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  Shop Drawings
Part 2 — Learning To Live With This “Necessary Evil”

Arthur O'Leary, FAIA, MRIAI

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This discussion of shop drawings was started in the March/April 2003 issue of Design Cost Data and will be concluded in this issue.

Contractor's Review of Shop Drawings 
The contractor is obligated to review and approve all submittals before conveying them to the architect. (A201, 3.12.5) The contractor's review should be for compliance with information given in the contract documents as well as for suitability to field conditions and dimensions. The contractor is not responsible for ascertaining conformity with the design concept or the intent of the documents. 

The contractor is required to make such submissions to the architect with reasonable promptness, in such sequence as to cause no delay in the work, and in accordance with the submission schedule. Architects should be very strict in enforcing the requirements of Subparagraph 3.12.5 of A201. If the submittals do not exhibit a contractor's review stamp showing "approved," they should be immediately returned to the contractor. The same subparagraph also states that the architect may return without action any submittals that are not specified in the contract documents. 

The general contractor's review, in addition to assuring that realistic field conditions and dimensions are reflected, is to make sure that all contract requirements are being met. The contractor is in a much better position than the architect to make determinations relating to physical field conditions. 

The contractor should not proceed with any fieldwork governed by shop drawings until after they have been approved. It is the contractor's responsibility to assure that all work on the job is in conformance with approved shop drawings. (A201, 3.12.6 through 3.12.7)

The AIA General Conditions make it clear that the architect's approval of a shop drawing does not relieve the contractor of responsibility for meeting requirements of the contract documents. The contractor is unquestionably responsible for errors or omissions in shop drawings. 

A serious underlying concern of all architects is the possibility of inadvertently sanctioning hidden errors or unidentified revisions in a shop drawing. Architects rely on the AIA General Conditions provisions that require the contractor to disclose all deviations from the contract documents and to obtain the architect's written approval of specific deviations. (A201, 3.12.8 and 3.12.9) 

The contractor is relieved of responsibility for deviations from contract requirements only if the contractor specifically informs the architect of the deviations in writing and the architect has given specific approval of the deviation in writing. At the same time, however, the architect should be extremely careful and thorough in checking shop drawings to minimize the possibility of error. 

The contractor is required to identify specifically in writing any shop drawing revisions other than those requested by the architect on previous submittals. (3.12.9) 

Consultants' Review of Shop Drawings 
All submittals that further illustrate or describe work originally designed by consultants such as civil, structural, electrical, or mechanical engineers should be referred by the architect to the appropriate consultant for review. The architect should also check them to the extent of coordination requirements such as physical interrelating or meshing with work of other disciplines. 

Architects, when making their agreements with consultants, should be sure that shop drawing review and coordination is included in the consultants' duties. The AIA Standard Form of Agreement Between Architect and Consultant, Document C141-1997, provides in Subparagraph 4.5.11 for the consultant to review the contractor's submittals in respect to the portion of the work entrusted to the consultant. This subparagraph is harmonious with the comparable provision in the AIA Owner-Architect Agreement (B141-1997, 

Architect's Review of Shop Drawings
Not requiring shop drawings for architectural review is conceding some degree of design prerogative to the subcontractor. Appearance problems and other construction difficulties that could have been discerned in the shop drawing review will be solely in the hands and discretion of the subcontractor. By the time it is perceived in the field it could be too costly to justifiably rectify. 

Architect's Approval of a Shop Drawing 
The checking of shop drawings is a mundane and uninspiring task in a design office, so there is the temptation to assign it to someone low in pecking order. This is a serious mistake, as the checker should be intimately aware of the contract requirements and capable of recognizing potential construction difficulties and design problems. In the architect's office, it is crucial that shop drawing review be assigned to a qualified person, one who is intimately acquainted with the contract documents and the design concept or intent of the documents. Otherwise, how could the reviewer comply with the requirements of the Owner-Architect Agreement (Subparagraph 2.6.12) and of the AIA General Conditions (Subparagraph 4.2.7), which have similar language and both of which promise that the architect will be reviewing submittals "only for the limited purpose of checking for conformance with information given and the design concept expressed in the Contract Documents"? 

Scheduling shop drawing review. Architects must be alert to the possibility of holding up construction progress by taking too much time in shop drawing review and processing. Accordingly, many architects insist that all shop drawing processing time be shown on the general contractor's construction schedule. This would allow the architect to object in advance of an inadequate time allowance for review procedures. 

Architect's "Approval." For years we have been reading in the professional literature that we should avoid using the word "approved" in describing the outcome of our review of a submittal. However, arbitrators and the courts have consistently rejected the idea that an architect or engineer could avoid responsibility for reviewing shop drawings merely by using some other word or an enigmatic expression such as "no exception taken". 

The AIA documents now accept the reality that architects really do approve (with or without conditions) or disapprove shop drawings. The AIA Owner-Architect Agreement (Subparagraph 2.6.12) and the AIA General Conditions (Subparagraph 4.2.7), using identical language, state, "The Architect shall review and approve or take other appropriate action..." (my italics). Therefore, it is my opinion that there should be no problem with having "approved" included as one of the options on the shop drawing stamp. 

