the interests and needs of contractors for instructions on HOW to build. So, statements need to be kept clearly in mind such as the one in AIA A201 General Conditions, about how the Contractor is solely responsible for the means, methods, techniques and sequences of construction.
Ralph Liebing, RA, CSI
Senior Member
Username: rliebing

Post Number: 216
Registered: 02-2003
Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005 - 08:56 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I started this with my own questions and "take"; seeing the comments here I developed the following response to the Editor of AIArchitect--

By Ralph W. Liebing, RA, CSI
Cincinnati, OH

It is not clear why the authors of the article, “Drawing The Line”, in the 09/2005 issue of AIArchitect [an AIA publication] took the viewpoint or perspective they did. In the opinions of some, took a rather quirky turn almost 180o from conventional thinking.

The initial thrust seems to demean the value of the architect, and dismiss the traditional idea of products produced in professional offices. Starting with what is an obvious negative, the article moderates somewhat as it progresses to a more realistic finale.

More realistic? Yes, as opposed to the negative beginning. Perhaps they are really stating the truth and nothing but the truth, and the actual situation, but they do so in a rather discrediting manner. It certainly seems that the authors could have addressed the primary premise of their work in a far more constructive and informative manner.

There is little new in this piece except that the tone of the commentary casts a “new’ and rather odd light on the situation. This process has been in place and working for decades-- it is just that the authors now choose to explain it from another viewpoint. That viewpoint though is counter to the “conventional wisdom” and the long and deeply held view of the process.

So why the article?

In view of the fact that this process and scenario is not addressed in many, if any, schools of architecture, there was a major educational opportunity missed. Why not really explain the reality of the design-construction process? Why not openly, clearly, and accurately portray the process that is in place and which has been working well for years?

Student NEED to know this process in order to better understand their functions, their contributions, and their futures. Students of architecture suffer from the lack of reality. They don’t know how the process works as they progress through their academic sequence. Internship reveals some aspects, and professional offices are supposed to offer full explanations [but usually relegate this to simple OJT or education by osmosis].

In the article there is a major disconnect: specifications are barely mentioned and then only as tangential documents, in the mode of, “Oh, yes, we have these, too”. Reality shows however, that even giving the contractors their full due, as the article does, the specifications, in their normal relationship to the drawings, provide an amazing amount of necessary insight, direction, instruction, and parameters for the project in question. Their true function is to detail the intent and desires of the professionals and the owners.

Contractors don’t produce specifications! Contractors do not produce design and working drawings! And rightly so! For if they did, the project would be “theirs” as they controlled the entirety of the work, the products and the procedures. In that, it is not clear if the owner will always receive what was approved as design concept and value for money spent.

It is accurate to enumerate the documents that the contractor must and do produce [and have produced as required through our history] to work through the project, but all of their work is seated and rooted in the documents produced by the professionals [and for an AIA article, that is the architects]. Like so many other examples, the basic product or document must be adapted, from its original state, to the current need or use-- a function repeated innumerable times, every day.

If the authors wished to correct what they see as an inaccurate portrayal of the tasks and products of contractors and professionals- fine! But this certainly need not, and should not be done in a tone that presents the professionals as wrong, or have misguided efforts, are misunderstood, or are virtually useless.

* * * * * *
(Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Sunday, September 11, 2005 - 01:33 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

That letter is a sitting duck for heavy editing. If published, it may be cut so severely it no longer conveys your intent. If you distill it yourself , your points will be far more emphatic.
(Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Sunday, September 11, 2005 - 02:43 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Omitting or changing a word or two can change a truth to a lie. The article's lead leaves "alone" (or "by themselves") out of its premise, that "the architect's documents [-] cannot be used for construction" - making it false. Shocking, yes, but still false. This is akin to the "journalism" one expects from supermarket tabloids, which is designed to attract an audience for their advertisers that will believe anything - the more ludicrous, the better.

With all due respect, I offer these suggestions on the letter above: The article doesn't start with an “obvious negative,” it starts with what is at best a “highly questionable premise.” Calling it "obvious" only compounds the damage. (OK, it's a lie, but telling an editor that is no way to get published.)

And following that with, “Perhaps they are really stating the truth and nothing but the truth, and the actual situation...” further aggravates the problem. The premise - that the "architect’s documents cannot be used for construction" is not the truth, much less "nothing but the truth." It's the very opposite - false. It needs to be identified as such.

