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Tuesday, 31 March 2020


A client comes to an architect asking for his drawings, models, and everything else that he has created to design a building. The client’s justification is that they paid for those materials, so they should rightfully be theirs. 

The materials used to create the design and development of a building project are not owned outright by the client. This is a common misconception because those materials are classified as instruments of service. What is necessary in understanding the concept of instruments of service is what the architect provides—and that is a service. Although architects design buildings, they do not provide the product of the building but rather the service of designing the building. The instruments of service are a part of providing that service, not a product.

Per the agreements and contracts between the architect and the owner, the owner is given the right to use the instruments of service for their project at a certain location within a certain timeframe. There are instances when the contracts may be amended to be able to use these instruments of service as derivative works—commonly for developments—but that necessitates an agreed-upon change to the formal contract through negotiation.

The risk the architect runs in surrendering the instruments of service could be personal or professional. It could be personal if the architect is not being compensated for the derivative works should the client build multiple versions of the design. The professional liability is presented when the derivative works are built—built to substandard conditions (especially if the architect is not involved), does not follow the regulations of the local AHJ (authority having jurisdiction), and is not designed for specific considerations like a building designed within an area of high earthquake activity. These reasons could have serious consequences for the architect.

Federal copyright law covers not only the instruments of service but also the building itself from being copied. This verbiage is also included in the contract between owner and contractor to ensure that the contractor is also aware of this provision.

That is not to say that the instruments of service are not released. As noted above, often for development projects where repetition is necessary as part of the business model, instruments of service are issued for replicating a model project. For the architect, however, this type of situation should be compensated fairly and should be addressed within the contracts. This situation should necessitate the acknowledgment of this repetition and legally, how to cover this instance in regard to the responsibility of the architect. 

Transfer agreements are also issued to outline the responsibilities of the owner and the architect in the event of transfer.

In all, it is imperative that the architect understands what constitutes an instrument of service and its role in regard to the services the architect provides. It is not a right of ownership by the client but can be an opportunity for developing a project further with the client without assuming liability.

EduMind Inc at 08:34

Tuesday, 24 March 2020


A building project has undergone a substantial design process; however, when it comes to the bidding and negotiation phase, it is discovered that the project is grossly over budget. Uh oh. First of all, contractually, it is the architect’s responsibility to keep track of costs with each phase. During schematic design, these costs may be square footage or unit costs, which are very general. Design development adds more detail and costs may be associated with the quantity of square feet for specific materials or assembly costs—the cost of a certain assembly per linear foot. 

The bidding and negotiating phase is when a prospective contractor assigns actual costs to compile the cost of work. This is the most accurate cost for the work; however, the architect should always track costs throughout the process. 

So, the costs come in grossly over budget. What to do? It is the responsibility of the architect to be mindful of budget. The architect can solicit the owner for additional funding, or else they turn to value engineering. Value engineering often has a negative connotation because it is commonly associated with replacing a material or system with an often-inferior material or system due to cost. However, that is not how value engineering should be perceived. 

Value engineering is a concept in which, by definition, a substitution occurs embodying a relationship to the value of function and cost. Although part of the equation with value engineering is to provide a substitution at a lower cost, that cost cannot and should not compromise the function of the material or system to be substituted. 

A poor model of value engineering would be the example of replacing a wall system in an acoustically sensitive area. Should a particular wall assembly be replaced with one that is substantially less expensive but does not manage acoustics as well as the original proposed assembly, the assembly sacrifices functionality, which can greatly affect the use of the space. This is not conducive to the original intent and can require extra, future costs to remedy the inefficiency. 

A good model of value engineering would seek solutions to balance cost, value, and function. Value is somewhat hard to define as it contains varying objectives but, most often, it connects cost and function. For example, the value, which could attach an extra cost, is necessary due to the function it provides for that extra cost. In that case, it may not be best to value engineer that assembly out of the project. An element that may not have such a weight on function and be more aesthetic is a good place to start with value engineering. Costly marble may be substituted with a less costly engineered stone. 

Whatever the change, the process necessitates that the contractor provides substitutions for approval by the architect. The contractor cannot perform the value engineering as it is the responsibility of the architect to confirm—and subsequently approve—the appropriateness of the substitution, which should be value based, not strictly based on cost.

EduMind Inc at 06:21

Friday, 20 March 2020


Per AIA contracts , there is a lot of verbiage regarding damages. Often, all parties agree to the waiver of claims due to damages in the AIA contract A201, the general conditions of the contract for construction. 