Whatever words the architect uses in trying to avoid saying approved, there comes a time in the process when the contractor needs a final decision on whether or not the work can proceed in accordance with the shop drawings. Thus in the practical world of construction, all words that do not reject the shop drawings will be interpreted as approving them. 

Contractor's Responsibilities and Prerogatives. The architect's review is not to be taken as an approval of any safety precautions as these are the contractor's responsibility. The review also is not intended to interfere in any way with the contractor's prerogative of determining and controlling construction means, methods, techniques, sequences, or procedures. The architect's review is limited to determining if the requirements of the contract documents are being met and that the completed work will be in compliance with the contract documents. 

The most important principle to be followed at this juncture is to make sure that whatever words you use on the shop drawing stamp and the accompanying letter of transmittal are an accurate portrayal of your intended action. If your approval is in any way conditional, choose your words carefully so no one is led astray. 

Shop Drawing Stamps 
Architects usually express their opinion of the shop drawings, product data, and samples by use of the rubber stamp which usually has some exculpatory language in fine print plus some options which can be exercised by use of check marks. Often the stamp says something like "Review is for general compliance with Contract Documents. No responsibility is assumed for correctness of dimensions or details." 

The various options to be selected include Reviewed, Approved, Rejected, Revise and Resubmit, Furnish as Corrected, No Exception Taken, Make Corrections Noted, and Submit Specified Item. 

Space is also usually provided for the date of review and action and the shop drawing number. The wording on a shop drawing stamp will not serve to change or extend the meaning of Subparagraph 4.2.7 of the AIA General Conditions. Therefore, the following words, "Submittals have been reviewed and action taken in accordance with Subparagraph 4.2.7 of AIA General Conditions" could be used, with the appropriate options available for checking. The accompanying letter of transmittal should have additional comments that are needed to explain the reviewer's action or conditions of approval. 

Monitoring Progress of Submissions 
Monitoring the progress of the contractor's submissions of shop drawings, product data, and samples and the review status of each can be a complicated process if not approached in a systematic manner. Many architects have custom-designed schedules that are used for this purpose. Also, the AIA has designed and issued Document G712, Shop Drawing and Sample Record, October 1972 Edition, which is suitable for the purpose. 

Improper Use of Shop Drawings 
Contractor Misuse. Contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers should not use the shop drawings as a means of suggesting substitutions from the contract requirements. Should it become advisable to recommend changes, the contractor should make specific requests of the architect, explaining the particulars and the reasons. If it is necessary to deviate from the contract requirements in the shop drawings, then the contractor must point out the deviations at the time of submittal. 

If the architect is deceived into approving shop drawings containing unlabeled deviations, the approval will be void. The architect's approval of a contract deviation is valid only when the architect has approved the specific deviation. (A201, 3.12.8 and 3.12.9) 

If it becomes obvious that the contractor is not properly reviewing the shop drawings, but is merely having someone apply the approval stamp, the architect should strenuously object to the contractor. 

Architect Misuse. The architect should not use the shop drawings as a medium for making changes in the contract requirements. If the architect needs or wants to make a change, it is proper to initiate a change order or a construction change directive or to order a minor change (all provided in Article 7 of AIA Document A201). 

The only corrections which architects and engineers should make on submittals are to bring them into conformance with the requirements of the contract documents. 

Keeping the Client Informed
Most clients of architects are not fully aware of the importance and role of shop drawings nor of the large amount of time and effort expended in the review process and its related administration. In fact, many inexperienced clients have no reason to know of the existence of the shop drawing system or of the necessity of professional review and comment. This should be completely explained to the client. It is also appropriate to send the client copies of all shop drawing letters of transmittal to keep the client currently informed and aware of this significant behind-the-scenes process. 

Some experienced owners not only know the value of the shop drawings, but also wisely require a complete file set of all construction submittals to be assembled as an aid in the future maintenance of their buildings.


Various provisions of AIA standard form documents (A201, B141, C141, and G712) have been quoted briefly and should be reviewed in their entirety for their complete language and context to avoid possible misinterpretation. 

Should anyone be contemplating changing the wording of their shop drawing stamps based on my expressed opinions, they are hereby advised to first confer with their legal advisor or their liability insurance carrier. 

For a fuller discussion of Shop Drawings, see Chapter 12 in "A Guide to Successful Construction - Effective Contract Administration," by Arthur F. O'Leary, FAIA, MRIAI, published by BNi Publications, Anaheim, California.

AIA Documents Relating
To Shop Drawings

This analysis of shop drawing problems and procedures is based on the situations that would prevail if the owner, architect, consultants, and contractor contracted with each other using the standard form agreements issued by the American Institute of Architects. Use of the following documents will be assumed: 

General Conditions of the Contract
for Construction
AIA Document A201-1997 
(Incorporated as part of the Owner-Contractor Agreement.)

Owner-Architect Agreement
Standard Form of Architect’s Services:
Design and Contract Administration
AIA Document B141-1997

Architect-Consultant Agreement
AIA Document C141-1997

Shop Drawing and Sample Record
AIA Document G-712

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