Architects, builders want to collaborate, but don’t see eye to eye on what that means

Dive Brief:

  • Contractors and architects agree they want to collaborate more, though too often clash on issues such as material substitutions, according to a new report released by the American Institute of Architects.
  • Less than a fifth of architects believe contractors propose material substitutions or other changes to serve the client’s best interests. Contractors indicate they best serve clients through ensuring projects stay within their schedule and budget, the report found. 
  • About half of architects who responded to AIA’s survey believe the architect has the majority of the responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of the client. By contrast, 88% of contractors said they share the responsibility equally. 

Dive Insight:

The report, in collaboration with Associated General Contractors of America, surveyed 286 architects and 209 contractors over several months in 2021.

Recent trends — inside and out of the industry — have changed the way architects and contractors collaborate. 

“The pandemic has sort of forced both professions to work in ways they hadn’t had to work before,” Michele Russo, managing director of research and practice at AIA told Construction Dive. Shifting technology and remote work accelerated the paradigm, and forced both sides to find new communication tools.

Architects want contractors to understand the rationale behind project materials, such as sustainability, according to Russo. Simply looking at the bottom line can undermine the project’s design and goals, they said in the survey.

Early collaboration opens doors

One clear solution raised by the study: Get on the same page faster.

All stakeholders prosper when an architect and contractor establish a strong relationship early, said Mickey Jacob, vice president at architecture firm Goodwyn Mills Cawood, based in Tampa, Florida. When a contractor tries to win a project by pulling a low-cost bid together, it can promise to bring the budget down. When a contractor and architect collaborate earlier on, those compromises are easier, and it’s not a race to offer the cheapest bid.

“I expect a contractor to take 100% responsibility to satisfy the owner just as I do,” Jacob said.

The contractor and the architect must work in concert to bring the design to fruition on time and on budget while resolving technical issues, Jacob said.

Meanwhile, BIM allows contractors to manage expectations, especially as supply chain snarls increase costs. Through 3D building modeling and sharing digital documentation, contractors and architects can showcase material cost breakdowns for each aspect of the project, as well as how costs would change with material substitutions.

In the survey, contractors said they wish architects were more responsive to RFIs, and worked to ensure that their drawings and specifications clearly express the design intent architects value so highly.

The report underscored the importance of better communication and transparency to build trust.

“After doing this for 41 years,” Jacob said, “I like working with people I like.”

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