Architects and contractors are natural allies, but, in the real world, they often at war.
If a designer and a contractor haven’t established a good working relationship, their work will no doubt suffer — and with that the client’s product. I’ve seen misunderstandings and disagreements working overtime in large and small commercial buildings, as well as in home projects. And, when architects and builders, or general contractors, can’t work matters out, enter the lawyers and exit project satisfaction and continuing business.
The number of dollars or the number of players doesn’t matter but relationship does. Builders and architects have to work with each other and their clients and not against each other.
Prioritize communication. Of course, it helps when a builder has already worked with the architect on a project. They know each other. This facilitates communication between the two because they are more familiar with each others capabilities and expectations and weaknesses.
Although every architectural firm establishes desired builders, and vice versa, clearly every company does some work exceptionally well and other work perhaps not so. Knowing the résumés of the players facilitates relationships.
So, too, when an architect refers a builder to a client and vice versa, they have to be able to deliver to expectations set by each other. A phone call or email informing the other of the referral is always helpful: I like the “no surprises” policy.
Even for established relationships, don’t assume details; delineate them clearly. After all, if this is a solid relationship, both the architect and the builder are building on that, too, as well as building a new-client relationship or building on an existing one.
For new relationships, don’t be afraid to meet over lunch and get acquainted, even before you meet together with the client. This has always seemed helpful for our firm.
Assemble your team together, from consulting engineers to the trades and interior designers. Everyone should be working cooperatively toward the goal of delivering the correct project to the client on time and on budget.
Money is always important. Finding ways with each other to keep a project in budget, and not compromising on architectural or construction detailing is essential to success. Change orders, for instance, are a natural component to any job, large or small, but too many of them jeopardize the process and the product. After all, if matters had been thoroughly discussed, there wouldn’t be a need for many corrections.
Permitting can be a trying process. It differs from municipality to municipality, of course, but teamwork once again facilitates the process.
So, too, with plans. Architects should make sure that the plans aren’t just what I call psychological blueprints. They carry details but not enough details for the builder or its trades to understand on a jobsite in 110º desert heat. In this scenario, the carpenter or mechanical contractor or landscaper is trying to decipher how a column should be constructed, or what kind of shower the client wants, or where pavers end and foliage begins. I’ve heard many stories about contractors’ complaints that they can’t build a project from plans they can’t understand. Good plans need to be sharp, like good tools.
These relationships take years to build, and fine-tuning them over time better serves clients, and allows both builder and architect to work through the ups and downs of the economy, as well as changes in design trends.
Nick Tsontakis AIA, NCARB is Principal of Tsontakis Architecture since 1981.He is also Director and Publisher of Arizona Residential Architects (ARA).