We architects work hard to be where we are, but as with probably all professions and skill sets, others often don’t appreciate the effort and work required to succeed.
When it comes to earning respect from builders, architects have an extra small window of opportunity to earn that respect.
First impressions count a lot here. One wrong gesture or sentence can immediately make a builder tag the architect with the 'incompetent' label. This is not good, as a builder's pre-judgement can infect others. On a building site, this is the opposite of where you want your reputation to lie.
Architects should want to foster a healthy mutually respectful relationship with all builders, but especially with the builder who is making the building the client engaged the architect to lead to reality. Clients paying the bills certainly want a good relationship between their designer and their builder.
Respect here generates generally from two areas, personal and professional. Of course it is hard when one person in the relationship is quite simply a jerk!
The professional arena is the one we will look at, and again this can be divided into two areas: one is professional aptitude, including industry knowledge, contractual reasonableness, and understanding of the builder's work and challenges.
The other is how well the drafting of the contract documents has been done. This is what we look at now.
Good Contract Documents
Putting all the details of any building down on paper so no questions have to be asked during construction is a magnificent challenge. Even more magnificent is making the building from those bits of paper with lines, words and numbers marked on them.
I find a good way to make all this work well as the documenter is to keep in mind maximising your fee profits for the project. Use tools, methods, people, mindset, materials, and anything else you can think of to make documenting the job as simple and fast as possible, portraying the job on as least amount of paper as possible, to communicate in clear, concise, unequivocal terms as possible what you want the builder to make.
It also shouldn’t be beneath your ego to go out of your way to make the builders happy when they look at the documents. I don’t mean happy with the design or the colours, I mean happy with the information provided.
Put yourself in the builder's shoes (which I know is hard for some architects.) It’s hot, there is a lot of noise, its dangerous, there’s flack from crass subcontractors, the damn phone keeps ringing, bloody paperwork (builders like to build, not sit at desks like many architects do.) Dare I say it, be of service to the builder when you are documenting.
Builders want to see what is needed quickly and by looking at as few bits of paper as possible (one bit preferably), and by digesting as few lines or numbers or words as possible, to find what they need to do the making.
Sometimes I think architects have shares in the paper mills. There is a floor plan that only shows the location of walls and other hard bits. There is another plan for the dimensions, another plan for the floor finishes, another for the wall types. This could all be put on a single floor plan.
Overdoing it with the abbreviations and legends is a sure friendship killer. Write “flashing” with an arrow pointing to a flashing, rather than write “FLSH1” then force the reader to search for the meaning, simultaneously losing their concentration and their cool in the hot sun. And if you have to have the pesky abbreviation, be decent and put it’s meaning on the same bit of paper it is written on – having to search through reams on a dusty, windy afternoon is no fun.
Never, never, never use a single number instead of a full note on a drawing, then have a list of numbers off to the side with their respective meanings written beside them. This may be easy to draw (I can’t see how) but from the reader's perspective it is the pathway to insanity.
And just document a thing in one logical place. You don’t need to say it five times in different ways on five different bits of paper. This happens in many ways, but one that always comes to mind is internal room finishes schedules, which list the paint finish and colour (already on the painting schedule), the doors (already on the door schedule and on the drawings), the fixtures (already in the fixtures schedule), the joinery finishes (already on the joinery drawings), the structural wall, floor and ceiling systems (already on the floor plans and sections).
Another beauty that can lead to premature baldness is the ubiquitous 30-page, Table of Contents exempt, fixtures, finishes, equipment, paint, joinery, hardware, sealer, and other stuff schedule, the details from which are all repeated elsewhere in the documents.
Or the external finishes schedule documenting stuff already and clearly shown on the elevations.
It is challenging to get really good clear and concise documentation but it is very doable.
All this double up leads to on-site frustrations and eroding of any respect a builder should rightly have of the architect. The disappearance of that respect should be very much kept a secret from the client.
Frustrations become errors. One small error is a nuisance, more errors start cracks in the contractual relationship. Before you know it, there is a bung-fight and no client will refer you on, let alone come back for repeat projects.
It is worth it for both you and the builder (and very much so for the client who is paying for it and expecting it) to get quality concise documents which are easy – and pleasant – to read. Don’t let this wreck your reputation, because that will be the least of your worries when things go sour!