Orders of Precedence in Construction Contracts, and the conflict between architects and contractors

duking it outA few years back, we discussed the Orders of Precedence clause in Construction Contracts.  I wrote a post talking about how having such a clause in a contract can help the parties navigate in the grey areas where specifications and drawings may disagree.

My post generated a follow up guest post from Phil Kabza, a MasterSpec specialist, on what he saw as the problems with an order of precedence clause in truly protecting all parties to the contract.

This week, Phil’s guest post generated a new, and thought-provoking (flame-provoking?) comment from “Joe GC”.  Joe writes:

It is another very typical situation of the Architect and Engineer doing a poor job and then trying to seek relief of their error at the contractors expense. Phil’s comments are based on the fact that all contractors are not ethical, which is simply not true. If the subcontractor is the expert, then why are the drawings and specifications prepared by Architect’s and Engineer?

This is exactly why Design Build delivery methods are becoming more popular by the day.   Single source responsibility from someone who really is an expert, not someone who has a lot of education and therefore purports to be an expert.

In otherwords in laymen’s terms “If I have to verify everything you draw and specify Mr. Architect, then why do I need you in the process at all”? If you are not responsible for the review of the submittals then why do I need to send them to you? No more “approved” stamps just “reviewed” stamps; it’s becoming a joke!

When will the Design Community wake up? That is why so many Architects and Engineers are now finding themselves working for contractors.  You are responsible for the Design Mr. Architect, it is cut and dry, simple as that, not rocket science and you do not need to be AIA or P.E. to understand it.

AIA needs to do more training, especially when it comes to spending time in the field. They need to understand what they are designing, just as the contractor needs to understand what he is building.  They have never seen it that way because they think they are above the contractor or smarter than the contractor.

Until they learn they are not better or smarter because of classroom education things will not be improving and the lawyers will continue to be the most successful.


Interesting perspective as to why Design Build is becoming more popular.  I think Joe is correct that Design Build is more popular now, but I think it has less to do with concerns about design professionals avoiding liability and more to do with the economic value in having the “buck stopping” at one single entity.

Is there a perception that designers are classroom educated but not field trained?  Is it a fair one?  Share YOUR thoughts with Joe and me, below.


Wake County Justice Center- a LEED Silver Project done right!

Justice Center

The atrium

Yesterday evening, I had the privilege of attending the Triangle USGBC’s  “Talk & Walk” at the Wake County Justice Center.  The 576,996 square foot Justice Center was completed 6 months early and over 30 million under budget.  (The final cost, including soft costs, came in at ~$141,000,000).  Now that’s what I call a LEED project done right!

Interestingly, the County did not endeavor for a LEED Silver rating– the plan was to aim for a Certification.  However, as the process unfolded, the Team kept meeting the goals and points for a Silver certification without any appreciable additional costs.

The end result?  An “iconic but energy efficient building,” according to Tim Ashby, current Wake County Facilities Project Manager.  Tim was initially involved in the Project while working at O’Brien Atkins, which served as the architecture firm for the Project under the direction of Architect Andrew Zwiacher.

The Project was a Construction Manager at Risk project, involving a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Construction and Barnhill Contracting Company.   Did the contract type contribute to the success of the Project?  According to Project representatives, it likely was responsible for the 6 month early completion due to the high level of coordination.

Energy efficiency in the Building comes from the low flow plumbing (total water savings of 45%, 15% more than LEED requires), programmable and natural daylighting, and almost 98% construction waste diversion.

Jury Room

The large & relaxing Jury waiting room

Another interesting legal factoid: BIM (Building Information Modeling) was utilized.  Through BIM, a conflict was discovered in the space allocated for the air handling units versus the planned size of those units.  This discovery enabled a change to the AHU units (to make them wider and shorter) prior to manufacturer, saving untold delays in time and increases in cost.  We’ll talk more later about the pros (and cons) of BIM, but suffice it to say it worked very well on this Project.

If you haven’t been by to see the Justice Center yet, please do.  It’s a great design (17 elevators!), and a great change from the old Courthouse across the street.

Have you seen the Justice Center yet?  Thoughts on the design?  Share in the comments below.

