Owners Guide to the Design and Construction Process – part 8

Criteria For Selecting Architects, Engineers, and Contractors

A. The Architect and Engineer

The primary criterion for selection of architects and engineers for a given project is previous experience in design of similar facilities. Although the Owner will provide the concepts and requirements which the building must satisfy, architects and engineers must work together to translate them into designs.

Specific experience is demonstrated by reference to previous similar projects.

Ability to respond to the time requirements of the project is another criterion for selection. Realistic schedules should be discussed, as should the professionals’ staff sizes and existing work loads.

Knowledge of the building codes and familiarity with the local jurisdictional authorities is an absolute necessity.

The object is to create facilities that generate profit for the Owner. The hard facts of the real world demand that the design of every building reflect economic value. In the design of commercial and industrial buildings, the architectural and engineering professions must zero in on functional design with a minimum of nonproductive elements, but the appearance should be as pleasant as possible and never offensive. These are matters which deserve discussion and exchange of attitudes when selecting an architect or engineer.

The total range of architectural service is basically organized into three segments: design, which puts line and form to the Owner’s program requirements; production, which develops the detailed working drawings including specifications; coordinating all of the engineering disciplines; and, depending on agreement with the Owner, the administration of construction contracts and observation of execution. Other services may be offered and will be a matter of specific agreement between Owner and architect. Professional fees will depend upon the extent of services rendered, and the basis will usually take one of these forms:

(1) an hourly rate plus expenses;

(2) a percentage of construction costs;

(3) a stipulated sum.

With the traditional method, the Owner will of course make selection of the architect, and will negotiate with him the extent of services to be rendered and the fee basis.

The same is true of the team method, except the selected contractor team member may be of assistance to the Owner in the architect qualifying and selection process. If the team method is used, take full advantage of the builder’s experience in selecting the architect.

In the design-build process the contractor, because of his single-source responsibility, selects the architect and engineers, with the Owner’s approval, using the same criteria available to the Owner.

B. The Contractor

As with architects and engineers, any contractor or builder you seriously consider should be able to point to previous successful experiences with the type of construction and end-use you have in mind.

Unlike those who aspire to the architectural and engineering professions, however, would-be contractors find it surprisingly easy to obtain the necessary licensing and set up in business without the required technical competence, business experience, and capital.

In selection of a builder or contractor, therefore, it is especially important to choose from among those who have been in business long enough to prove their ability. This helps assure you of adequate experience and capitalization. While length of experience does not conclusively demonstrate ethicality, it is an indication. Check into your prospective builder’s reputation. Talk to some of the Owners he has worked with in the past.

The most desirable characteristic, of course, is integrity. Unfortunately this is difficult to measure with objectivity. In addition to the recommended reference checking, the Owner should have several frank and open discussions in personal interviews, so that he can make his best judgment regarding knowledge and character.

An additional source of qualifications and assurance available to the Owner is the bonding and surety underwriting process. The Owner should determine whether or not the contractor qualifies for bonding of the project by a good and sufficient surety. After being awarded a contract, the contractor may be required to post a performance bond, which is issued by a surety. The premium for this bond, usually about one to two percent of the contract amount, may be considered as part of the contract costs, or may be reimbursed to the contractor by the Owner outside of the contract.

See the section on bonding and surety underwriting for a more detailed explanation of this safeguard.