What Do You Do Anyways?

By: Sheva Pourabdollah, Associate AIA — Associate Director for AIA Colorado South

I started at a new firm at the beginning of this year  and am currently 1 person of 4 on the construction administration team for a $680M hospital (just over 1 million square feet). Coming from a small firm specializing in historic preservation, this is the biggest project I have worked on.  Before this experience, I hadn’t had much involvement in projects once they entered the construction phase. Much like the general public, I really had no idea what “construction administration” was.
On the first day of my new job, I found myself fielding RFIs and submittals and issuing change documents. I also began attending the Owner, Architect, Contractor (OAC) meetings regularly. Up until that point in my career I knew someone worried about things like elevator buttons and backfill gravel sizes, but I had no idea that someone was me! I quickly learned that the CA team has to provide answers to all the questions no one else wants to. A lot of this was new to me and I assumed I was behind the ball so I  began doing the old “fake it ‘till you make it” routine. I caught on quickly, pretending that I had always known how involved the CA process was.

Recently, I discovered I wasn’t the only one living under a rock.  I was discussing my current project with a friend when he interrupted me and asked “what do you do all day anyways? I thought you said you already issued the construction documents? What’s left to do?” What do I do all day?! What don’t I do?

I took a moment to try to form a concise response, “I make sure the contractor is building what they are supposed build to and how they are supposed to build it, per the contract documents.” My friend insisted that there was nothing left for the Architect to do once the drawings had been handed over to the Contractor. He then concluded that our drawings must be sub-par, otherwise there would be no need to continue coordination with the Contractor.  I walked away from the conversation thinking my friend was an idiot. I seemed to have forgotten I was that naïve once.

I was venting to another friend about the conversation when they asked, “well, what do you do?”  At this point it dawned on me that the public, and even some of our peers, have a misconception about the role and responsibilities of an Architect during the construction phase of a project. The perception is that we sit in our offices, drawing up building with grand poetic swoops. Then we hand over our ‘artwork’ to the Contractor to decipher. Very few people understand that we have to figure out how the details of the building will work and that we are on site almost every day making sure things are being built according to the drawings. WE review and approve every product that is installed on the site, we have to figure out how to adjust the design to field conditions, and that we are involved even after occupancy. Perhaps it’s not quite that dramatic and most people’s perceptions are similar to what mine was, they understand that Architects are involved past design and into the construction phase, but have no idea the extent of said involvement.

I am grateful for my CA exposure. I have discovered that I enjoy the construction aspect of architecture just as much as the design. It has given me a new found appreciation and respect for architecture.

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