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Kevin Ahern

By: Kevin Ahern on January 28th, 2019

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The Ins and Outs of the Architect-Contractor Partnership


In any commercial construction project, architects and contractors must work together to create a fully realized, fully functioning commercial building.

Communication, cooperation and professionalism from both parties is necessary to ensure that the building project is a success. Establishing a precedent from the beginning helps pave the way for a healthy working relationship.

Clients who understand the relationship between architects and contractors can help facilitate a good working relationship, and ensure the success of the project.

How Do Architects and Contractors Work Together?

Architects and contractors play different roles in the building process. Architects begin the work by creating a schematic for the contractor to follow. Once the design is created, the contractor steps in to build the structure. While the architect does the bulk of the work at the beginning and the contractor takes over later, both parties must be involved from start to finish.

The work begins when the client contacts either the contractor or architect to initiate a discussion about project goals and timeline. Often this happens just before or after a plot of land has been purchased. These initial discussions lay the groundwork for the project to come.

While the architect is creating the drawings, the contractor must be available to play a consultant role. It's up to the contractor to supply crucial information about the project's specs and logistics. For example, the contractor might tell the architect the square footage, materials needed and so on.

The big-picture information provided by the contractor helps establish guidelines for budgeting and other considerations. This prevents the architect from wasting their time on plans that cannot be worked into the final design.

Once the architect has created a drawing, their role becomes largely administrative, similar to the consulting role played by the contractor at the beginning. The architect works with the builder to ensure that the specs are properly followed. The bulk of the work is done by the contractor from that point forward.

How Does Communication Play a Role Between Architects and Contractors?

Good communication is the secret to a successful architect and contractor partnership. Communication happens in stages. In the beginning, most communication happens informally. Conversations may be short and somewhat general.

Talk is conducted over the phone or email, as ideas are passed back and forth. After the client signs a bid or contract with both parties, communication may become more formal in nature. It's important to get certain information in writing, to ensure that all parties are on the same page.

After the design is finalized, the architect acts as an owner's agent. During this phase, the architect answers questions, makes changes if necessary, and trouble shoots problems as they occur.

The builder ensures that the architect is kept up to date with progress. While the building is taking shape, builder and architect have a collaborative relationship, like business partners. Both parties work together in the best interests of the client.

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On Which Issues Must the Contractor and Architect Collaborate Most?

The budget is a central issue throughout the planning and construction stages. Finding ways to meet the needs of the client while also staying at or below budget can be very difficult. Architects and contractors work together to achieve project goals.

The contractor and architect also work together when issues arise with the proposed plans. Often issues that come up can affect the budget, so changes must be handled by both parties. As discussions take place to move the project forward, the contractor and architect must ensure that the client is kept informed.

When changes are made, it is the client who must sign off on these changes. Contractor and architect usually establish early on which professional will communicate with the client and when. This cuts back on confusion and helps keep the project moving.

What Makes for a Successful Architect and Contractor Relationship?

Both parties must have effective communication skills. Written communication skills are essential, as are effective verbal communication skills. Property owners who are beginning their project should assess the communication skills of both professionals before signing bids, as these skills will have a major impact on the success of the project.

It helps for the architect and contractor to engage in multiple discussions before the bids or contracts have been signed. If communication problems arise, parties can talk to the client and alert them to the issues. This way, problems are handled before the client enters into a contract.

Each party must align their vision with the vision of the client. The only way to know if this has occurred is to have many discussions about the project prior to beginning the building. During discussions, the architect and contractor may look at drawings, discuss goals and troubleshoot problems. The back and forth that happens during the planning stage is critical.

Starting a Commercial Construction Project?

Modern commercial construction can be very complex. Builders and architects must work together closely to meet the needs of the client. Without good communication and professionalism, projects can go far off budget or may fail in other ways. For many contractors and architects, it takes years to develop excellent communication methods. Working with an experienced, reputable team with a clear style of communication is critical.

Are you a property owner who is thinking about starting a commercial construction project in the coming months? Have you bought the land and started the hunt for a commercial builder? Leave your comments in the box below.

We can give you guidance throughout the planning process. At Litchfield Builders, we have decades of experience working with architects and clients. We'd be happy to give you a consultation to discuss your upcoming commercial construction project.

To get started, give us a call for a consultation. For more information, download our free publication, Sustainability & Green Building in Commercial Construction.

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About Kevin Ahern

Kevin is the Co-Founder of Litchfield Builders, an award-winning, industry leader with a reputation for managing projects others shy away from. They are known for their high-quality work, customer service, and reliability and though still relatively small in size, Litchfield Builders now competes with some of the areas largest firms in both the residential and commercial arenas.