Introduction to Field Administration
How Can Intern Architects Learn How To Do It?
By Arthur F. O'Leary, FAIA, MRIAI
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The Traditional System
for Controlling and Maintaining Professional Quality of Work
There is no question that all professional work in an architect's office should be performed under the direct control and supervision of qualified architects. (Note 1) All architectural and engineering offices are organized around this elementary principle. How can it be otherwise? Clients have the right to expect that their architect's services will be performed consistent with standards of professional skill and care. (Note 2)
Fully qualified and experienced architects must direct, supervise, guide, and check the work of the less qualified until they are gradually able to work without such close supervision, control, and guidance. This is the usual method by which recent university graduates can make the transition from the academic phase of their professional education through the practical experience phase and ultimately into professional competence and licensing.
The medium through which all this educational and professional development is taking place in architects' offices is by working on our clients' projects. However, we cannot subject our clients to the possibility of substandard design, defective construction documentation, or incompetent contract administration. These potential negative outcomes would not only be injurious to our clients but would also subject architectural and engineering firms to professional liability lawsuits.
All office work should be reviewed in process and on completion by qualified personnel who would be capable of recognizing errors, both of commission and omission. Senior people must always be available to make the decisions that require professional judgment.
Gradually Getting Out of the Office and Onto the Jobsite
All developing architects want to see how their office work looks on the construction site. Making the transition from office activities to field duties raises the problem of how to provide effective supervision of trainees. The client's project must not be allowed to deteriorate at any stage, least of all during the construction period. In addition, the contractor must not be deprived of the expected professional administration, advice, and judgment of a competent architect as promised in the construction contract.
Some of the architect's duties during the construction period will be carried out in the office environment where constant competent supervision is generally available while others must occur at the construction site.
Common sense dictates that the first few site visitations in the career of an intern architect must be in the presence of a fully qualified architect experienced in contract administration. The qualified architect will carry the main burden of responsibility, with the trainee assisting, observing, and learning. The assistant should take the notes in the field and write the reports in the office. Gradually, as the intern is exposed to more of the process, the senior person can fall back to a position of overlooking, monitoring, and mentoring.
Preparing for the First Field Trip
Before commencing any duties in the field, the intern should review the files of similar projects to get an idea of the general scope of documentation and administration and to learn the language and procedures of contract administration.
In preparation for the first field administration assignment, it is necessary for the intern to become fully familiar with the requirements of the contract at hand. This entails thorough review of the project's contract documents sufficient to gain a comprehensive understanding of their requirements.
It is also necessary to have an accurate understanding of the architect's duties and authority, as well as any limitations. In addition, the intern should review the design file, and possibly interview the designer, to become acquainted with the design objectives and to find out what is important.
Understanding the Architect's Duties and Responsibilities
A good description of the architect's contract administration duties in the office and on the construction site will be found in the owner-architect agreement. (Note 3) The architect's duties, promised by the owner to the contractor, are in the general conditions, A201. They should be consistent with those contracted for between architect and owner in B141.
When all of the usual architectural services have not been contracted for, the architect should not furnish them on a volunteer basis. The architect would then be liable for performing them completely and properly to the professional standard of care, even though not being paid for them, and there is some chance that professional liability insurance will be lacking.
The main purposes of the architect's site visitations are:
1. To become generally familiar with the progress and quality of the work completed, and
2. To determine in general if the work is being performed in a manner indicating that the work when fully completed will be in accordance with the contract documents. (Note 4)
The architect's site observation should not be confused with the direct and constant supervision of construction workers such as is exercised by contractors and subcontractors. The architect should not get involved in the details of how the work is being performed, but rather whether it will result in the specified outcome.
The architect's principal duties on the jobsite are to observe, evaluate, and report, whereas the contractor is responsible for furnishing, performing, controlling, and directing the work.
Frequency of Architect's Site Visits
There is no particular frequency of site visits necessary to satisfy the contract or the standard of care. It is left up to the architect's professional judgment. Both B141 and A201 specify that the visits should be appropriate to the stage of construction. This would imply that the frequency would vary depending on the character of the contractor's work on the site at any particular time. Some architectural contracts specify the number, duration, or frequency of site visits.
