Client monitoring: Essential Steps

Architects have long had a love-hate relationship with Design and Build. Whilst accepting the obvious advantages of a construction contract that shifts much of the procurement and design liability risk to the main contractor, they are less than enthusiastic when the main contractor chooses a separate design team for the realisation of the technical design. In short, many architects feel that this sort of fragmentation goes against the very nature of the profession as an ‘art of building’ and that a design’s originator is the best person to see though the entire process. The main fear is design misinterpretation and dumbing down.

In this scenario, it has become increasingly common for the client or employer to ask members of the original design team to take on a monitoring role, a direct appointment without any conflict of interest. This role is often described as ‘Technical Assurance’, or sometimes more poetically as ‘Design Guardian’. However, if the former description suggests that client interests are protected in terms of the technical performance of the completed building, does the latter imply that the aesthetic and functional aspects of the building will also be protected?

Having a detailed description of this appointment is of upmost importance, to ensure that both the technical and the design aspects are accounted for. As a minimum, we would suggest that this should include for the following:

  • An overarching role as ‘design champion’, so that the design vision is not lost in the hasty rush to construction.

  • An approval role with authority, i.e. one not easily overruled. Establish a traffic lights system, or similar, for the review of contractor proposals, along with formal procedures to deal with disagreements.

  • Early appointment of the contractor under a PCSA to ensure ‘buy-in’ to the design aspirations and validation of the technical details.

  • The allowance of enough time for dialogue and information exchange with the contractor’s design and procurement team at the early stages, to communicate the subtle aspects of the design, the things not readily obvious in the tender documents.

  • A programme of regular site inspections with the client or employer. Include the approval of benchmark samples and off-site factory mockups, well in advance of final fabrication.

  • Involvement in value engineering and buildability discussions, to both protect the elements of the design that matter most and help identify areas where design changes are less sensitive.

  • Stress the need for collaboration and openness. Design and Build need not be adversarial and design quality can survive the intrinsic pressures of budget and programme.

It is worth noting that before such an appointment, the design architect must be given enough time to compile a robust set of tender documents, ensuring that all key elements of the design are described in the Employer’s Requirements. Such design clarity is in everybody’s interest moving forward.

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