CONSTRUCTION OBSERVATION SERVICES
Site Visitation and Reporting to the Owner
Arthur O'Leary, FAIA, MRIAI
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Architects who agree to perform a complete contract administration function on their projects must be extremely careful during the construction phase. It is easy to make mistakes and cause problems. This is the phase most laden with the potential for client dissatisfaction and misunderstanding.
Unexpected problems can require much more time and cause more complication than could ever have been reasonably anticipated. Sources of difficulty are unlimited and can include unusual weather conditions, accidents, contractor problems with workmanship and unavailability of materials or labor, owner misunderstandings, disputes, and third-party injury and claims.
Professional services at this stage are comprehensively described in the architect’s professional service agreement. They are also described for the contractor’s benefit in the general conditions of the construction agreement. (Note 1) The breadth and depth of the architect’s services should not depart from the written agreement.
Advice and Consultation.
The services that the architect must provide during the construction phase are varied and numerous. The architect must always be available for advice and consultation with the owner. (B141-1997, Subparagraph 18.104.22.168) The contract does not suggest or impose any limitation on the scope or amount of time that might be required for this sensitive and significant duty. Some clients require considerable personal attention, explanation, and reassurance during the construction period. This timeconsuming activity can seldom be completely delegated to less experienced members of the staff.
Visiting the construction site, as one of the architect’s most conspicuous activities, has great potential for creating misunderstanding with clients. According to the architectural contract, the architect must visit the site “at intervals appropriate to the stage of construction....” (22.214.171.124) This means that the architect must exercise reasonable professional judgment in determining the frequency and timing of site visits. The architect should be present at the jobsite to observe work or events of major impact on the structural or design integrity of the final result. Some parts of the work need to be examined during their execution and before they are covered by subsequent operations while other components need only to be observed upon their completion. The contract further explains that the site visit is for the architect:
1. To become generally familiar with and to keep the owner informed about the progress and quality of the portion of the work completed.
2. To endeavor to guard the owner against defects and deficiencies in the work.
3. To determine in general if the work is being performed in a manner indicating that the work, when completed, will be in accordance with the contract documents. (126.96.36.199)
The architect’s site visits should be regularly scheduled or at least announced in advance so the contractor is represented at the site as well as the owner if desired. The architect should keep notes of visual observations, relevant comments offered, and oral directives given by any of the parties present.
Keeping the Owner Informed.
The architect is required to keep the owner informed of the progress and quality of the work. (188.8.131.52) It is the owner’s undisputed right to know what is going on at the building site. Keeping the owner informed of construction progress and quality is best accomplished by a system of regularly issued written reports. This also serves to keep the client aware of the extent of services being performed on its behalf by the architect. It will also impart to the owner the sense that the project is being properly monitored and is not out of control.
The agreement says that the architect will “endeavor to guard the owner against defects and deficiencies in the Work.” This is not a guarantee or assurance by the architect but is a promise to exercise skilful and informed observation of the contractor’s work with the expectation of detecting and preventing noncompliance with requirements of the contract documents.
Architect’s Field Report.
The architectural agreement indicates that the purpose of the architect’s site visit is to become “generally familiar” with the progress and quality of the work and to determine if the work is being done in a manner that will yield results consistent with the contract documents. The agreement further explains that the architect is not required to make exhaustive or continuous on-site inspections. The architect is required, however, to keep the owner informed of the progress and quality of the work. (184.108.40.206) Most architects discharge this continuing obligation by sending the owner a written report of each site visit with a copy sent to the contractor. The report should be a complete record of the proceedings at the architect’s jobsite visit and should include:
1. Report number. Date, time, and duration of visit
2. Weather conditions
3. Persons present
4. Percentage of work completed by trade
5. Work progress compared to schedule
6. Work now being accomplished
7. Work scheduled before next visit
8. Questions raised by contractor or owner
9. Determinations, interpretations, and decisions made by the architect
10. Any questions or actions that remain pending for appropriate later attention.
Many architectural firms have forms that they have designed to be used for this purpose. The AIA’s standard form of Architect’s Field Report (Note 2) is quite suitable and is widely used. The report should be written and issued promptly, preferably on the day of the visit, and certainly no later than one or two days following.
The observation report is not a contract document. Its purpose is primarily to inform the owner of the progress and quality of the work. Legitimate secondary purposes are to instruct and inform the contractor and to create a credible record of on-site activities, inquiries, decisions, and actions.
All observations and comments in the field report should be honest, candid, and complete, devoid of all editorial bias. As a valid general principle for writing field reports, all relevant information that comes to the architect’s attention should be reported.
The report should not be used as a means of ordering changes to the contract work or time. If additional work is to be required or authorised, the established change order procedure should be followed.
The field report is a good place to record any pending changes which might affect the construction so that contractors can avoid work that would have to be altered or removed when the proposed change is ultimately authorized.
A written observation report should be issued for all of the architect’s visits to the site. This would include preconstruction site meetings as well as postconstruction warranty inspections.
On the occasion of each site visit, the architect should specifically inquire of the contractor or the superintendent if there are any pending or unreported claims under consideration. The question and answer should be recorded in the observation report.
This will serve the purpose of bringing all claims involving money or contract time promptly to the forefront, where they can be immediately dealt with and quickly resolved, thereby preventing the insidious accumulation of unresolved claims. It will also help to prevent old issues from being resurrected at a later time.
Architect’s Versus Contractor’s Field Function.
The architect’s observation in the field is in the nature of a periodic examination or viewing of the work in process or completed as contrasted to the contractor’s continuous superintendence and supervision of the trade workers and artisans involved in the day-to-day execution of the work.
The architect should be observing, evaluating, and reporting, whereas the contractor is controlling and directing the work.
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1. The architect’s Construction Phase Services are described in the Architect-Owner Agreement, AIA Document B141-1997, Article 2.6. The architect’s services are also described in the General Conditions of the Contract, AIA Document A201-1997, which always forms a part of the Owner-Contractor Agreement, as an attachment to AIA Documents A101 or A111.
2. Architect’s Field Report, AIA Document G711
3. Further information on Site Observation and Administration of Construction will be found in Chapter 10 of “A Guide to Successful Construction - Effective Contract Administration,” by Arthur F. O’Leary, FAIA, MRIAI.
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