Owners, Architects, Engineers and Contractors: A Simple Explanation of Who Does What in a Commercial Building Project

So you have a project to handle, and need to hire some help.  Who are these people, and what do they do? When should they be involved, and at what points should they be responsible for something? Let’s start with who is actually responsible for what.

We want to suggest this general rule of thumb for dividing responsibilities: if you bring the value to the table, you are responsible.

The Owner (That’s You):

Let’s begin with the owner (you). You are responsible for communicating your vision and expectations for the project to your own management/congregation/leadership team. You are responsible for the actions and behavior of your employees and/and congregation as it pertains to the project. You are responsible for prompt payment on a regular basis. You are responsible for the property you own and any unforeseen characteristics of that property.

The Architect:

Now let’s talk first about the architect’s team. On this team you will have an Architect of Record (typically the owner or a principal in their company). This is the individual who holds the license for the seal on your construction drawings. On the architect’s team, the Architect of Record is the person responsible by law for the health, safety, and welfare of the public who enter your building. You may also have a Project Architect or Designer who will work directly with you on the concept for your project, a Project Manager who will be in close communication with you throughout the project to manage construction and details in the field, and Drafters (who could also be interns working toward licensure). All of these people will communicate and talk about your project even more than you do, every day, for the duration of the project. blog-8-01

Also on your architect’s team, although likely not part of their actual company, will be a team of professional engineers. Your architect should have final say in who these individuals are, and you can either pay the engineers as part of your contract with the architect or the architect can help you create an agreement to compensate them individually. On most projects for new construction or renovation, you will have a civil engineer (handling everything to do with designing the site, detaining water, paving, etc), a structural engineer (charged with designing the foundation and structure of the building), and an MEP Engineer (this usually stands for a group of three engineers and includes the Mechanical Engineer, Electrical Engineer, and Plumbing Engineer).

These are the people most actively involved during the design phase of your project.

Let’s walk through why you need an architect partner:

  1. To program your needs and arrive to the optimal amount of square footage the church needs to operate with room for growth
  2. To design the building (including the site, the plan, and the way it looks on the outside and the inside) and to consider the impact of your building at every level: the person, the church, and the community
  3. To get your engineers together, to inform them about the building goals and the budget, and to make sure all of their drawing work with the intent of your project
  4. To make sure your building meets codes regarding health, safety, and welfare of the public because you are renovating/building a commercial building. To communicate with your city’s local authorities on your behalf
  5. During construction, to act on your behalf in relaying your intent for the building (that is, how the church wants to use it and what you want it to be like), as related to interpreting the drawing set
  6. To advise on matters of process during the design and construction phases.

In the best of cases, you should have a relationship of complete honesty and openness with the architect’s team. You should be able to tell them when they are missing the mark without hurting their feelings, and you should be able to accept when they suggest that you push back your schedules, or that your budget expectations are off. Your architect will probably be the only person besides you who will obsess over every detail of how the dream is going to play out. So tell them your whole story as it relates to the building. The more accurate information your architect has, the better they can help you.

If you have not been through a construction project in the past, you need to be prepared for the leadership roles to change throughout the process. From the planning stage through design and permitting, you will need to rely on architect’s team as the authority on codes, design expertise, and engineering coordination. During this time, the construction partner needs to serve in support role, offering cost info and building systems knowledge and serving as an extra pair of experienced eyes on the developing drawing set. Once the project moves from bidding into construction, the architect will immediately shift into a support role as the contractor takes responsibility for managing the project forward.

So what value does your construction team offer the church?

  1. Cost. They’ll tell you the price of items, which will help you set a reasonable budget upfront. If you are late to the game in establishing a realistic budget, they’ll get you back on track to accomplish what is feasible for the church by providing phased solutions or strategic plans.
  2. Methods. Contractors know the methods we need to use to build. Architects can draw the building you want, but someone actually has to get out in the dirt and put this giant beast together. Contractors know how.
  3. Means. They have the means to get the work done. They have the list of tradespeople, and they have the equipment. They know who to call and when. They’ve got men willing to wake up at 3:00 a.m. and supervise concrete pours, work all day, and then come back and do the same thing tomorrow.
  4. Insurance and safety programs. They use their people trained in building and supervising to keep your job site safe and the church free of liability while tons of steel hand overhead and electricians do their work, among other dangerous tasks.

For all practical purposes, the Owner needs to stay in a decision-making role throughout, acting as property owner and authority over the church’s funds and overall vision implementation. If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




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