Propagandists call this the "big lie" technique - however ludicrous a false statement (as mentioned, the more ludicrous, the better), if it's repeated often enough, some will begin to believe it.

It's best to nip this in the bud, before it gets passed around, which it will. Perhaps the easiest response for the editor would be to apologize for any misunderstanding caused by omitting the words "by themselves" or "alone" that should have been included. For that matter, perhaps the letter could suggest that. But neither would fully address the confusing impression, promoted insidiously throughout the article, that the real ("essential") "construction documents" are produced by the contractor, not the architect and other design professionals.
Sheldon Wolfe
Senior Member
Username: sheldon_wolfe

Post Number: 159
Registered: 01-2003
Posted on Sunday, September 11, 2005 - 11:52 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I'm not sure what the authors' intent was, but if you ignore the sensational first paragraph, the article does not give away any anything; it is simply an observation of what is stated in what may be the most commonly used general conditions in this country, AIA's A201. No, the contractor would have no idea what to do without drawings and a project manual, but the essence of the article is true. Architects prepare documents that illustrate the design intent, and contractors figure out how to make that happen.

Architects have been trying to reduce their responsibility for many years. On the face of it, that sounds bad, but there is good reason for doing so. Architects delude themselves if they believe they are the "master builders" that architects once were, or at least tried to be. There are few architects or specifiers who know enough about all the products and processes involved in construction of anything more complicated than a garage to provide complete contract documents that would obviate the need for shop drawings and other contractor-prepared documents. Even if they do know everything about everything, they would be unable to make a living producing those documents.

And if architects did produce construction documents that included every screw, connector, detail, and schedule, the contractor would be relieved of nearly all responsibility, as there would be nothing left in the "means and methods" that architects love, as they make the architect's job so much easier.

The article points out some of the difficulties we face simply because architects do not enforce their own documents. Maybe it's because architects are really nice people, or maybe they just don't understand what the general conditions and Division 01 mean, but time and again I see them bending over backwards to do the contractor's work.

The common belief seems to be that the architect is responsible for everything, including telling the contractor exactly what to do. The AIA documents (and other similar documents) are intended to assign responsibility to the entities best able to manage that responsibility. The contractor, who should - and usually does - know more about how to put a building together, is charged with those things related to that job.

Allowing - no, requiring the contractor to fulfill the requirements of the contract documents does not give away anything in the way of good design. If the contract documents clearly indicate the intended results, the contractor should have little problem producing the required shop drawings, coordination drawings, and schedules.

(More thoughts on the changes in the architect's profession at http://snipurl.com/hlq8).
Shedrick E. Glass, CSI, CCS
Senior Member
Username: shedd_glass

Post Number: 14
Registered: 07-2004
Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005 - 09:35 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Well stated, Mr. Wolfe.

In addition to a desire for their designs to be "all they can be", Architects feel an obligation to their owner to do all they can to see to it the owner receives value for his/her money and in persuit of that end, go beyond their authority and obligation in many instances.

It needs to be noted here that the architect is engaged contractually to provide "DESIGN SERVICES" plus "FIELD OBSERVATION" services to "VERIFY" (not ensure) that the "CONTRACTOR" provides a product that complies with the design intent.

When the Architect was a "MASTER BUILDER", he also engaged himself upon the project as such and was given the power/authority to make it so. That is not the case in todays world.
Wayne Yancey
Senior Member
Username: wyancey

Post Number: 61
Registered: 05-2005
Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005 - 11:37 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I agree with Sheldon's comment "architects do not enforce their own documents." Submittals requirements are not enforced; QA mockups are not enforced; preinstallation conferences are not enforced; and the list goes on. I repeat at my current employer, if we will not enforce the requirements of the Contract Documents, we should remove the requirements.

I also see the CA staff making decisions or giving direction to the GC that are contrary to the Contract Documents. They do not read Divison 01 in any detail or simply do not know what is in Division 01 or how to find it.

How do others educate their CA staff to read and understand the requirements of Division 01 through 49. My office is small enough that converations with GCs can be overheard. It never ceases to amaze me how little our own CA staff knows. The result is erroneous advise.

Perhaps everyone should become certified CDT and CCS and CCCA.

We should all spend several years at the begining of our careers in Great Britain where the design authority does quantify everything and the GC bids on that quanity.

Nathan Woods, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 10
Registered: 08-2005
Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005 - 12:26 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


How do others educate their CA staff to read and understand the requirements of Division 01 through 49?

