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Issue: 60 - Dec 16, 2013
How to Speak "Architect"
By: Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB
Animal Arts

If you have ever built something, you have probably spent some time being confused by all of the special terminology used by design and construction professionals.  Veterinarians have jargon too, but they intentionally simplify their words when talking with people outside of their field.  Part of the reason your architect and builders don't do this for you is that the process of building a hospital requires you to immerse yourself in their world.  Ultimately, knowing how to speak "architect" will help you to avoid misunderstandings and navigate smoothly through your construction project.

Let’s review some of the most important terms you'll need to know as your team designs and builds your project.  These terms are organized roughly into chronological order, from early design to project completion.  I find that these particular terms are often unclear to most people who are outside of the design and construction professions, and yet they are common to most projects.

Programming.  Programming is the term that architects use to describe the process of creating a comprehensive wish list for a project.  A good building program allows an architect to predict the scope, scale, and vision of a project.  Typically a program includes a list of rooms, along with the features of those rooms.  Interestingly, programming is considered to be an additional service under most architects’ contracts, so it is important for you to know whether your architect will help you with a brainstorm of what you need, or whether you will need to develop that information on your own.

As-Builts.  This is a cryptic term that is used to describe documentation of existing conditions.  If you're doing a remodel, even if you have drawings of the original building, you will need to have your architect or a contractor confirm and measure the current existing conditions prior to beginning the new design work.  This is referred to as as-builts, or as-built measurements.

Three-Phase Power.  Without getting into details, there are two types of power that may be delivered to your project site:  residential-style single-phase power and commercial-style three-phase power.  If possible, it's always best to have three-phase power brought to the site.  Many large pieces of equipment, such as specialty imaging equipment and large roof-top air-handling units, cannot run on single-phase power.  You will likely hear your architect and electrical engineer asking questions about power early in the design of a project.

Planning Submittal.  Most projects require planning and zoning department approval, in addition to the building permit.  The "planning submittal" is a process that varies by jurisdiction, but it can be long and complicated.  Be proactive in understanding what is required for the planning submittal in your town, and understand the timeline.  Be sure your team is providing the services that are required to help you through the planning submittal and ultimate planning approval.  In large cities, it is often necessary to hire other professionals to help you prepare and manage planning submittals.

Schematic Design (SDs for short).  Schematic design is the initial concept design for the project.  It represents about 10 percent of the total design effort, and generally includes a plan, site plan, and building exterior drawings.  Many people who are new to design and construction are not aware of the effort that is involved in designing a building, and they expect that once they have a plan they're almost there.  But a schematic plan is just a beginning.

Construction Documents (CDs for short).  Construction documents are the detailed drawings and specifications that are required for obtaining a building permit and constructing the project.  They include engineering of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, as well as structural design and architectural design.  The effort to produce these is roughly 75 percent of the total effort of the design team.  The cost to produce them is somewhere between 6-9 percent of the construction cost of the project depending on several factors.

Construction or Contract Administration (CA for short).  This is the term for the services that your architect provides during construction.  Some veterinarians are not aware that their architect is intended to act as their advocate during construction, and is there to ensure that the building is built according to the plans and specifications.  During this phase, your architect will normally answer questions from the contractor, prepare additional supplemental instructions, and approve contractor applications for payment and change orders.  In order to do this, your architect will normally visit your site regularly.  CA typically represents about 15 percent of the design team effort.

Estimates versus Bids.  If you want your contractor to give you an idea of the cost of the project during the design process, this is an estimate.  The procedure of sending a set of documents out to multiple contractors at the end of design is called bidding. 

Building Department Submittal.  In order for you to receive a permit for your project, your team will need to submit plans along with an application and a fee.  Normally your contractor will assist with this process.  Keep in mind that some cities require submittals to many departments, and these submittals may follow different tracks.  For example, in Miami a project needs to be submitted to building, planning and zoning, environmental health, environmental regulation, and the fire department.  This is normal for a big city.  You may need to hire an expediter to herd your project through the various regulatory sign offs.

Contract Documents.  The contract documents are the documents that constitute the contract between you and the contractor.  These include the construction contract itself, as well as the plans and specifications.  In other words, the documents your architect creates become part of the contract, and your contractor is legally obligated to provide what is in those documents.  If the contractor needs to add, subtract, or change an item, he will submit a change proposal, which will eventually become a change order.  A change order can be an add or a deletion.  For example, if you were to subtract a door from the project, you would receive a credit for this change.

Inspection versus Observation.  Various people will inspect your construction project.  The building department will send inspectors at regular intervals, and products will need to be tested and inspected during the construction of the project.  However, your architect does not inspect your project except at the end of the construction period.  Instead, he or she will "observe" it in progress.  This may seem like a silly distinction, but it is important, because it keeps the responsibility for the construction of the project with the contractor.

Test and Balance.  This is the terminology for adjusting the building mechanical systems.  Your mechanical contractor will fire the air-handling units and adjust air flow, pressurization, and air balance to match the mechanical engineer's drawings.  He will provide a report for the mechanical engineer to review.

Punch List.  At the end of your project, the architect and engineers will review the work to ensure that it is complete enough to release all payment other than the final retainage, which is the money that is retained until the project is completed.  During the inspection of the project, the architect will provide a "punch list", which is a list of items that the contractor must fix.  Ideally, a punch list should include only minor items such as adjusting door locks, touching up paint, etc.  Typically an architect will issue a Certificate of Substantial Completion along with the punch list.  The Certificate of Substantial Completion kicks off the one-year warranty for the project.  If for example this certificate is issued in May and you move in in June, your warranty lasts until May of the following year.

Terms used in project close out:

O & M Manuals.  These are the operation and maintenance manuals for items included in your project.  Your contractor will bundle them for you and provide them to you for your reference.

Certificate of Final Completion.  Once the punch list items are finished and the building department has issued a certificate of occupancy, the contractor will request final payment.  At this time a Certificate of Final Completion is issued, and the remaining money (the retainage) is released.

Most misunderstandings during the design and construction of a project arise from lack of effective communication within the team.  While communication is a two-way street, it will help you to know the jargon and terminology used by your design and construction team.  Don't hesitate to ask a lot of questions!