The waiver of claims means that all parties bound together by this contract agree to hold the other parties harmless should damages be claimed. This is done for many reasons, but let’s first look at the matter of definition. 

First, what is a claim and what makes it direct or consequential? A claim is a formal request to a surety (an insurance company) to be compensated for damages. A direct damage is one that can be directly connected to damage. A common example is that of a roof that has caved in. This would assume that the roof was newly constructed and has failed due to the incompetence of the design. A claim for direct damages would request that the roof be rebuilt if it is found that there was negligence in the design of the roof. Consequential damage is damage that is a theoretical or disconnected effect due to the failure of the roof. An example of consequential damage would be the loss of rent due to the roof failure and the loss of rent to come due to its repair. The cost of rent is not directly connected to the roof damage and is, therefore, consequential—a result of the consequence. It should be noted that contract breaches could be considered consequential damages but, in court, the definition is wide and varied, and often consequential damages are limited to those defined as a result of a loss or consequence. 

As noted, in the AIA’s A201 contract, these are waived among parties. One reason could be that, with consequential damages, especially, they could be ill defined and could lead to contentious relationships within the contract. However, the contract should anticipate the worst and set up for the best—the best way to deal with unknowns and with contingencies to cover costs should something happen that leads to delays and added costs, etc. Building projects carry risks, and those risks should be managed by all parties. A contract based on rosy situations that does not anticipate issues can be problematic. 

However, a main reason for waiving claims for damages is due to business. A construction company or an architecture firm often does not have the assets of wealthy clients or development companies. Bringing claims such as these could bankrupt construction companies and architecture firms. At the very least, the damages could far exceed the profit for the particular project. It is for this reason that many companies will not work with an owner who suggests striking that waiver from the contract. 

Practice Management

How to deal with these situations? Coming up with alternative methodologies for covering such issues, other than a striking of the waiver, is what is best in these situations. However, this is often covered by professional liability insurance. No matter what, changes to the contract need to be reviewed by lawyers experienced in the construction process so that everyone is mutually covered in these agreements.

EduMind Inc at 03:28

Tuesday, 17 March 2020


Refrigeration cycles are used in many mechanical systems and can be somewhat difficult to understand at first. There are four main components to the refrigeration cycle: compressor, condenser, expansion valve, and evaporator. A refrigerant flows within the lines (pipes) of the system and enters through those components. To start at a point (since it is a cycle), the vapor leaves the low-pressure side of the evaporator to the high-pressure side via the compressor. The compressor compresses the refrigerant, making the vapor the hottest at that point. After the vapor leaves the compressor, it enters the condenser where the condenser rejects the heat and the vapor turns into liquid state. The liquid then travels to the expansion valve/thermal expansion valve where it enters the low-pressure side of the system and through the expansion valve to turn back to liquid state. It then travels through the evaporator, where heat is absorbed and continues in the loop to the compressor. There is a phase change between liquid and gas with the mediating substance. 

Why a refrigeration cycle? For one, it creates a closed loop system that supplies both heating and cooling—potentially. It is most common in smaller systems like a through-wall air-conditioning unit. The compression and expansion of the refrigerant (which is designed to do this efficiently) work to create cooling by removing the heat from the system. That is an important concept in cooling systems. Cooling is created by removing the heat from the system, not by adding actual cooling, which is a common misconception. The refrigeration cycle removes the heat from the interior to the exterior (this works the same in refrigerators). Pressure is employed to create this system—when the pressure compresses, heat is created. When pressure is released and the agent is expanded, cooling occurs. This all happens within the coils of the system. Fans are employed to run air over the coils and expel cool or warm air, depending on the cycle. Often, units with a refrigerant cycle work in one direction, supplying heating or cooling. However, there are reversible systems that supply both heating and cooling by reversing the loop. 

Refrigeration Cycles

The medium within the coils—the refrigerant—is an engineered substance in which the properties of the substance meet operating pressures. Traditionally, these substances have been considered toxic or harmful for the environment as well as contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer. Because of this, refrigerants are assigned classifications and ratings of OPD (Ozone Depletion Potential) and (GWP) Global Warming Potential. 

In regard to the larger system/unit, a COP (or coefficient of performance) is determined, which is a measure of efficiency for the mechanical unit. The COP is measured by the amount of heat removed as a ratio to the amount of work needed to do so; however, the COP differs between the heating and cooling cycles. Often, the COP or other energy-efficient measurement (SEER) is requested by AHJs to prove the efficiency of mechanical equipment. 

