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Part six in a series on the new Thor Headquarters at Penn and Plymouth Avenues North: Transformation: Project coordination

By Randall Bradley
Architect –

This stool represents the relationship dynamic between the project, owner and the architectural/engineering team and their consultants and the general contractor when erecting a structure.

As Thor Constructions’ new building rises out of the hole at the southeast corner of Plymouth and Penn Avenues North, people will begin to notice the progress of construction.
The workers are diligently and methodically building, erecting and constructing this building. The work may appear to be moving slowly, but this is the nature of construction. Measure twice and cut once . . . and hurry up and wait.

Construction moves by a time schedule, measured in calendar weeks, and written out before the first shovel of dirt was turned. This week is construction week number 24. The work will continue for many more weeks until the building is finished and weather-tight. The work will be done carefully, precisely, methodically and smoothly until completion.

The desire for this work to appear to be smoothly undertaken has involved lots of people. The best explanation is in two parts. First, visualize a three-legged stool. The seat of the stool is the project, or in this case the building itself. It is supported by the three legs. One leg represents the owner. The second leg represents the architectural/engineering team and their consultants. The third leg represents the general contractor or builder and all of the sub-contractors. What we see is the “third leg” constructing the “seat” of the building. Typically, neither the owner nor the architects/engineers will make daily visits to the site.

In the second part of the operation the field superintendent or project manager, or job captain as this position is named, coordinates all on-site actions and activities. He or she directs the sub-contractors, vendors, suppliers; orders building materials and coordinates the calendar schedule with the installation, completion and erection dates. Some items ordered at the beginning of the project and require fabrication by an off-site manufacturer can be labeled as “long-lead” items due to the length of time before their arrival at the site.

While the second explanation is based on the reality of the first explanation – no work can be undertaken without the contract documents (drawings and specifications) as produced by the architects, engineers and other necessary consultants.

The Commission

The projects the architect undertakes are referred to as “commissions.” This is because the design professionals have been commissioned by the owner to provide professional design, engineering and other consultant services to complete the project.

Professional design services are provided by architects, professional engineers (civil, structural, mechanical and electrical), land surveyor’s, landscape architects, geologists, soil scientists, and certified interior designers. All of these professionals require an undergraduate or graduate degree, an apprenticeship or internship period and the successful passing of their respective registration exam. Then they are all licensed through the state. All of these titles are protected words and can only be used by those legally designated to perform these services.

For this project, LSE Architects assembled a team consisting of a land surveyor, landscape architect, civil engineer, structural engineer, mechanical engineer, and an electrical engineer.

There are 222, separate 30” x 42” sheets of drawings prepared for this project. Accompanying the drawings are the written specifications bound on 8-1/2” x 11” paper at more than 600 pages. The drawings and the specifications form the legal documents describing in detail all of the materials, components, systems, dimensions, locations, surfaces, finishes and coatings required for this entire project.

The “three-legged stool” shows that the owner (leg one), has a direct legal contract with the architectural/engineering team (leg two), to produce the design, drawings and specification of the project, (the seat). These are legal documents and are part of the contract that the builder (leg three), agrees to follow in their work to complete the construction of this project. There is no direct contract between the architectural/engineering team and the builder. But the team administers the contract on behalf of the owner. The means and the methods of construction are the territory of the general contractor and sub-contractors. No part of this project or any of these documents can be changed without written (or drawn) approval by the authorized signatories to the contract. All changes, adjustments or modifications to the original documents must become legal before proceeding with any new work. There has been a lot of effort over a long period of time to eliminate any actions or sentences that begin with the words, “I thought …”

All of the design professionals working on buildings of all types, road, bridges, airports, governmental facilities and for both public and private sector clients, do so by their own initiative. This most often occurs in response to a request for proposal (RFP). The architect and their team submit a proposal in response to the requirements of the RFP. Proposals are typically in competition with other proposers. This can be as few as one other proposal, to as many as fifty. Competition can be fierce. The selection process is then completely in the hands of the owner/client. Selection can take weeks, even months.

Eventually the selection is made and the winning team is awarded the commission. It enters into negotiations to finalize the services to be provided, the schedule of document production, the critical dates, and the compensation.

The project at Penn and Plymouth has more than 200 drawings, a 600-page specification, and a 12-month construction period, with a final completion date scheduled for Feb. 23.

September 11, 2017
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