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Nathan Woods, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 415
Registered: 08-2005

Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 06:37 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Liz O'Sullivan wrote a thought provoking article on her blog recently. I haven't seen it posted elsewhere, so I thought I would share it here:


An excerpt:
"Things are looking dismal in our profession. We have lots of bad buildings in the U.S. We have record numbers of unemployed architecture professionals, and many of the firms that do have work are getting lower fees for their services. Architects seem to be respected a little bit less every decade by owners and contractors.

And, every decade, a higher percentage of design and construction projects seem to be led by the contractor team.

Yes, there’s a connection. More contractor-led projects lead to more badly-designed buildings, lower fees for architects, less stability for architecture firms, and less respect for architects."
Lisa Goodwin Robbins, RA, CCS, LEED ap
Senior Member
Username: lgoodrob

Post Number: 165
Registered: 08-2004
Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 08:53 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I thought this was an excellent blog post too, with real proposals for change. Thanks Liz.
Liz O'Sullivan
Senior Member
Username: liz_osullivan

Post Number: 26
Registered: 10-2011

Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 12:43 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Thanks, Nathan, for posting!
Nathan Woods, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 416
Registered: 08-2005

Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 12:50 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

No problem. You did the hard part, so thank you!
Ellis C. Whitby, PE, CSI, AIA, LEED® AP
Senior Member
Username: ecwhitby

Post Number: 136
Registered: 03-2003
Posted on Friday, February 17, 2012 - 11:15 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


That is an excellent opinion piece. I believe that the relative lack or registration in teachers (professors, instructors, etc) in architectural schools is only part of the problem: I wonder how many have designed and been responsible for the Contract documents and the CCA phase for anything larger than a house or small commercial facility? From what I see, not very many.

I also wonder how many instructor/professors in engineering schools are registered. That issue may get more complicated since it is my understanding that in many industries registration has never been required (for example: aerospace engineering, automotive design, motor design (electrical or fossil fueled), etc.). Since I have worked primarily in traditional AE projects since graduation in 1974 I could be very wrong about the registration requirements for other industries. Does anyone know?

(Nathan: was the use of "reigns" versus "reins" a pun?)
Nathan Woods, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 417
Registered: 08-2005

Posted on Friday, February 17, 2012 - 11:43 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

/i{Nathan: was the use of "reigns" versus "reins" a pun?)}

LOL! Completely unintentional on my part. Or pheraps I should say, I did not conciously type it that way :-)
Lynn Javoroski FCSI CCS LEED® AP SCIP Affiliate
Senior Member
Username: lynn_javoroski

Post Number: 1394
Registered: 07-2002

Posted on Friday, February 17, 2012 - 11:54 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Coulda been "rains" - at least Liz had it right.
Richard HIrd (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Friday, February 17, 2012 - 09:25 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Agree completely, but it reflects a general tendency in our society, since the 50's, to not recognize the difference between a "professional interest" and a "business interest". Back then, doctors lawyers, architects, teachers and many other "professions" were respected because they had values other than "winning".

Let us not fear the new competion, just expect them to have some ethics. When choices are based on more than who has the dollars, they will be competing.
Liz O'Sullivan
Senior Member
Username: liz_osullivan

Post Number: 27
Registered: 10-2011

Posted on Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 12:18 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


I agree with your take on professions, and how things have changed over the last decades. Many professionals DO still have values other than "winning," but a lot of professionals do not have the financial ability to keep those values. My impression is that decades ago, most of the people who went to college (and then on to law school or med school) came from the upper middle class, and didn't have to borrow money to go to school and earn a professional degree. They had family support, maybe even family money to supplement their earnings as professionals. Those who came from the middle class were still ok - college didn't cost as much as it does now. Most of the professionals who completed school decades ago didn't have to choose between selecting a job they really wanted, or selecting a job that would pay back their student loans.

I disagree with you on the competition issue: I do not believe that architects will be able to compete (on a large scale) with contractor-led design, if things continue the way they have been going.

Wealthy homeowners, and wealthy private owners of privately-held businesses, will probably continue to choose good architects to lead their construction projects, but anyone who has to answer to taxpayers or shareholders will NOT.

Schools, universities, publicly-held businesses, and governments will not be able to argue to the stakeholders that the extra money spent on good design will be worth it. If we continue this way (with architects understanding less and less about the technical aspects of construction) architect-led design/construction projects will be for the wealthy only.

