Some of the most high risk decisions come on the job site during construction administration when what the contractor builds doesn’t agree with the contract documents. Here is a short quiz on difficult construction situations.

1. You are the architect for an auditorium facility, which contains an underground concrete utility trench. The contractor asks you to provide him with shoring details for the earth excavation required to construction the trench.  What should be your response?

The General Conditions (A201) clearly state that the contractor, not the architect, is solely responsible for all construction means, methods, techniques, sequences, and procedures. Answer: Inform the contractor that he is solely responsible for construction methods. 

2. An existing covered walk is accidentally damaged by a piece of grading equipment during construction of a school project. Who is responsible for the the cost of replacement of the covered walk?

  Under General Conditions (A201) states that the contractor shall be responsible to the owner for the acts and omissions of his employees, subcontractors and their agents and employees, and other persons performing any of the work.   Answer: The General Contractor


3. The working drawings for a project show lateral bracing of the suspended ceiling for earthquake resistance. Although the architect did not inspect the ceiling construction before it was covered up, he suspects that the lateral bracing was not properly installed.  The building inspector has not noted any violations.  What should the architect do?

Under the circumstances described, the architect may request to see the concealed construction, and it must be uncovered by the contractor.  This situation is covered by the General Conditions paragraph 13.1.2.

It should be noted that the responsibilities of the building inspector are different from those of the architect, and the architect should never rely on the inspector as a substitute for his own on-site observations.

Incidentally, if the uncovered  work is found to be in accordance with the contract documents, the cost of uncovering and replacement is borne by the owner.  On the other hand if the  work does not conform to the contract documents, the contractor must pay the costs.


4. During the excavations for footings for a large office building, the contractor determines that the engineering soils survey and report neglected to indicate a substantial area of loose fill soil.  After inspecting the are, the structural engineer orders the contractor to remove the fill and replace it to a compacted density of 90% where the building footings and slabs are affected.  The contractor requests a change order reflecting an addition to the contract sum, as well as an increase in the contract time required by the additional excavation and compaction.  The architect claims that it is the contractor’s responsibility to acquaint himself with the conditions of the site whether or not the soils report or contract documents indicated unusual conditions below grade.  In accordance with standard accepted procedure: Contract sum and time should be adjusted by Change order. 

Answer: Written orders are issued by the architect and indicate minor changes in the work without change in contract sum or contract time.

The general conditions of the contract for construction, AIA Document A201, provides the following: “should concealed conditions encountered in the performance of the Work below the surface of the ground, or should concealed or unknown conditions in an existing structure be at variance with the Contract Documents; or should unknown physical conditions below the surface of the ground, or should concealed or unknown conditions in an existing structure of an unusual nature, differing materially from those ordinarily encountered and generally recognized as inherent in work of the character provided for in this Contract, the Contract Sum shall be equitably adjusted by Change Order upon claim by either party made within twenty days after the first observance of the conditions.”  


5. Six months after completion of a project, the owner notifies the architect that the cooling cycle of the air conditioning system is unable to cope with the heat gain in the building, resulting in temperatures above the comfort zone.  Upon careful investigation, the architect’s mechanical engineering consultant determines that the mechanical subcontractor did not install the air handling units in accordance with the drawings and specifications.  Which is the most likely course of action the architect would follow?

Answer: Advise owner to submit a written notice to the general contractor asking him/her to make the necessary correction to the work.

When it becomes apparent after completion of construction that the general contractor or any of his/her suppliers or subcontractors failed to comply with the requirements of the contract documents, the architect should advise the owner to request the necessary corrective work from the general contractor.

It is not incumbent upon the architect to find ways to correct the general contractor’s work, even if the defective work does not come to his/her attention til after completion Nor can he/she sue his consultants, since supervision is not the responsibility of either architect or consultant.

The  owner should, under no circumstances, assume the responsibility to correct any work with his own forces, even if the general contractor agrees to furnish the necessary funds for this purpose.

The responsibility for the correct functioning of the cooling system must retain that of the general contractor until all contractual responsibilities are met.  Only if and when the general contractor refuses to comply should a suit to recover damages be considered.

And since the work is still within the one year guarantee period, the owner is in a very strong position to demand the necessary corrective action, although the statute of limitations would, in fact, extend this right beyond that period.


6. A hotel building is substantially completed except for the installation of finish hardware in the guest rooms.  In the interim, the contractor has installed temporary hardware and has submitted a letter to the owner stating that the finish hardware will be installed as soon as it is delivered to the job site by the distributor.  The contractor asks the owner to accept the building in order to receive final payment, thereby reinstating his bonding capacity to bid other projects.  The architect should advise the owner to do which of the following?

Answer: Withhold final payment until all the finish hardware is in place and functioning properly.  

The process leading to final completion and final payment begins when the contractor requests the architect to issue a certificate of substantial completion.  Uncompleted items of work are recorded on a “punch list,”  and a certificate of substantial completion is issued.  When all items on the punch list are completed, the contractor requests final inspection and submits his final application for payment.  

If the work is found acceptable and complete, the architect issues the final certificate for payment which includes the release of the contractor’s retainage, that is, the sum held back from each progress payment.  Provision is normally included in the General Conditions to cover cases where final completion of the work is materially delayed through no fault of the contractor.

This permits payment to be made for that portion of the work that is completed and accepted, but it does not terminate the contract. In the situation above, a substantial amount of work remains uncompleted. 

Since final payment by the  owner constitutes a waiver of all claims by him/her except those arising from unsettled liens, etc., the architect would expose the owner to do anything but withhold final payment until all the work included in the contract is completed and accepted. 


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