I was reading a report a few weeks ago and came across a surprise. I found the result of a survey about architects. I was aware that most people think of architectural services as expensive, so that would not surprise me. I also thought I knew that most people are vague on what exactly we do, but I was not prepared for the extent of the vagueness. Here is an extract from that survey:
According to the shocking results of a new survey undertaken by architectsjournal.co.uk who surveyed 2,031 adults, people don’t know what architects do.
72% are unaware that architects apply for planning permission
79% don’t know architects ensure buildings comply with health and safety legislation
86% have no idea architects select, negotiate with, and manage contractors
20% are unaware architects prepare construction drawings
9% DO understand architects control site budgets
15% don’t know that architects design buildings
33.3% of over 55s were aware that architects prepare planning permissions, whereas: 14% of 18-24s were aware that architects prepare planning permissions
20% of young adults were aware that architects handle building control certificates and guarantees
Worse yet, most people are unaware of the ways in which an architect’s service saves money, both in the short and long term. So let’s first clarify what architects do, then we’ll look at the possibility of savings.
WHEN YOU NEED TO CHOOSE A SITE FOR YOUR PROJECT
Visits the proposed sites and points out the benefits and problems of each site and advises on your selection for the purpose you have in mind
Advises on the need for planning approvals and makes the submissions on your behalf
If necessary, appears before the Planning Authority on your behalf
WHEN YOU’RE TRYING TO DECIDE WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PROJECT
Separates the necessary from the unnecessary, the needs from the wants
Helps you clarify the project’s objectives and clarify the project vision
May suggest alternative ways to achieve the project objectives
Helps you relate your Budget to the Scope of Work
WHEN YOU ARE READY TO DESIGN YOUR PROJECT
Helps you develop a Brief that defines the project, including the space requirements, the budget and the timetable
Develops floor plans and strategies for using the site for your approval
Prepares images of the proposed design for your agreement
After agreement of the design, produces working drawings and specifications for construction
Coordinates the development of structural, electrical and mechanical engineering drawings and specifications
Submits documents for a Building Permit and guides the application to approval
WHEN YOU ARE READY TO BUILD
Helps you choose a list of competent builders and invites them to compete for your work
Issues and receives bid documents, analyses the submissions and advises on a choice
Prepares a Contract for signature
Helps you get the builder started
WHILE THE PROJECT IS BEING BUILT
Acts as your representative in the administration of the Contract
Visits the site to inspect and approve the work
Agree changes and associated costs
Prepares Payment Certificates and keeps a record of the Contract finances
Resolves conflicts on site
WHEN THE PROJECT IS FINISHED
Inspects the work and accepts it on your behalf
Prepares a Punch List6 of minor incomplete works
Prepares a Final Account for agreement with the builder and authorizes payment of the Contract balance, except for the agreed Hold-back amount
Monitors the completion of the Punch List and the payment of the Final Payment
Let’s agree that architect’s fees are significant, although it seldom exceeds 10% of the cost of the project, in most cases less than a realtor’s commission or the builder’s mark-up. Yet an architect’s service may last years. But this is not an attempt to justify the cost of service, but to discuss the costs an owner bears in the development of a project, and how those costs may be reduced by an architect’s service.
First of all, what are the alternatives to an architect’s service in the completion of a project?
LOW COST HOUSING
The Ministry of Housing and National Insurance sells pre-drawn plans for a number of small houses. A range of developer’s housing designed and built with initial cost as the primary concern.
Basic documents primarily meant for getting a Building Permit and for agreeing a price with a builder.
The altering of pre-designed houses to meet the Bahamas Building Code. Most are designed for other climatic conditions.
ARCHITECT’S BASIC SERVICE
As outlined above.
Each of these services has its own advantage, but the main reason for their popularity is the relatively low up-front cost. Unfortunately, the low up-front cost is most often responsible for the costly confusion on site, disagreements with the builders, large cost over-runs and high operational costs.
The staged process of the architect’s service is designed to encourage the decisions that affect the final cost of the project at a time when other decisions are still easy to make.
The process begins with determining the sizes and configuration of spaces and their relationship to the site. This allows the first test of the Budget.
The second stage allows the choices of the construction system, the quality of finishes and the need for the various building services. The “look” of the project is confirmed at this time as well. This allows the second test of the Budget and for any necessary adjustments.
The third stage converts the decisions made in the previous two stages to be converted to Construction Documents, a set of instructions to the builder which are also used for getting a Building Permit and pricing.
The Tender process compares competitive bids and recommends a builder. Even at this time there is often an opportunity to make adjustments to the cost of the works by negotiating with the builder. The completeness of the documents provides a proper basis for negotiations.
Finally, during the administration of the Building Contract, the architect keeps a record of cost-related items that differ from the contract, and represents the Owner in negotiations with the builder.
These are cost-related devices built into the service and we believe result in savings in both the short and long term. However they are not the most significant sources of savings offered by the architect’s service. The most significant savings result from the design process itself. Here are a few examples.
An investigation of the site may reveal problems with foundations, difficulties with utility connections or unsavory conditions in the area. It might also reveal that the zoning for the site may be a problem for your project.
The most important area of design is the development of strategies to address the specifics of climate. In the Bahamas, for example, the two most important aspects of climate are the sun and the breezes. In the morning the sun brightens up the environment and is welcome most of the year. At mid-day it is warm and bright and needs to be shaded. In the afternoon the sun is hot and needs to be blocked or heavily shaded.
How does this affect buildings?
Simply put, the energy used in buildings is largely used to create comfort conditions, and the conditions that must be “cured” are largely those created by extreme heat loads, mostly caused by the direct penetration of the sun, and the absence of the cooling breezes that come from the south-east. In short, the way the sun’s access is manipulated determines the cost of your power. The way the breezes flow across interior spaces determines the “coolness” of the space. And since the power bill will always come, the way you handle the sun and wind will affect the cost of operating your building forever. It is therefore crucially important that the sun and breezes are a part of the design process.
The second aspect of the Bahamian climate involves the handling of large volumes of rainwater, whether on the roof or on the ground. Again, proper attention to the details of the site during the design process and to the detailing of the building is an important cost-saving effort.
The third aspect of climatic design is the choice of materials. Selection of materials based upon cost does not, for example, address the natural deterioration of some materials in the salt-laden environment of the Bahamas. The selection of materials determines both the regular maintenance and the cost of replacement over the years.
Clearly, there are other savings possibilities, but these suggest that the use of an architect is the best way to save money, to arrive at the most economical and maintenance-free projects and to care for the built environment.