Construction Administration: The Final Design Phase

You made it to the final design phase! But, make sure you read about  construction documents  first!

You made it to the final design phase! But, make sure you read about construction documents first!

This is the phase that most feel the need to nix. However, without it, design integrity can be so drastically lost that we often feel we can no longer put our name on the design. Amazing right? After four phases of design, one can throw it all out the window for us. Well, to be fair... skipping any phase would mean that it is not a full design service, but a consulting service. We couldn't take credit for the complete design without all five phases:


Schematic Design

Design Development

Construction Documents

Construction Administration

So, what IS Construction Administration? I recently heard an architect friend compare it to the healthy food in a meal, but if we're to compare it to food, I see it more like a chef planning and carrying through a meal:

  1. First, she determines what kind of event the meal is for (programming).

  2. Next, she generates ideas for the meal (schematic).

  3. Then, she begins testing the meal- putting the ingredients together and tasting them (design development).

  4. Finally, she writes down the recipe (construction documents)

  5. Lastly, she prepares the meal... or in this case, we'll say the restaurant prepares the meal with her oversight (construction administration).

If she is not there to oversee the preparation and does not handpick the cooks in the kitchen, her recipe could be butchered. A dash of salt may mean one thing to her where it’s something else to the cook. And, this is where construction administration comes into play.

Waldron Designs requires all full-service projects to have bi-weekly site visits at a minimum to ensure that misinterpretations of the plans are not happening. Without these visits, we waive all liability for the design. 

Recent examples that illustrate why construction administration is important:

Our first example had a range hood with the light fixture placed toward the back of the hood, about 1/8 of an inch from the rear. The backsplash was to be 1/2" thick. See the dilemma here? There was no way to know about this until the hood was on site, so we developed a method of floating the hood off the wall and simultaneously concealing the gap between the hood and the wall. Yes, this is a decision the contractor could have made, but the installer recommendation was to sand down the quartz backsplash in a radial shape or bevel it, which would most definitely show in the light. 

Another recent example involved a contractor that was not closely following the drawings. They saw the drawings called for batten board and instead of reading the supplied placement, one batten was left out entirely. When this was noticed, the contractor said they could fix it with a painting trick. We insisted the drawings be matched. The drawings are, after all, what the owner signed off on, and what we had developed for a reason for this owner. If we order creme brulee and lemon tart shows up... well, it's all good, but it isn't what we asked for, right?

Both contractors were AMAZING contractors that I am proud to work with, but they are not designers, they are builders and look for buildable solutions, not design solutions.

Reviewing drawing set on site.

Reviewing drawing set on site.

On a typical site visit, I arrive with the drawings in hand. I review each drawing and check it with the progress to ensure that all is as it should be. 

I have found that sometimes things aren't going exactly as the owner would like it to. This is where having a liaison can be very beneficial. I take the negativity out of the contractor's criticisms. Where the owner may be concerned about sounding like a nag, it is the designer's job to speak up for you. In fact, upon significant completion, we conduct a punch list- where we walk through the space with you and make note of any areas of concern. We typically photograph the area of concern and send it to the contractor but have also been known to use sticky notes to mark them! It is our job to nitpick and call out these details. Contractors tend to perform better when a designer is observing due to the repeated business we can bring to them. 

We also verify measurements as the project comes together and redline the drawings with updates at each visit. Upon substantial completion, we update the drawings in our system and print a final set for you that is accurate to what was actually built for future reference.

Construction Administration is also a courtesy to your contractor. The contractor will most likely have questions for the designer. Before deciding to skip this important phase, ask your contractor how they feel about being unable to contact the designer with questions. It creates frustration and confusion, and they most definitely appreciate the connection so that problems that come up have a designer for resolution, rather than expecting the contractor to design on the spot. Remember, your contractor, no matter how good, is not a designer.