(Design is Finally Complete…But You’re Not Even Halfway Done Yet)


As mentioned last week, a few posts will be dedicated to the collaboration between Architect, Owner and Contractor during Construction. We will continue that theme this week by discussing what is entailed when you finally enter into the Construction of your building. I am proud to present the fourth post for the Video + Blog series “What the Hell is Architecture?” A series that will present Case Studies, Code Commentaries, How-To Videos, and anything else that comes to mind to try to get the word out on what Architecture, Engineering and Construction ACTUALLY is. (Something the industry has done a poor job of enlightening the public on.)

This Week will follow the journey you would take when you are finished with Design and are ready to have a Contractor (or Contractors) build it. While we discussed Project Specifications in detail last week, (Post 3 – Specifications) there is a lot more to design than drawings and the Specifications. We will delve into all of that in future posts, but for now we will flash forward in time and assume everything is ready to build.

Design – Bid – Build

First off, we should clarify that this entire post will be based on the traditional “Design, Bid, Build” delivery method. What this means is the Client and Architect have all aspects of the project designed beforehand, the project is then publicly bid, and then the Owner enters into a contract with the Contractor. An important distinction here is that the Owner contracts the Architect and the Contractor separately, they never have a direct contractual agreement. At first glance that may seem unusual, however in keeping the Architect and Contractor in separate contracts helps avoid legal matters and lawsuits. It is unfortunate, however many projects run over budget or over schedule, and when this happens everyone tends to pass the blame to each other. Because there is no contract between the two parties, in order to sue each other they would need to sue the client, which tends to be a deterrent for most small matters.

This is still a commonly used method used for Public work and for larger projects. Over the years many other delivery methods have started to emerge, (Design-Build, Integrated Project Delivery, etc.) however this is yet another topic that could use a full post dedicated to it in the future.


The first step is Bidding. After the Architect (and their many consultants) and Owner have completed the design and all documents, a Bidding Package is prepared and is then either sent to a select group of Contractors or is publicly advertised for all Contractors to view and bid on. The purpose of this is for General Contractors to understand the documents, ask for any clarifications, and then provide the price they would charge to complete the work. The owner will then publicly open all bids, (which had to be submitted by a specific deadline) and select the “Lowest Bona Fide Bid,” more on that later.

This process usually lasts around 3-4 weeks, depending on the project. That sounds like a lot of time, but it can be a very tight schedule based on the amount of work required in this time. During this period, contractors will review the documents and visit the site with the Architect and Owner, this is known as a “Pre-Bid Walkthrough.” After this, anyone can ask the Architect for any clarifications or possible omissions. Either once or twice through the process, the Architect will respond to all questions and submit an “Addendum.” This may include changes to the drawings or simply written answers. It has to be submitted to ALL contractors who have shown interest, if an Architect or Owner inadvertently answers a question to a single Contractor and fails to provide that same answer to all the contractors, it can create an unfair bidding environment and can actually cause all bids to become null and void. This is the same reason that all bids are opened and reviewed publicly, to avoid any last minute bid tampering.

After all the bids are opened and reviewed, the “Lowest Bona Fide” bid is then selected and then the final contractual discussions begin between the Owner and Contractor. The term “Lowest Bona Fide” bid refers to the bid that is not only the lowest amount, but also clearly encapsulates all the scope required for the project. For example, if four bids are received and three of them are roughly $500,000 and the fourth is only for $150,000, a mistake was most likely made. While there are plenty of bid deposits and legal language that can force that fourth contractor to honor their bid, starting a project in an already confrontational mindset is a surefire way to disaster. What would most likely happen in this scenario is the “winning” contractor would withdraw his bid, forfeit his Bid Bond (an amount of money contractors place for this exact scenario) and then another contractor would be selected.

Can We Build Yet?

The Design is finally completed, all questions answered, permits are submitted and approved, and a Contractor is selected, so you are finally ready to just sit back and wait for your project to be built?


In all my years, I have never been involved in a SINGLE project where construction moved forward without a hitch, meeting, problem to solve, etc. Construction is a complicated thing, no matter what you are doing, there always need to be collaboration between Owner, Architect and Contractor, this is known as “Construction Administration.” In fact, as mentioned in our previous post, (Post 3 – Specifications) every aspect of a project needs to be reviewed AND approved by both the Contractor and Architect. This is known as Submittal Review.

Submittal Review

When the Project Specifications are written, the Architect will deem what needs to be submitted prior to construction, as well as what is required for approval for each submittal. Even a fairly simple project can have hundreds, if not thousands, of items to be reviewed in this process. This is where the Architect’s intimate knowledge of the project becomes invaluable; as navigating the Specifications, Drawings, and Bid Addendums is beyond time consuming for every submittal. There is usually a joke made that after years of schooling and training, an Architect may be spending their day measuring tile samples or reviewing product data of blue painters tape. But when the wrong tape is used and every window frame has paint ripped off right before the project’s opening, the real value of the Submittal Review process  comes to light.

What makes this process more stressful is it is not done before Construction begins, it is completed concurrently as Contractors are on site building your project. This can lead to some unfortunate scenarios where work is being held up while submittals are being handled. (Items are supposed to be submitted well before they are needed, but sadly this is not always the case) This timing stress can be exacerbated by the fact that Contractors may submit items that do not meet the Specifications and may have to be rejected, adding more time to the process as there is usually a debate to whether they should be allowed, or if new materials need to be priced and then ordered.