I plan to do the work I do now, architectural specifications, for the rest of my life. I'm only 39. I'll be happy to do it, and will do my best, and will find satisfaction in my work, whether I'm contracted by a contractor or by an architect, but I'd rather work for an architect. If there are no more architects out there who have need of specifications, I'll do it for a contractor.

This could happen. And I don't think it'll have much to do with eroding ethics. I think it'll have everything to do with an eroding understanding of the importance of the technical, on the part of architects.
Andy (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Monday, February 20, 2012 - 09:34 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I'm not an architect, my point of view comes from the GC and supplier/subcontractor side (20 plus years of experience). Two or three points in the blog really hit home.

It seems that I hear these compaints more and more every year.

These complaints usually start out with "Why should I hire architect if or What is the architects job......."

"Why should I hire an architect if I have to interpret the codes?" I have bid complex plan and spec jobs where the architect/engineer have left code interpretation up to contractors, suppliers, and subcontractors on bid day. This then causes problems and change orders during the construction of the project.

What is the architects job if he wont approve shop drawings and submmitals? We get the shop drawings back and the archtiects stamp says they were reviewed, but the architects takes no repsonsiblity for anything in the shop drawings. These shop drawings are my best interpretation of what you (the architect) want per the plans and specs.

What is an architects job if he/she just lets the manufacturers write the specifications (95% of the archtiects I work worth don't have dedicated spec writers.) It is very easy to spot these specifications. Its done all the time in plumbing fixture, HVAC equipment, electrical equipment, door hardware, and metal siding spec sections.

Contractors and suppliers want direction from the architects, not a bunch cover your ass notes in the plans and specs.

Liz nailed it when she said "I think it'll have everything to do with an eroding understanding of the importance of the technical, on the part of architects."

If you dont provide the technical support, I'll go the design build way.

This is a great and important topic.

I'm stepping off my soap box now.
Anne Whitacre, FCSI CCS
Senior Member
Username: awhitacre

Post Number: 1244
Registered: 07-2002

Posted on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 03:25 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Regarding the code comment: In most states, the interpretation of codes is by law a task left only to the architect. Contractors do not have code interpretation as part of their licensure and any contractor who willingly takes that on is asking for trouble.

I'm a specifier with 35 years experience and in my opinion, the biggest problem with some architects I've worked with is that they simply don't want to object to what the contractor is doing, and they don't want to actually enforce their documents. There is often an assumption by the architect that the "contractor knows what he is doing" and that the "contractor has the best information". Well, the contractor does not have a secret source for information, and the contractor may have worked on fewer projects or less complex projects than the architect has worked on, and therefore may have less knowledge. It is certainly possible -- that the architect does know more. (I am certain that the specifier knows more than the contractor).

We don't ask for enough information. The contractor provides a price -- do we ever ask for how they got that price? The subcontractor insists "this is how its done" -- do we ever verify that? It takes time and costs money to be smarter on the project, but it pays off.

Someone has to be the person with the most information on the job, and too often, the architectural profession just assumes that person is the contractor.

We've grumbled enough in this forum about how specifications "don't get enough respect" but the architects I know who question the contractor, who take responsibility for the documents and their enforcement and who really know how to build buildings -- they know the value of specifications. And, we all know who they are.

There are bad practitioners in every profession. We don't have an architetural equivalent of the legal "censure" that can be applied to attorneys for being unethical or just not doing their job very well. And sometimes, I think the bad clients (and we know who they are too) and bad architects deserve each other.
Liz O'Sullivan
Senior Member
Username: liz_osullivan

Post Number: 28
Registered: 10-2011

Posted on Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 12:48 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Anne and Andy: Great comments.

When I am reviewing my architect-clients' drawings to extract the info I need from them to do my specifying work, I sometimes see notes such as "insulation thickness per code" and "fire rated per code." On my own copy of the drawings, I can't help myself from writing a note that says "YOU are the architect." or "It's YOUR job to interpret the code." I try to communicate those things a bit more gently to my clients.

Anne, the comment about how the contractor may have less knowledge about what he's working on than the architect (or at least the specifier) is so true. On more than one occasion, I have found that I have more knowledge than the contractor about specific items that they're in the middle of installing - and all my knowledge on these items has come from merely reading the manufacturer's widely-available product data.

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