Photos (c) Melissa Brumback. .Creative Commons License



Design-Build Advantages for Construction Projects (guest post)

Design-Build where contractors and designers work togetherToday we have a guest post from the folks at McCree General Contractors and Architects, located in Orlando.  The McCree folks, naturally enough, think Design-Build has many features that make it advantageous over the traditional Design-Bid-Build method.  Here are their thoughts:

Many construction projects are designed by an architect, and once the client is happy with the design a contractor is then hired to build it. While the client may have been told one estimate by the architect, once the contractor gets the plans the costs may change. There may be aspects of the design execution the architect didn’t think about, or parts that won’t work with the landscape of the construction site. This can result in changes to the original design, higher costs, and delaying of the project. Not to mention the frustration this can create for everyone involved.

Because of these obstacles that often arise between architecture firm and contractor firm, many people are now turning to a Design-Build Construction Firm. At these firms, the architects, designers, and contractors work together from the beginning. The firm takes responsibility for the project in its entirety, from design to execution. If the architect makes and adjustment to a design, the contractor will be right there to let him know if this may violate a regulation or if it won’t work with the topography of the site. Adjustments can be made without ever involving the client. The price quoted is more likely to be accurate, because a contractor and project manager will have also agreed that this design can be executed in the space allotted. There is no finger pointing and blaming the other firm, leaving the client in the middle, frustrated and spending more money than he originally thought. A Design-Build firm is also easier on the client because he only needs to contact one project manager. This streamlined process leads to a more efficiently run project, and efficiently run projects typically cost less and are finished quicker.

A Design-Build firm is advantageous for the client also because these firms typically allow the client to be as involved as he wants. As the design is developed and changed according to the client’s specifications, the contractor will be on hand to let the client and architect know if these changes are possible. There is no need for ordering design changes, which an architect working on his own would charge the client for. Because the contractor works for the firm, and not for himself, he is not looking to protect his own self-interest once building starts. Since the contractor has been involved from the beginning, there should be no surprises or setbacks once ground is broken. If there are, the Design-Build firm should take responsibility, instead of the contractor telling the client to go back to the architect.

All the decisions regarding the design and building of a project will be taken into account from the very beginning with a Design-Build firm. When using separate design and contractor firms, an architect will simply tell the client what will be the most cost effective design, and then a contractor will decide the most cost effective way to build this design. The schedule of the contractor’s team is not on the architect’s mind, and the contractor may not know the most cost effective materials needed to execute the design. These problems are also eliminated with a Design-Build firm. The experience of the team, quality and availability of materials and schedule of the contractor and construction crews are also taken into consideration from the very beginning of the project. This further streamlines the process, making it quicker and more painless for everyone involved.

Melissa again:  Design-Build projects definitely present unique opportunities, and unique challenges.  If you are considering entering into a design-build contract, considering a joint venture with a contractor on a project, or otherwise undertaking a corporate organizational change, make sure you have a good lawyer (or three) on board for the myriad issues that such ventures present. 

Now it’s your turn:  What do you think?  Is Design-Build the next best thing since sliced bread? Have you had issues, problems, or good results as part of a Design-Build team?  Share your thoughts below.

Copyright Info for Shutterstock Photo: Image ID: 61778761  Copyright: sam100

Architects & Engineers – Liaising With Contractors (guest post)

Today’s guest post is by David Morrison.  David has worked on both sides of the construction site during his time in renovation.  Having stepped from the gravel pit into the office a few years ago, David currently now works with UK Tool Centre, liaising with the industry on their behalf.

Working as a site engineer or lead architect has many challenges and is undoubtedly one of the toughest roles, interwoven around effective communication skills with the clients as well as the site contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.

Since maintaining discipline and accountability is at the core of any successful venture, the same is true for a construction site also. The site engineer plays the “unwanted” role of implementing carrot and stick policy, awarding the effective contractor and dealing with the laggard.

carrot with club


For those beginning their engineering and architectural careers, or for those who still struggle to maintain a tight ship when dealing with contractors, there are a number of things to keep in mind.

a.)    Organizing Self – The way a site engineer organizes his work plays a very important role in meeting the final objective and let the workplace run as a team. The first and most important thing is to set an example by doing things in the same manner as you are requiring and expecting from the contractors.

b.)    Be Clear – A site engineer must ensure that the contractors have clear instructions, drawings and specifications related to their work. Otherwise the “garbage in; garbage out” rule shall be applicable to the final outcome.