EduMind Inc at 07:24

Friday, 13 March 2020


It is often said that billing and fees for architectural services are nothing short of an art form. It is a balance between the work to be performed, fair compensation, and the satisfaction of the client. Whatever the outcome, the fees set by the architecture firm should be measured against recordkeeping but also must acknowledge that an architecture firm is also a business and needs to be viable as such. 

That viability includes maintaining a profit with every job. No matter the fee structure—hourly, percentage of construction cost, and so on—there should be an added profit calculated into the fee. If you look at a fee schedule, there is a billable rate that is much higher than what actually appears on a paycheck. For example, a project manager may earn an annual salary of $83,200, which equates to an hourly wage of $40/hour. However, the fee schedule for the firm may charge the client $120/hour for their services. Why? Should they feel cheated that they are not getting full compensation for work? 

Businesses should charge more for the hourly services of their employees—in fact, an architecture firm on average charges about three times as much. Doing so ensures that the business can pay its bills and then some. Concepts like the break-even rate and overhead rate, as well as an additional percentage for profit, all play into setting the fees for a firm. 

Before these fees can be calculated, the expenses of the firm must be determined. These are the indirect expenses—expenses that cannot be billed directly to a job/client—and include utilities, software, rent, insurance, etc. These numbers determine many things for a firm. Are there too many expenses? Are the indirect expenses benefitting the firm? These are matters of everyday business. On top of that, overhead rate is a factor to give the break-even rate. However, that does not account for profit. A typical business—and an architecture firm should be no different—aims for a 20% profit. This is also added to the hourly rate to ensure that the firm is making a profit off of every hour of wage. 

Project Management - Billing and Fees

Profit is not a bad thing, and I have known many architects who sell themselves short thinking that they are being greedy trying to make a 20% profit or any profit! But it’s business. Profit is needed to keep a firm alive, and that is actually for the benefit of the client. If a firm cannot stay viable, that may actually affect the client because if a firm folds and closes due to mismanaged finances, it could have very bad effects for the client, the job, and everyone involved (which I have also seen). It is with this mindset that projects should have a healthy financial base to maintain the growth of the firm and to ensure the success of a project.

EduMind Inc at 07:53

Tuesday, 10 March 2020


When designing buildings, architects are often employed by clients who are concerned about the efficiency of space. Building efficiencies look at the ratio of net assignable space to gross area for the overall building, usable versus gross for the base efficiency, and even how large a building should be (gross square feet) in relation to the net assignable square footage versus the percentage of efficiency. What these all compare, in different ways, is the relationship of usable space to unusable or unassignable space.

Net area or net assignable space is the usable space subtracting secondary circulation. In an office, for example, this may be the area of the actual office space versus building corridors. Usable area is the net assignable area plus the secondary circulation, and the rentable area is the usable area, area for services and circulation, and excludes elevator shafts and stairs. 

The reason for determining efficiencies has many benefits to the client. For example, a client may want to develop a building to rent to others (in the case of an office building). In that case, if their goal is to make the most rent from this office building, they may ask the architect to design with the least amount of circulation, which can affect the floorplate configuration for the building and its core. 

A corporate office building tends to have the least efficiency and a warehouse the most. Why is that? There must be circulation and means of egress by code. If the calculation for the overall efficiency is net assignable square feet divided by the gross area, and the net assignable square feet is about half of the gross, a building with a gross square footage of 50,000 square feet would have an efficiency of 50% (overall efficiency = 25,000 ft2/50,000 ft2). Alternately, a warehouse is essentially all circulation and all net assignable square feet simultaneously. A 50,000-ft2 warehouse (using the same calculation) would produce almost 100% efficiency (or close to, it since net square footage does not account for the area of the exterior facade). 

Programming and Analysis

Efficiencies can serve as a very useful tool in determining if enough space is being allocated within a building for certain programs. They can also turn the design discussion to consider space planning as well as determining the choice of mechanical system (a central system versus split/local systems or a hydronic versus air-system), structural system, envelope system, and anything that could greatly affect space. It is also important to consider that just because these are termed efficiencies, that does not always equate to better. It may actually be in the best interest of a company to have less office space and more health-based space. A healthier space (such as yoga rooms, or room for a ping-pong table) can create a more efficient staff. A company may opt for less employees but a higher level of production with such amenities. These efficiency equations cannot account for the qualitative experience of space, however, and should be used solely as a quantitative tool.

