The role of the architect is changing, are you?

by Ofentse Sefolo
The role of the architect is changing, are you?

How can you deliver more value for your contractor

Following our article on the “Architect Effect” https://www.buildinganddecor.co.za/is-the-architect-effect-really-a-thing/, where we looked at how architects can remain central to the construction process, we now bring you the first in a three-part series. Our first topic tackles the crunch points in architects’ relationships with principal contractors to work towards better project outcomes.

Contractors are a vital link in the construction value chain and are now being rated as one of the top three influencers of the building process. Yet contractors were found to rate the role of the architect less highly and feel that much can be improved to establish improved interaction.

We have asked contractors for their opinion about how their role is evolving and to provide us with insights about how to rethink the traditional collaboration mindset. If you want to know what contractors really think, you will have to meet some of these crunch points head-on to make a difference in your company’s success.

Are you strapped in? Here we go.

Contractors are of the opinion that architects should become better in the following three areas:
1. Project management.
2. Treating contractors like clients.
3. The delivery phase.

Work on those soft skills – talk and engage with your contractor
These three areas seem to be the main concern for contractors and their relationships with architects. While they agree that architects are great at design, they believe they can be better at providing the wrapper around the design process, such as good project management.

Among other soft skills, this might include the development and interpretation of the brief, communicating openly with the client, understanding client needs, seamlessly collaborating with the project team and efficiently handling administration-related tasks.

Understanding what drives the contractor, much like they do with their clients, can avoid bigger problems down the line with mismatches between the user’s requirements and the subsequent design, budget and programme.

From the recent study by BMI’s report on the “Architect Effect”, more than 52% noted that they are very likely to use the same architect again, which highlights the value of keeping the contractors and their concerns front and centre to ensure repeat business.

Being involved until the end
Far too often architects dismiss the importance of the delivery phase. It seems their interest does wane; and it is frustrating for contractors and totally disappointing for the client. Contractors have noted that where there is scope in the budget, contractors want to be able to rely on architects to help more with risk mitigation.

They want architects to remain engaged beyond design and listen harder to contractors, anticipating risk and offering their problem-solving expertise when the wider project team needs it most.

Not all bad news – what are we getting right?
The role of the principal contractor is seeing a gradual evolution in its key responsibilities. For example, across Europe over the next two years, there is an expected increase of their role in managing budgets (4-52% increase), in managing planning of process (8-55% increase), as well as being a specialist on laws and regulations (5-42% increase). And this shift in the principal contractor’s role is having an impact on the balance of influence between architects and contractors at certain stages of the construction process.

Valuable design guardian
Contractors interviewed noted that they value architects as an overseer of the design, build quality and especially when they get involved beyond the initial design phase. They feel that architects can be retained as a “design guardian”, vetting the contractor’s technical design and ensuring that the design quality is maintained.

Yes, there will be extra cost but the architect’s role as ongoing can be justified by lowering the risk of substandard construction, which could lead to post-completion defects and make the entire project commercially unviable.

The second area where architects are seen to be doing well, is where they step in and provide quick and useful information about new or unfamiliar materials to provide the contractor with the information needed to install and use the best and right materials.

Help contractors make informed material or product choices
Contractors can be hesitant to install new or unfamiliar products if they are uncomfortable with the choice. In terms of specifying materials in particular, a recent global architect survey found that 40% of architects said that specifying roofing materials or systems was driven by contractors. This reinforces the need for you to work effectively with contractors, to ensure your project requirements are still being met.

For example, sometimes contractors are reluctant to use a specified product because they claim a previous poor experience with it. If the architect can investigate the details, it nearly always turns out that either the product used was incorrectly chosen for this application in the design process or the product was installed incorrectly.

A few simple questions which can guide the contractor in the right way can often successfully defend an architect’s specification. By offering proof that your specification will work through case studies, you can also make a compelling business case emphasising the need for something less familiar or a complete change. To go the extra mile, you can also tailor the case study to the contractor by featuring a contractor testimonial, showing how the product benefits them specifically.

Awareness of social issues
With the contractor’s main focus being on the bottom line, and under pressure to meet budgets, they appreciate the architect’s attention on wider implications of the building such as the emotional, aesthetic and cultural issues. Architects act as an important and necessary counterbalance to ensure the project works both on paper and in its environment.

Future view on collaboration
With the role of the contractor set to change over the next few years and architects’ traditional role as “master builders” also evolving as a result, the chance to collaborate closely with principal contractors brings the opportunity to reinforce complementary skill sets and expertise — and for architects to increase their influence over the build process together.

Michael Stone, a United States based construction business management coach, notes: “Together, an architect/contractor team could design the project, home or building the owner wants, within their budget. It would require a new mindset, especially on the part of the architect who might believe, based on years of schooling, that his input is more valuable than the contractor’s input.

“Two technical brains are better than one and if they come from different specialties (i.e. construction and design), this is more productive.”

The benefits of professional collaboration
Contractors gaining influence over the construction process do not have to be a threat to the influence of the architect’s role. A stronger professional relationship between architects and contractors can be a powerful force for greater project choreography and end-user satisfaction.

It can also result in significant project savings and reduced waste – with access to a wider range of expertise informing better, bigger-picture decision making and problem solving.

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to BMI Global for the information contained in this article. For more information, visit https://www.bmigroup.com/za.

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