Some architects prefer to visit the site at a uniform time and day each week, bi-weekly, or monthly, so the contractor and subcontractors can be on hand to receive instructions and to get specific questions answered. Others prefer to appear at the site irregularly. In any event, the architect should conduct the site visit in the company of the contractor's representative, usually the superintendent, who can facilitate access to all parts of the work, answer questions, and receive instructions in behalf of the contractor.
When Encountering Defective Work
The hope is that defective work would be recognized by the architect on the site. This would be anything that fails to meet some applicable criteria, such as the contract documents, the building code, or specified building standards. The architect does not have the power to accept non-conforming work unilaterally. However, the owner may allow non-conforming work to remain with the contract sum reduced accordingly. (Note 5) The architect should advise the owner when such acceptance would be advantageous or when inadvisable.
While on the construction site the architect must not interfere in any way with the contractor's responsibility for jobsite safety and other safety programs. Similarly, it is the contractor's sole responsibility to determine and control construction means, methods, techniques, sequences, and procedures. The contractor is in charge of the jobsite and is responsible for coordination of all portions of the work. (Note 6) The architect's prime interest should be to determine that the work when finished would conform with the contract documents.
The Architect's Field Report
The architect is required to keep the owner informed of the progress and quality of the work. (Note 7) Most architects discharge this duty by issuance of a field report after each site visitation. The field report also serves to create a record of construction progress and as a medium for transmitting and memorializing the architect's jobsite decisions and instructions to the contractor.
Although the AIA has published an adequate field report form (Note 8), many architectural firms have devised their own. A field report should include the following information:
1. Report number, for filing and administration.
2. Identification of the project, owner, contractor, and architect.
3. Date, time, and duration of site visit.
4. Weather conditions and condition of the site.
5. Names and identities of persons present.
6. Percentage of work completed by trade.
7. Work progress compared to schedule.
8. Work now being accomplished.
9. Work scheduled to be commenced, continued, or completed before next visit.
10. Questions raised by contractor or owner.
11. Determinations made by the architect.
12. Any questions or actions which remain pending for appropriate later attention.
13. Distribution list for report.
The architect's engineering or other consultants who visit the jobsite should prepare their own field reports giving similar information.
The architect's field report should be sent to the owner with copies to the contractor and any other entities that would benefit by receipt of the information. The field report is extremely time-sensitive and should therefore be issued promptly, preferably on the day of the visit, and certainly no later than one or two days following. (Note 9)
1. For the purpose of this article assume that the following agreements are in use:
Between Owner and Architect:
Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect with Standard Form of Architect's Services, AIA Document B141-1997.
Between Owner and Contractor:
Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Contractor where the basis of payment is a Stipulated Sum, AIA Document A101-1997, or
Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Contractor where the basis of payment is the Cost of the Work Plus a Fee with a Negotiated Guaranteed Maximum Price, AIA Document A111-1997, and
General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, AIA Document A201-1997.
2. B141-1997, Subparagraph 22.214.171.124.
3. B141-1997, Paragraph 2.6.1 General Administration.
4. B141-1997, Subparagraph 126.96.36.199 and A201, Subparagraph 4.2.2.
5. A201-1997, Paragraph 12.3.
6. A201-1997, Subparagraph 3.3.1.
7. B141-1997, Subparagraph 188.8.131.52.
8. Architect's Field Report, AIA Document G711, October 1992 Edition.
9. For a more complete discussion of the architect's site observation powers and duties, see Chapter 10 of A Guide to Successful Construction - Effective Contract Administration, Third Edition, by Arthur F. O'Leary,
FAIA, MRIAI, published by BNI Publications, 1999.
Important Practice Note: In November 2007, the Documents Committee of the American Institute of Architects concluded their study of the AIA standard documents. Many of the familiar documents have been changed to reflect changes in industry trends and practices. The references above to the 1997 documents are very similar to the requirements in the new documents. However, many of the documents and paragraphs have been renumbered. The 2007 documents are consistent with each other and should not be mixed and matched with the old documents. Additional information about the new documents may be obtained by visiting
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