EduMind Inc at 08:06

Friday, 06 March 2020


With the construction of increasingly taller buildings, how does one determine how large a building can be? That comes down to the codes. There is not one but many codes to reference for the design and construction of a building. For sizing a building, there are a few main codes to reference— zoning code, the IBC building code, and local codes/deeds that may include provisions for easements and the like. 

Easements determine if there are any utilities or other services for the public or special site conditions that necessitate the dedication of a portion of private land for its function. These often restrict blocking, removing, or building on certain areas. 

Zoning codes are municipal codes that determine the density and character of cities—usually more urban areas. Zoning codes spell out the ability to build on a lot including the floor area ratio (FAR) and building height limitations. FAR determines how much a site can be built upon, which can start to determine the number of stories, etc. For example, in an R-1 residential zone, there may be a FAR of 0.5. R-1 zones are low-density, typically detached single-family homes. A FAR of 0.5 indicates that the building can only occupy 0.5 or 50% of the lot square footage. So, if there is a lot of 2,400 square feet, the allowed floor area of the building is 1,200 square feet. Zoning also indicates how much of the lot can be developed, including the width of front, rear, and side yards, etc. The FAR is different from the footprint of the building. If the footprint of the building is restricted to 600 square feet (as an extreme example, but it makes the math easy) and the building is allowed 1,200 square feet, does that mean I have to give up 600 square feet? No. It means that the building can be two stories (or more) with a total of 1,200 square feet for the building. What counts toward FAR is defined in the definitions of the zoning code, since spaces like mechanical rooms are typically not counted toward the FAR. 

How to Size a Building

However, there are often height limitations. Those are included in the zoning code along with restrictions due to the sky-exposure plane, height of street walls to maintain, occupancy classification, types of construction, building frontage, the requirement of sprinklers, parking requirements, etc. 

The IBC building code also includes provisions for height and area limitations due to the type of construction, occupancy, and sprinklers. 

These two codes work hand in hand to define the buildable area for a structure and should be referenced at the beginning of the process. The most stringent code is the one that takes precedence and codes—especially zoning codes—change. It is very common practice for areas of a municipality to be rezoned, allowing for different occupancies/mixed-use program, and constructing taller buildings. Designing a building is a network of information and knowing how the zoning code interfaces with the building code and vice versa is the strongest start to the process.

EduMind Inc at 06:12

Tuesday, 03 March 2020


I write this blog post as a personal reflection about the additional effects of terrain and how they can affect building construction and planning. Although this post is not directly connected to climate and energy efficiency per se, it demonstrates the necessity of understanding how the concepts of wind flow, temperature, and terrain can affect building design and development in both a positive and a negative way. 

I saw firsthand the devastating effects of fire in the community of Paradise, California a couple of months after the infamous wildfire left the town in a charred entanglement of destruction. I was not there for my own personal gain but to offer an academic discourse to propose rebuilding the community through the proposals of my design students. More importantly, I was there to offer solidarity and hope for rebuilding. From what I saw, and through the stories I heard from the survivors, it was incredible that so few lives were lost. 

I am not a stranger to the aftermath of natural disasters, having also witnessed the destruction of communities due to hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. However, nothing could have prepared me for the destruction at Paradise. 

The question that was continually asked by the community was how to make communities safer, especially in areas prone to wildfire. As this is my profession, I could not help but have that in the back of my mind and I pose it to you, the reader because I have yet to find that answer. 

To understand rebuilding is to understand the source of destruction. Much like the illustration of the previous blog post of wind, air temperature, and terrain, the same can be applied with natural disasters like wildfire. 

Air rises when heated. As air is heated in a valley (via sun or fire), it flows through the valley with increased speed, constricted by valley walls (the Venturi effect) and rises up and over the valley walls. Paradise is situated at the top of multiple valleys, and the fire was exacerbated by the strong winds blowing through those valleys, causing it to spread at great speed. 

Building Orientation and Energy Efficiency

This is not to gloss over the great complexities of this particular disaster—there are a multitude. The first two parts of this post examine the role of the environment in building design and siting for energy efficiency. However, architects are also charged with protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. In that light, it is imperative to understand the potential negative effects of building siting with these factors, especially in regard to microclimates. The ARE® exam will almost certainly not get into these complexities but rather will focus primarily on strategies for energy efficiency. However, in practice, it is important to have a universal understanding of these strategies and to weigh the pluses and minuses in order to balance energy efficiency, design, and the duty of the architect to the public—especially in areas prone to disaster.

EduMind Inc at 06:39

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