Monday, December 3, 2012

Articles Introduction: Planning for a Building Project

The following series of articles are written for the commercial property owner, business owner or homeowner considering a new building project.
The information is directed towards the individual with little-to-no previous exposure to the design and construction process. It is my hope that the insights presented within these articles will both address some of your initial concerns and help prepare you for your upcoming project.

·      Planning for a Project: budgeting money + time
·      Selecting an Architect: what to look for
·      Working with Your Architect: the design process
·      Selecting a Builder: what to look for

Selecting A Builder

After a considerable amount of your time, effort and planning, you're ready to bring your vision of 'what can be' to fruition. In order to accomplish this momentous feat, you need to entrust your project into the hands of a skilled builder who can materialize your plans. Selecting a suitable builder you can trust and work with is an integral component to the success of your project. To make this key decision will require you to use your combined reasoned and intuitive abilities.

Where do you find your builder?

You can begin making inquires through family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who have worked with a contractor before. The majority of builders' projects come via word of mouth. If you have already hired an architect they will be able to recommend at least two builders they have confidence in and believe are a good fit for your project.

If you are able to obtain a referral through someone you know, then there is already a built-in level of connectivity between you and the builder. If not, then check with your local builders association or a contractor referral service as these entities typically pre-screen their contractors for required licensing, bonding, liens against them, and bankruptcy history. These services aim to help you in making an informed decision, by referring only qualified and reliable contractors.

When is it time to bring a builder into the process?

It is best to begin your search as early as possible, so that when the time arrives you have a few good builders in-line; builders whom you know are qualified and have shown genuine interest in your project. The search can occur before, during, or after the construction documents have been prepared.

If you decide to speak to a builder prior to initiating the architectural design process, there are several services the builder is able to provide. At this stage, a builder can be helpful in identifying red flags to be avoided from a construction standpoint. They may be able to provide you a rough estimate based on your wish list. Yet realize, they really can’t give you any exact numbers before architectural drawings and specifications of an established design are produced. Finally, they may be able to recommend an architect if you haven’t already selected one. 

Negotiated Bid
If you and your architect choose to bring a builder on-board during the design phase and grant them the exclusive opportunity to bid the project, this method is called 'negotiated bid'. The selected builder is in the preferred position to be awarded the contract, as long as their final bid is in-line with the pre-established budget. If at the conclusion of the construction documents phase they are unable to meet the budget, then you (the owner) have the right to solicit other bids.

There are many benefits to this integrated design approach. The builder's estimating knowledge will be useful in keeping the project's construction budget on target by working with your architect during the design documentation phase to review construction systems, material options and other alternatives that can control costs. They will also have developed a thorough understanding of the design before preparing their final bid and will be invested in the project early, which incentivizes them to stay within the budget.

Going Out To Bid
If you wait until the construction documents have been completed, this method is called 'going out to bid', where you will solicit bids from a short list of contractors you have assembled. This group of contractors will be bidding against each other, and as such, your architect will provide each contractor with the same construction documents for them to estimate and prepare their bids.

You should limit your short list to a maximum of three candidates, the reason for three; you will get a fair sampling of the construction cost range, while at the same time, the contractors will feel they have a good chance to be awarded the contract and therefore make a concentrated effort in putting together a solid bid. Any more than three bidders, their chances diminish and they are unlikely to make the required effort, which may result in loose and less considered bids. It is important to note that it takes the builder(s) a considerable amount of time and effort to put together a bid proposal, which they are typically not compensated for.

The purpose of this method is to gather a set of competitive bids in order to obtain the lowest price. Be sure to review each contractors' inclusions, exclusions and line item costs so that you are comparing apples to apples. By doing a thorough review of each proposal will ensure that the complete scope of work has been included and neither items or scope have been overlooked. However, this does not mean to select your builder based solely on price. (See other factors below.)

How do you evaluate a builder?
Once you have gathered a short list of qualified builders to interview, then you can begin your selection process.
There are many factors that go into deciding upon a builder, besides the lowest bid.  It should be a given that the contractor(s) you interview will be licensed, bonded, carry liability and workers compensation insurance, so what, besides construction cost, might separate one candidate from another?

Here is a list of possible factors to consider when selecting the right contractor to build your project.


·         Knowledgeable: does the builder have experience with your project type, along with the local building inspectors and municipal processes, if not, does their past work demonstrate their capability to be successful?

·      Value: does the builder bring added value to the project by offering ideas and suggestions that support the design intent, while decreasing cost and time?