c.)     Work Milestones – A site engineer should coordinate with the general contractor, who in turn should use professional project management tools, define work milestones and interact with the subcontractors to keep an eye on their timely completion. If any issues arise, they must be addressed quickly, so that the contractor or subcontractor’s work is not delayed.

d.)    Performance Appraisal – Informing  a contractor of his performance quality is only half the job; informing him in a timely manner is the remaining half. The site engineer should develop methods of regular assessment of work of each prime contractor, and should include this information in regular project meetings. This allows the site contractor to timely identify the gaps (both related to man and machine) in his work and to take action to complete the work successfully.

e.)    Teamwork, Motivation and Inspiration – To foster teamwork among various site contractors, a site engineer should know how to dig into his own experience of similar works. He should always work to motivate them by giving good and bad examples out of his experience. A well experienced site engineer always have lots of good advice from his earlier encounters to inspire the contractors and give them potential solutions to difficult tasks and situations.

f.)     Prompt Payments – A site engineer must always ensure that as per contractual terms with contractors the payment for the various milestones must be promptly processed and done without any delay. This is of utmost importance in getting the work done from contractors on a construction site.

g.)    Safety – A site engineer must always ensure that contractors shall never compromise on safety and security rules to expedite the work. A bad accident can be devastating, to the individuals involved and also to the project schedule.

h.)    Friendship, Philosophy and Guidance – A site engineer should know how to work as a friend-philosopher and guide to the contractors and must not always act as bully. After all, the contractor may have some genuine issues with the design team’s performance as well.

Advice for construction is ten to the dozen and there are a lot of potential misguiding mantras out there.  One of the most useful to take into account has always been: “It may take a lifetime to learn the ways to deal with contractors on-site, and still a lot will be left to learn.”

 Thanks David.  Now it’s your turn.  Thoughts, comments, questions?  Share in the comment section below.

Photo courtesy Teaching Underground.


4 Federal Labor Laws Every Construction Manager Needs to Know (guest post)

construction hard hat on postToday, a guest post from Kristie Lewis, freelance writer for Construction Management Degree.  Kristie has written numerous articles on both construction training and education as well as industry news and trends. In her spare time, Kristie enjoys cooking in her newly remodeled kitchen and reading science fiction novels. You can reach out to her at Kristie.Lewis81@gmail.com.  Thanks for sharing, Kristie.


In an effort to protect the rights of employers in all industries, the federal government has enacted several labor laws. Some of the laws apply to all business sectors, and some apply to specific industries, such as construction.

Although those who earn a degree from an accredited construction management program will be required to learn about a variety of laws that apply to the construction industry, it is never a bad idea to review the details of them. Here are four labor laws that every construction manager should know like the back of their hand.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

This act sets the standards for wages and overtime pay. In general, it requires employers to pay covered employees who are not otherwise exempt at least the federal minimum wage and pay 1.5 times the regular rate for overtime hours. The Fair Labor Standards Act is administered by the Wage and Hour Division. More information on this law can be found at the division’s official website.

Davis-Bacon and Related Acts

These policies apply to contractors and subcontractors that are working on public buildings or public works projects that are federally funded and will cost more than $2,000 to construct, alter or repair. According to the act, contractors and subcontractors must pay their laborers and mechanics employed under the contract no less than the locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits for corresponding work on similar projects in the area. There are additional details that can also be found on the Wage and Hour Division’s official website.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

This act is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and includes an array of industry-specific regulations that are enforced through regular workplace inspections and investigations. Compliance assistance and other cooperative programs are available for employers who request help. Although there seems to be an endless amount of rules to comply with, most of them are common sense rules that smart construction managers already abide by. Still, it is wise to make sure your project is congruent with the federal law, because any infractions can be found through inspection or reported by a worker.

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959

This law deals with the relationship between a union and its members. Also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, it protects union funds and promotes union democracy by requiring labor organizations to file annual financial reports. Employers are also required to file reports regarding certain labor practices. It is administered by the Office of Labor-Management Standards. You can read the details of the law here.

Knowing the details of the above laws will not only keep your construction business safe from legal trouble, it will also allow you to provide your employers with the best working environment possible.

Questions on these laws, or comments?  Drop Kristie and me a note in the comment section, below.

Photo: (c) Anna Strumillo.

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