15 March 2013

Do what with the Owner?

Drawings and specifications often have many references requiring coordination with the owner. While that makes sense for some things, for example, location of grommets or selection of paint color (as long as it doesn't include non-standard colors), it doesn't work for quantities. The reason, of course, is that during bidding, the bidders have no direct contact with the owner, and even if they did, I'm sure owners would not appreciate a barrage of calls from various contractors and subcontractors, all trying to obtain information that should have been in the documents. If I were the owner, I'd be on the phone, asking the architect why in blue blazes those questions had not been addressed in the bidding documents.

Directions to the contractor, requiring coordination of various items, appear to make more sense, except for the fact that the AIA conditions of the contract make the contractor responsible for coordination of the entire project,
 which obviates the need for such statements in the documents. Telling the contractor to coordinate locations of casework and plumbing fixtures, or ceiling grid and electrical fixtures, merely restates the contractor's responsibilities.

That doesn't mean the contractor can't be told what is required, or what the final result is to be. To the contrary, that is the designer's responsibility. What is required must be clear, however, or there is no point in stating the requirement. For example, simply telling the contractor to coordinate light fixture location with the ceiling grid really does nothing. In contrast, stating that light fixtures must be centered in ceiling panels gives the contractor specific requirements that can be considered during bidding and execution of the contract.

Before requiring coordination with the owner, make sure it is impossible to show in the documents what is required. That doesn't mean merely difficult to show, and not having time to time to track it down doesn't justify passing on to the contractor what should have been done by the designer.

Locations that cannot be determined until some work is in place are valid reasons for delaying a decision. As long as the location is within a reasonable distance it will have little effect on the bid, and will be accommodated easily during construction. Leaving the location of the controls for blackout shades or an overhead door to be decided later is o.k., unless it is decided that they are to be installed in a remote location. Even that's o.k., as long as both the owner and the architect are willing to accept a change order for the additional conduit and wiring that will be required.

The designer's responsibilities include providing a complete design to the owner, or as complete a design as agreed upon, and then providing enough information so bidders know what is needed. It is unfair to both owner and bidder to include vague references and requirements that cannot be quantified.


  1. This is a great post.

    Sometimes, the person doing the drawings jumbles up all the questions that "someone else" needs to answer, and all these unresolved things end up on the drawings.

    Sometimes the person who needs to answer the question is the architect in the office who has the most familiarity with the building code, but something ends up on the drawings as "per code."

    Sometimes it's the owner who has to answer a question, but instead of sending an email to the owner, the designer puts a note on the drawings to "coordinate with owner."

    Sometimes the person who needs to answer the question is the on-board contractor, but instead of coordinating with the contractor before the drawings go out, the drawings go out with an "either/or" and then the contractor has to clarify for his bidding subs.

    We often don't get enough done ahead of time. Progress deadlines are good. Otherwise we may never get anything done.

    1. Thanks, Liz. There are many reasons for these notes, the most important being not having time for thorough internal coordination.

      Another reason comes from a combination of good intent and lack of confidence. If those who draw the details don't know what's in the other documents, it's more likely that they will either use a note like "coordinate with owner" or add a note just to make sure the contractor knows what to do.

      Another of my favorites is "unless noted otherwise" or "except as noted." While that can make sense, seeing a page littered with those comments makes me wonder if anyone really knows what's going on.

      Similarly, a specifier may not know what is on the drawings or what will be in the owner-contractor agreement, and so will add something just to make sure.

      As BIM moves along, I expect some improvement, but I fear we'll have this issue for a long time.

      I'm often amazed that buildings get built as well as they do, with the thousands of products and the detailed scheduling that is required of the contractors. Architects often complain about them, but many times they save the architect's arse, doing things the way they should be done instead of the way the architect said they should be done.