·      Skills: does the builder (and their subcontractors) have the ability to build to the quality standards required?
·      Resources: does the builder have good relationships with suppliers, a reliable crew and the financial stability to complete your project?
·      Management: is the builder well-organized with adequate project management to run the project smoothly and efficiently?
·      Process: does the builder adhere to a project schedule, outlining the construction process with critical milestones? Is their process inclusive of your participation as needed and give you enough lead-time to make decisions?
·      Communication: is the builder articulate in verbal and written form, easily accessible and responsive in a timely manner?
·      Personable: does the builder have a trustworthy and respectable disposition and will they be able to work well with you, your architect and others to achieve a successful project?
·      Referrals: what do past clients have to say about the builder? (See list of questions)
·      Contract: is the contract fair to both parties? Does it clearly describe the scope of work, what is included and what is excluded? Has the contractor provided a detailed line item spreadsheet, which includes material and labor for all divisions of work with overhead, profit and taxes?
·      Fee: is the builders fee competitive for the specified service and will they deliver 'what they said they will' and more?

Builder Referrals: Questions to ask
Note: You should ask contractor(s) for contact information for their last three clients. The contractor will provide referrals, but they might not be the most recent.
·      How did you learn about the contractor?
·      Can you explain the type of work the contractor did on your project?
·      Was the work done according to the plans and specifications?
·      Was the job site clean and well organized?
·      Was the quality of craftsmanship up to your standards or higher?
·      Did the contractor offer suggestions to reduce cost while maintaining the quality?
·      Did the project progress according to the original schedule?
·      Was the project completed within budget?
·      Were there change orders and if so what were they for?
·      Was the contractor clear about what would be considered a change order in their contract?
·      Was their invoicing clear, consistent, up to date and according to the contract?
·      Was the contractor easy to reach and communicate with?
·      Did the contractor respond well to changes you wanted to make during construction?
·      Did the contractor give you enough lead-time to make decisions?
·      Did the contractor work well with your architect and others?
·      Where there any lien issues with subcontractors or vendors since the completion?
·      Has there been any significant issues with the construction since its completion?
·      Has the contractor made any service calls to remedy any problems since the completion of the project?
·      Is there anything you would change concerning how the contractor conducts their business?
·      What were the positive aspects of working with the contractor?
·      Would you be able to visit the project to see the contractor's craftsmanship?
·      Would you use the contractor again?

How do you determine if the builder is a good fit?

You must feel confident that your contractor can build the project for the agreed contract amount, within the specified timeframe and to the quality level required. Finally you need to trust your gut; your relationship with the contractor will be first and foremost. You will exchange a large sum of money for service and will have frequent interaction over the next three to twelve months or longer depending on the scope of work. This becomes even more crucial if this is your personal home or business and will be occupying the premises during construction.

Once the design has been envisioned, the drawings have been completed, the permits have been approved, the finances are in place, and the builder selected; it's time to build.

Working With Your Architect: The Design Process

You have taken the first courageous step toward making a piece of architecture by daring to engage in the act of giving shape and form to your dream.

Before you hire your architect to bring forth your dream into reality, you should take the time to become familiar with the design process and the role you and your architect will play in this unfolding process. The working relationship between you and your architect is crucial to the fluidity of the design process, and ultimately the success of your project.

Hiring a well chosen architect (see: Selecting an Architect)  whose vision is aligned with your aspirations and objectives will ensure your dream is fully realized. Together, you will embark on a creative journey, which will culminate in a built legacy that both of you can be proud. 

What are your roles?
You might have started collecting design ideas, developing a wish list, contacting the city and listening to experiences of family, friends and/or colleagues, who have gone through the design and construction processes. There is a lot of value to be gained from hearing others' experiences and insights, and most will be good, however you might hear the occasional nightmare story as well. If you do come across one of these, treat it as a valuable cautionary tale by listening and measuring it carefully, so that you can learn how to avoid a similar scenario.

Don't let a negative story frighten you, turn it into a reminder to be vigilant in your due diligence before you begin the design process. Unforeseen issues and problems will arise, this is a given. However, the more information and knowledge you have gathered before you begin, the more informed you will become, and
consequentially less likely to encounter substantive problems. As your assiduousness grows, so will your confidence to proceed on this creative journey.

You define your needs, desires and objectives, which your architect then absorbs and translates into a custom design suited just for you. Your architect will act as a conduit, filtering your parameters along with other influential factors affecting the project . Throughout the design process, your architect will synthesize all these requirements into a unified design, with the intent of resolving all competing forces, while fulfilling your aspirations and objectives.

Design is a time-based endeavor, and as such, the amount of service and support you want from your architect is determined by what you value, as well as what you can afford. The specific architectural services provided will be defined by the agreed scope of work. Once there is a clear understanding between you, the design process can begin.

What is the process?
The design begins with you. You are the catalyst  that initiated this creative journey and your architect will function as your guide and translator along the way. Before you enter into the design process your architect will prepare a project schedule to outline and manage the design process efficiently.

You may have already begun evaluating your needs, desires and objectives for your project. This is the beginning of establishing the architectural program that will generate the requirements and guidelines for your architect respond to and design for.

