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What Architects want GCs to Know

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration: This mantra can make the difference between a successful partnership or a contentious experience between architects and contractors.


According to a study by the American Institute of Architects and the Associated General Contractors of America, both groups value early and frequent collaboration as key to building strong relationships. The majority — 80% of architects and 73% of contractors — targeted design development as the ideal project phase for starting the teamwork.


“It’s best when the client brings on contractors for pre-construction advising and cost estimates, so we can include their input during design development,” said architect Kate Conley, partner at San Jose, California-based Architects FORA. “They can offer ideas getting the same result in a more affordable way.”


Architect David Haresign, partner of Washington, D.C.-based Bonstra Haresign ARCHITECTS involves contractors even sooner — at end of schematic design — so they understand reasons behind design choices. He says developers benefit too, because changes cost less when made earlier. His partner, Bill Bonstra, said that this type of close collaboration with contractors “helps us understand how things are built and what they cost.”


Benjamin Kasdan, a principal at Irvine, California-based residential architect firm KTGY who is based in Virginia, said money was saved on a 12-story rental above retail building currently under construction in Washington, D.C., in which the developer originally wanted to use light gauge steel.


“The GC was running cost analysis and it became apparent we were past the limits of economy of scale for that structural system,” Kasdan said. “So we switched the structure to concrete, which also let us add the penthouse amenity space — in particular the pool — and ended up saving the developer money.”

Substitution struggles

While architects expect substitutions, they feel some contractors go overboard, possibly without considering ramifications. More than half of the architects in the AIA/AGC study felt contractors weren’t always considering client interests when proposing substitutions. Kasdan told Construction Dive that chasing savings through multiple substitutions without understanding the big picture can erode a building’s quality and value for the client or future residents.


Pedram Farashbandi, principal at San Francisco-based David Baker Architects, said he’s known contractors to make substitutions because they’re hesitant to try something outside their comfort zone, which hampers innovation.


He wants contractors to ask themselves: “Do my proposed alternatives align with project goals or am I suggesting them simply because they conform to my usual way of doing things?”

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