The Architect's Response

Charles Mahaffey

December 2006

Last month I told you how I was asked to bid on a shopping mall, but the building plans were littered with nothing but design errors. As angry as I was, I decided to send a matter-of-fact e-mail to the architect to try to start a dialogue.

The e-mail I sent referenced the job name, and I simply asked, "Do you check your drawings before they are sent out for bid?”

I think that was a reasonable question. My intent was just to see if he would contact me so we could discuss the errors I had found in the drawings.

Within an hour of my e-mail, I had a response. The architect’s e-mail requested a phone number, which I provided. My thoughts were twofold: Either this would be the start of change, or I had set myself up for a tongue-lashing.

My phone rings and on the other end, a person identifies herself as a person with the architectural firm. I asked, "Are you the project architect for the mall project?”

"No,” she said. "I am the accountant.”

The accountant? I really thought she was going to tell me she was just kidding. But she didn’t.

She continued, "The architect received your e-mail and he said he didn’t understand it and wanted me to call you.”

I tried to put things into perspective for her: "I just finished struggling with one of the most hard-to-follow architectural plans in my career. I sent a simple, one-sentence question to the architect, and he doesn’t understand the point of my e-mail? Then, the architect has the accountant call me to find out the purpose of the e-mail. Obviously the architect cannot convey his design from vision to paper, so why should I expect he could read and understand my e-mail?”

I ended the conversation with, "Thank you for calling, and have a nice day.”

Based on the importance the architect gave my e-mail, I would conclude that either the architect did not really care, or he did not understand his drawings either … or my e-mail.

The way I see it, if the architect really wanted to address my e-mail, he would not have passed it on to the accountant. After all, I was not inquiring about payment of an invoice; I was inquiring about his failed attempt to convey his design visions.

Is this cavalier attitude of the architect befitting all architects? No! Would it describe a large percentage of the architects? Yes! Based on what I experience every day, I would say that a large percentage of architectural firms could not care less about the quality of the plans they produce. I cannot think of another profession that could get by with such mediocrity and remain viable.

Errors and omissions in building design typically account for half of a project’s change orders, according to a registered architect retired from the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. The rest are normally due to a variety of unforeseen and/or inconsistent site conditions, and changes in the project owner’s needs.

Shouldn’t some governing body or the licensing board for each state hold the architect to a higher standard? What will we, the construction industry, be expected to accept from the architects in the future?

I don’t have an answer for that question, but maybe you do. I encourage you to respond to the editor of this magazine (porinchak@awci.org). If we fail to demand better, we will only encourage continuation of the mediocrity that we now endure on a daily basis.

About the Author
Charles Mahaffey is president of Accuest, LLC, Marietta, Ga., and The Academy of Construction Estimating in Atlanta.