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Help with how engineers, architects and contractors interact

  1. Apr 6, 2006 #1
    I am writing a paper on this topic and just need some help getting it started. I need to discuss the interactions between contractors, engineers, and architects. (1) What are their areas of responsibilities? (2) How do they interact on a daily basis? (3) Do they interact on a daily basis, or is it only at certain stages of the project?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2006 #2


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    An architect does the design (building and/or landscape), various civil engineers may be involved for land use matters, land characterization, infrastructure (e.g. water service, sanitary, electrical, communications, . . .), and the contractor supervises the building, which may included mechanical, electrical, and plumbing contractors.

    The architect may be the principal contact for a project. The engineer supplies drawings (specifications, and bill of materials) of the property and buildings, and the contractor uses those drawings to construct the building.

    The architect/client may interface with the contractor frequently (perhaps daily for a while), but the engineer would be involved less often, unless there is a problem requiring modification to the plans.

    Site characterization and an environmental impact study/report is a significant matter these days. That is mostly where engineers would be involved on a more frequent basis, than during the construction phase.

    I can get more detail from architects and engineers in the office where I work.
  4. Apr 6, 2006 #3


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    This is a complex topic and you will have to do a lot of research on local laws and regulations if you want your paper to accurately reflect the interactions of these people in your area.

    Architects often design regular "vanilla" buildings to accepted local standards (which may differ due to snow loads, hurricane vulnerability, etc) without a lot of input from engineers. When they undertake a type of construction with which they are not experienced, they will consult with engineers to make sure that their design is structurally sound. In some areas of the country they may be required to consult with an engineer for certain types of buildings or buildings over a certain size, buildings intended to be open to the public, schools, etc. These laws vary from state to state and city to city. At some point a city engineer may have to study and approve or disaprove the plans, as well, after the private engineering study is completed. The contractors are responsible for executing the plans they are given. They will consult with the architects when they perceive what might be a problem in the plans. It is incumbent upon the architect (in most instances) to provide on-going inspections to ensure that the contractors are building to the specs in the plans. I actually did this job for a couple of years, inspecting the work of the contractors during the construction of a large apartment complex, first on behalf of the architects, then on behalf of the prime contractor, as I took over as clerk, then superintendent during the punchcarding of the project. This is a thumbnail sketch and quite oversimplified. What happened here in Maine 30 years ago may not be what happens in your city and state, so don't use this information "raw" - do some more research.

    As for the type of construction - the interaction can be very different. The consulting engineers on the apartment complex project were never on-site. The subcontractors would approach the prime contractor with any problem they came up with (frequently, during the early parts of a repetitive project, then infrequenly after precedents are set). The prime contractor would then interact with the architect's representative (me, at the time) to resolve the issues (insufficient attic ventilation, flashing on knee wall too short to prevent leakage with high snow accumulations, etc, etc). Only rarely would the contractors have a face-to-face with the architect of record (maybe a site visit once every couple of weeks or less frequently). Earlier, when I did inspection work during the construction of a large pulp mill, there were engineers representing the owners of the mill interacting with the contractors and subcontractors practically every day. There were also engineers representing the engineering firm that designed the mill, and there were often sparks. Totally different dynamic, with lots of confrontations over deadlines, material flow, acceptibility of pouring concrete that had been waiting in the truck longer than specified, or too warm, etc. If you don't limit the scope of your paper (say, to single-family residential properties) your paper will necessarily grow into a large book. Good luck.

    Edit: Astronuc got in before me, and his post is good from a lot of viewpoints. I addressed mainly the buildings themselves and he brought in the utilities, site design, etc (Man! that paper is going to be a big one!)
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2006
  5. Apr 6, 2006 #4
    wow thanks for all the good info! That would be great if you could talk to some architects and engineers in your office. I am meeting with a few architects tommorow. Thanks for you help!
  6. Apr 6, 2006 #5


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    Design and construction of large commercial and industrial buildings is way more complex than housing or apartment buildings, but there are similarities at the front end, e.g. site evaluation, characterization and environmental impact study.
  7. Apr 6, 2006 #6


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    Post questions - we've got a fair number of construction engineers here.

    I work for a small consulting firm designing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for buildings. We do do small to medium-small jobs, lots of renovations, small schools, stuff like that. Sometimes we work for architects and sometimes directly for building owners/developers. The engineering isn't all that difficult, so dealing with the clients is often the most difficult part of the job - and it is difficult. For some reason, developers are often really, really dumb and for obvious reasons architects are often really, really impractical (they are artists). Being a small company, we don't often get to pick high quality clients...

    Two weeks ago, (on a Wednesday afternoon) I had a contractor tell me he needed an MEP design for a 30,000 sq ft office fitout in 3 days. I assumed he was kidding, laughed, and told him it would take 3 weeks. Then we got on a conference call with the architect and when she said 3 days, I kinda realized they were serious. On Thursday my boss went to a walkthrough of it and decided we could do it - if we dropped everything else and worked straight through the weekend. We set up two workstations in the space to do our existing conditions drawings (two people measuring and yelling and two people cad-ing), worked roughly 40 hours apiece from Friday to Sunday, and got the job out Monday morning.

    Ironically, we worked pretty efficiently that way - plus, there was no possibility that the architect would change the design halfway through the project!
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2006
  8. Apr 6, 2006 #7


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    You can include the Kansas City Hyatt as an example of how the three do not interact effectively.
  9. Apr 7, 2006 #8
    Thanks for all the usefull info. Iam not going to go too far in depth about 3 pages, hopefully not a book... Thanks for all the help!
  10. Apr 7, 2006 #9


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    I talked with a couple of civil engineers.

    If one is starting from the land, then civil engineers and surveyors are involved in doing the environmental assessment (and there maybe an environmental impact statement depending on the size of the project and local, state and federal regulations) and site plan. The site plan basically shows how the land will be developed and things like utility supplies and sanitary/drainage, and footprints of the structure(s).

    The architect is usually in charge of the project. The architect designs the building and may hire the civil/structural and mechanical engineers (unless the customer does) who do the specific designs in conformance with the architectural plans. After the plans and drawings are approved and accepted, construction begins.

    The architect and engineers may work for the same company (A&E) or for separate companies.

    The architect or customer hires the general contractor or construction manager, who then hires subcontractors by specialty. If the customer choses to hire the contractor or construction manager, the architect/engineer's responsibility stops at that point, i.e. with the delivery of the drawings and specifications. This can be a big risk for the customer!

    Architects will provide construction services, i.e. will manage the construction phase as well. The architect then puts out bids for contractors or construction managers, who in turn will hire the speicalty subcontractors. During construction, the engineers are usually involved on an as-needed basis, i.e. if a design change is required to meet a regulatory requirement not forseen in the design phase, or for some other reason.

    The American Institute of Architects is also a good source of information.

    Good luck!
  11. Apr 8, 2006 #10
    Hey thanks a bunch Astronuc! Talked to some engineers as well as architects and they gave the same information you talked about.
  12. Apr 8, 2006 #11
    The scenario Russ Watters presented is very realistic in terms of what you are expected to do as an engineer working in a small company. I have been in similar situations many times when I worked at small engineering companies.
  13. Apr 9, 2006 #12
    Architects are the artistes, come up with the concept/design, not necessarily practical. Engineers change the design to make it practical and keep it to code. Contractors/builders do the physical work, likely cussing out the designer the whole time.:rolleyes:
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