Submittal Review Process
(Courtesty of Procore, a digital Construction Administration Service)

Everything is Submitted, Are We Done Yet?

Not yet…As I said before, construction is a complicated thing. The Design could be truly perfect, (we will shortly discuss why this can’t be true) Bidders could understand the project perfectly, (never happens) and Submittal Review could be smooth sailing with everything submitted and approved (again, have never seen this in any project)…and yet everything below the ground or in the walls of an existing building could be way off from everyone’s assumptions in the design phase. Existing drawings and Site Conditions are great resources, but sadly there is a lot they cannot foresee. A recent project I was on had large amounts of trash and discarded concrete below the ground, which required extensive removal before piping and Electrical Lines could be placed, as well as some rerouting to lower the removal costs.

Not to mention, while it pains me as an Architect to say it…the Design CANNOT be perfect. In the cases where it isn’t, (whether a detail needs to be adjusted for existing conditions, a material cannot be ordered in time, adequate framing for a rooftop element isn’t shown, etc.) the Contractor needs to submit an RFI (Request for Information) for the Architect and Owner to answer. Usually, the Architect will either meet with the Contractors and Owner on site every week, thus allowing these items to be handled quickly, as well touring and observing the site. It is an important distinction that the Architect OBSERVES and does not supervise construction. The Contractor is responsible for Means and Methods, the Architect observes how construction is progressing and that the design intent and drawings are being complied with.

In the cases where a contractor needs to perform additional work that was not in the original contract, a Change Order is submitted, which includes the additional time and fee required to complete the new work, and then once approved will add it to the contract. As I stated, the Drawings and Specifications are CONTRACTS, and need to be treated as such. If poorly drawn or inaccurately coordinated, then every gap in the contract will cost more as Change Orders come in. As the project progresses, changes become exponentially more expensive. A change in the initial design may cost a few more hours for the Architect, but in the Construction phase, it will cost much more time for ALL Parties involved to coordinate, solve and then adjust, as well as significantly high costs for labor and materials.


After the Design, Bidding, and Construction Administration the Building is built and then your project is complete, right?


There is a final item required, and it is referred to as the “Punchlist.” This occurs when the building is deemed ready for the Owner to occupy the space. It is when the Contractor and the Architect tour the building and site and list all construction items left to be completed before final payment. Throughout Construction the Contractor submits invoices to the Architect based on the materials ordered and work completed, the Architect will review if the invoice is accurate and then submit to the Owner for payment. As the Owner pays the contractor, there is usually a percentage withheld from the Contractor known as “Retainage,” which is the owner’s insurance that the Contractor will finish the job satisfactorily. The Retainage and the final payment to the Contractor is withheld until all the Punchlist items are completed.

Once all Punchlist items are complete and all invoices are paid, the Contractor will vacate the site and turn the property over to the Owner. There is a plethora of legal items that need to be completed before this occurs, (Affidavits of Liens, Insurance, Etc.) however we will discuss that in a future post. After all this, your project is finally done!

Good practice dictates that a year after the building is turned over to the Owner, the Architect will follow up and tour the site, this provides a great opportunity to see what did and did not work. Not to mention, it helps build the relationship between the Owner and Architect, which will greatly impact all future projects between them.


I will avoid the temptation to stand atop my soapbox, however it is a sad fact that many projects and clients tend to attempt lowering their budgets by removing the Architect’s presence in the Construction Phase, the mentality being that the design is done, and the Contractor will get it built. However, there is countless data and statistics on how necessary Architects are in this phase. You would never skimp on a lawyer to having your lawsuit handled, nor would you try to save money on your surgery with someone who is not a doctor…Why would you try to skimp on a building that you are spending an immense amount of money on and will be occupying for years?

Any cost savings perceived from not having an Architect involved in the Construction Phase WILL be offset with only one or two Change Orders, or any of the countless cost increases from issues that WILL arise during Construction. There is no substitution for having an Architect as your representative.

I hope that this provided a glimpse into the amount of collaboration involved in Construction, and I chose the phrase “provided a glimpse” intentionally, as each section of this post could provide multiple posts (and even books) on what is involved.

If you feel I missed the mark or am misinformed on any aspect of what I wrote, please let me know.

If you did enjoy the post or have any ideas or questions you would like to see or hear about in the upcoming posts and videos in this series, please let me know that as well.

Thank you all and have a great day.

  • Bryan Toepfer, AIA, NCARB, CAPM
  • Principal – Architect

Lets Build Something Together

<strong>Bryan Toepfer, AIA, NCARB, CAPM</strong>
Bryan Toepfer, AIA, NCARB, CAPM

Bryan Toepfer is the Principal Architect and founder of TOEPFER Architecture, PLLC, an Architecture firm specializing in Residential Design, Construction and Virtual Reality modeling.

Taking his philosophy of the importance of education to heart, he guide clients through the process of Design and Construction with each project. He runs a blog titled “What the Hell is Architecture?” with the goal of sharing with others the many aspects of Architecture. He also coaches Intern Architects studying for their Architectural License exams, as well as teaches at a local University.

He lives in Rochester, New York with his wife, two dogs and two cats.

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