I have a hard time understanding how they could not! Their job is to administer the contract, via the contract documents and procedures. How can you do that job without knowing what those requirements are?

I guess my recommendation would be to have them review, edit, and redline those sections, and make them a part of the process. Then assign one or two of them to train the rest of the office on what those procedures are and what these sections mean and how it impacts their job in the CCA process.


Wayne Yancey
Senior Member
Username: wyancey

Post Number: 62
Registered: 05-2005
Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005 - 04:03 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


I am as surprised as you are.

We are involved in the assessment and rehab (A&R) side of the business. We do not design for aesthetics but for water, air, vapor, and thermal management.

That said, some of our staff comes from the contractor side of the A&R. One would expect a former contractor to thoroughly know a spec, its organization and its contents. Not so.

I would expect all involved in CA would have read the project manual issued with the bid documents and contract documents. I assume to much.

Perhaps these things simply take time and eventually sort themselves out.

Your suggestions have merit. Thanks.

Nathan Woods, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 11
Registered: 08-2005
Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005 - 04:51 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Oh, well that explains it. I once saw a "editorial" style cartoon with a contractor sticking his head out of the porta-potty, yelling to the foreman, "Hey, we're out of specs!"

Based on years of casual disregard of 90% of the division 1 section from contractors, I am not at all surprised you are having this issue. The theory behind the continuity of Specifications, Contracts, and design philosophies in putting together our drawings is foreign to most GC's. Educating them on this process is one of the things I enjoy out in the field. Every now and then you get the "Aha! look in their eyes....But usually you just get the same expression as when you hold a phone to a dog's ear. :-)
Wayne Yancey
Senior Member
Username: wyancey

Post Number: 63
Registered: 05-2005
Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005 - 06:53 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


The imagery in your post gave me a good laugh.

I have also seen the lightbulb go on and that 10,000 yard stare.

I once became very condescening to a Super over the phone because he could not see the asnwers to his questions in black and white. I walked him thru chapter and verse in the spec. He slammed the phone down after venting his spleen. But, he never asked a dumber than dumb question again. The guy had anger management issues. I think he relished his reputation. Everyone else shook their heads and said "what an a-----e." His superior was always reining him in. He was evenutaully relieved of his duties and made the job site saftey management guy.

Closer to home, one of the PM's I work with was looking for the "stucco" section in Division 07 and was getting quite peeved when he could not find it. My response was to "read the table of contents."

How do some people make it as far as they do?

I have been in this profession for 38 years, 3 months, 12 days. I guess I have developed a "Oh what the ----" attitude; chalk it up to experience and move on. I used to get anal about this stuff, but now I shake my head and say OK. As long as all my ducks are in a row I am satified. I am tired of teaching.

David Axt, AIA, CCS, CSI
Senior Member
Username: david_axt

Post Number: 533
Registered: 03-2002
Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005 - 07:04 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


I think that you are taking the wrong approach. You (We) should be teaching. The rest of us and CSI should be teaching.

I did not learn all of my knowledge on my own. Sometimes I had people help me along the way.

I feel that one of our duties as specifiers is to give back our knowledge to the profession. There is no advantage in hoarding information. (Unless, of course, you are headed to a lawsuit and have incriminating info.)

Remember Alan Holl? (Alan is a mutual friend of ours and we both worked with him.) He would always be willing to drop what he was doing and help someone out. I have always respected him for that. When he explained things he never made a person feel small or stupid. In fact he did the opposite. You walked away with a little extra confidence.
Doug Brinley AIA CSI CDT CCS
Senior Member
Username: dbrinley

Post Number: 110
Registered: 12-2002
Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005 - 07:24 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I agree but sometimes there are people who should know better and some that simply don't care. I think we all get tired of trying to work with that degree of ($--+).

I'm learning myself to let others come to me. For those people, I will take time to share, and I'll go out of my way to help them in a true spirit of learning. Others, I just don't (can't) care if they 'get it' or not.

I think a lot of people have crazy pressures in their lives. Subs don't show up for work because they're in jail; that guy's on crack, etc. It's worse than we think sometimes.

Did you know that losing a driver's license is the fastest path to homelessness in our country? 2 easy ways to lose a license: 1) alcoholism, and 2) not paying child support. How many guys have those problems? Been to a LaborReady lately? There are skilled plumbers in there!

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