Throughout the design process, there will be an ongoing dialogue between you and your architect; from macro to micro considerations, to numerous decisions which need to be made in order to achieve a well conceived thought out design that meets your objectives, while integrating all other requirements.

Your architect will present you various ideas, solutions and alternatives, which you need to review and critique 'what works and does not work for you'. Together, you will formalize a design that resolves your concerns and finally reflects your values and vision.

There are standard phases to the design process, with minor variations, that most projects adhere to. It is up to you and your architect to determine which phases, along with their associated drawings and information, will be necessary for your project.

Standard design phases:

Phase 1
Feasibility Study: Defining What is Possible!

Collecting and analyzing critical information and data such as: budget, resources, schedule, planning ordinances and building codes to make sure the proposed project is possible within your parameters and within the restrictions set forth by the governing agencies.

Phase 2
Programming: Formalizing Wish List!

Establishing a written document that outlines the quantitative and qualitative elements that the project needs to contain. This is your wish list articulated in a concise manner which clarifies your needs, desires and objectives.

Phase 3
Existing Conditions: Recording As-Builts!

Whether your project is a renovation, remodel, addition or new construction this phase is essential. This phase will document environmental conditions, existing infrastructure and record the existing plans of the site and building for use in developing the design documents to follow.

Phase 4
Schematic Design: The Discovery Begins!

Ideas and concepts that give form to your programmatic objectives. Through sketches, drawings, renderings and computer and/or physical models, the design begins to materialize. Your architect will determine which mediums will best illustrate the design so that you can fully comprehend and virtually inhabit the emerging design. The goal of this phase is for you to be able to visualize the overall form and feeling of what the design will become.

Depending on the complexity of the design problem and the array of possible solutions, your architect will develop multiple options for you to review, critique and choose from. The schematic phase will set the overall size, form, configuration, spaces, adjacencies and character of the design.

Phase 5
Design Development: Working it out!

The documentation begins for building permit approval and construction. The architect(s) attend to the refinements and adjustments of the schematic design, integrating all required building codes, systems, materials and construction methodologies necessary to build the design. This documentation will also include general finish materials and specifications.

At this stage in the process your architect should be confident that the design fulfills your program/desires, is within a reasonable margin of your established budget, and is achievable within the municipal planning restrictions, that they do not foresee any major impediments to the permit approval and constructability.

At the completion of this phase, a set of drawings is produced, which should be sufficient to solicit preliminary construction estimates and submit for a building permit. This is called a 'permit set', and is the minimum construction drawing set required for approval by the planning and building departments to secure a building permit. This is the minimum your architect is required to provide, the quantity of information and documentation beyond the permit set will vary depending on your needs and arrangement with your architect.

Phase 6
Construction Documents:
Dotting the i's and crossing the t's!

After the permit set, there is still a lot of unresolved details, non specified materials, finishes and fixtures, which allows for possible misinterpretation, and may lead toward the project not coming out the way you envisioned. This can also cause inaccurate and escalating construction costs. To alleviate these potential problems, it is recommended that a complete set of comprehensive drawings with all specifications and written instructions be completed.

These construction documents will describe what is to be built, the quality of the project, how contractors are to be selected, and how the contracts for construction will be written and administered. With a complete set of construction documents you are assured to be able to solicit accurate construction bids that account for all details, materials and specifications of the design.

Complete Construction Documents:

·         Bidding requirements (invitation to bid, information and instructions to bidders; bid forms; and requirements for bid security)

·         Contract forms (the form of agreement to be used between owner and contractor, forms for bonds and certificates)

·         Contract conditions (the general conditions of the contract for construction, which outlines the rights, responsibilities, and duties of the owner and contractor as well as others involved in the construction process, including architect; supplementary conditions particular to the project)

·         Specifications (outline the levels of quality, manufactured products and the standards to be met in the construction of the project)

·         Drawings (includes architectural, structural, civil, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, landscape, interior design, and other specialty drawings)

·         Addenda (additions to any of these documents issued by the architect during the bidding or negotiation process)

·         Contract modification (orders for minor changes of work, construction change directives, and change orders)

Note: The Contract Document form the legal agreement between you (the owner) and the contractor. They include all of the construction documents except the bidding requirements.

Phase 7
Bidding & Construction Administration: Building the design!

This critical stage brings the project to fruition and finally into physical form. Your architect can help you select a contractor and assist in the bidding and negotiations of construction contracts (see: Selecting a Builder). During construction, your architect will work with you to make certain that every decision is the best and most informed decision possible so that the construction meets the quality and intent delineated in the construction documents.

Your architect will review the contractor's application for payment and verify that the work was completed in accordance with the drawings and specifications of the construction documents. It is important to note that adjustments and changes will occur during construction, it is the nature of building. Being aware of this, and prepared with your architect by your side, will alleviate many potential conflicts. Your architect will be able to resolve problems with solutions that achieve the intent of the design, while making sure the fluidity of the construction process is not interrupted.

Persistence and Patience
Now you have an overview of the design process with its associated phases, which I hope will empower you as you move forward.

Very few have the good fortune to enter into this creative process that will result in a project designed specifically for their own use. Persistence and patience will serve you well as you navigate the design and construction process, always keeping in sight your end goal.

This endeavor takes a considerable amount of time, effort and resources; therefore, you have earned the right to have a joyful, exciting and rewarding design and building experience.

So now, imagine what can be and go create your dream!

Selecting An Architect

The time has come. Whether you are a commercial property owner, business owner or homeowner, you’re ready to begin the process of having your project designed, and you need to hire an architect.

Where do you find an architect?
The best way to find an architect that will suit your needs, is by seeking out potential candidates whose work possesses the qualities that you wish your project to contain. Make inquires through family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and if you see a house or building you admire, either knock on the door and ask the owner 'who was the architect' or contact the city to find out who was the architect of record.

The majority of architect commissions come via referrals. Through a referral, there is a built-in level of connectivity between you and the architect. You may also want to check with other reliable sources such as the local American Institute of Architects (AIA) office or local design magazines. Once you compile a short list of architecture firms, you can begin your due diligence by evaluating them. But how do you decide which architect is the right one to bring your dream into reality.

How do you evaluate an architect?
After years of listening to and serving clients who have faced a similar decision, I have generated a list of possible factors to consider when evaluating an architect.

Think of these factors as water filling up a glass. If the glass is full you have an excellent architect. The question is; how thirsty are you?

Do not be tempted to decide on your architect based on fee alone. The possible savings here is minimal in relation to the larger costs of the project. A really good architect can design more for the dollar in construction cost with foresight, knowledge and skill.

·         Needs: does the architect listen to and clearly understand your needs, desires and objectives?
·         Vision: is the architect in synch with your vision, aesthetic and taste?
·         Limitations: does the architect acknowledge and embrace the project parameters such as; budget, time and restrictions?
·         Possibilities: does the architect expand your thinking of what is possible and obtainable within the limitations?
·         Knowledge: does the architect have experience with your project type along with the planning and building requirements and processes? If not, does their past work demonstrate their capability to be successful?
·         Value: does the architect understand what is important to you and add value through creativity, intelligence, skill, foresight and flexibility?
·         Alignment: does the architect have your best interest in mind while serving the good of the project?
·         Process: does the architect have a clear efficient design process that is inclusive of your participation?
·         Resources: does the architect have the infrastructure to manage and execute your project successfully?
·         Management: is the architect well organized and able to adhere to a project schedule outlining the design process with critical milestones?
·         Communication: is the architect articulate in verbal and written form as well as easily accessible and responsive in a timely manner?
·         Skills: does the architect possess the graphic skills necessary to illustrate the design sufficiently for you to imagine inhabiting and then the technical skills for others to execute?
·         Personable: does the architect have a trustworthy and respectable disposition and will be able to work well with you and others to achieve a successful project?
·         Referrals: what did past clients have to say about the architect? (See list of questions)
·         Fee: is the architect's fee reasonable and competitive for the specified service and will deliver 'what they      said they will' and more? 

Referrals: Questions to ask
Note: You should ask architect(s) for contact information for their last three clients. The architect will provide referrals, but they might not be the most recent.
·         Would you hire the architect again?
·         How did you learn about the architect?
·         What was your architect’s scope of work?
·         Did the architect understand the municipal requirements and processes?
·         What was your experience working with the architect?
·         Did the architect resolve your needs, desires and objectives?
·         Did the quality of the design meet or exceed your expectations?
·         Did the design process progress according to the original schedule?
·         Did the architect show you design options?

·         Was the architect able to clearly articulate the reasons for each design decision with their associated pros and cons?
·         Did the architect solicit your input?
·         Did the architect incorporate your input into the final design?
·         Did the architect give you enough lead-time to make decisions?
·         Was the architect easy to reach and communicate with?
·         Did the architect work well with the contractor and others?
·         Did the design meet the projected construction budget?
·         Were there additional architectural fees? If so, what were they for?
·         Was the architect clear about what might be considered “additional services” in the contract?
·         Was their invoicing clear, consistent, up-to-date and according to contract?
·         Have there been any significant issues with the design since its completion?
·         Is there anything you would change about how the architect conducts their practice?
·         Would you be able to visit the project to experience the architect's design?

Why select a specific architect?
In the end, how do you determine if the architect is a good fit? You must feel confident that your architect has your best interest in mind, is in alignment with your needs, desires and objectives and most importantly, that you can trust their vision, skill and judgment. Keep in mind, your architect acts as a conduit for your dream and is there in service to you, the project and your community.