The owner’s needs are a final product, maybe a new building, delivered in a timely manner at the cost agreed upon in the contract, completed as detailed in the construction plans and specifications. The design professional’s needs are to have a clear scope of work, a realistic construction budget for what the owner wants, and the ability to apply some innovation into the design, all while staying within the design cost budget.
During the design process, owners expect to receive a certain standard of care by the professional they hired to design a new building, alteration or renovation. “Standard of care” is often defined as the “duty to exercise the degree of learning and skill ordinarily possessed by a reputable design professional practicing in the same or similar locality and under similar circumstances.”
In the owner’s eyes, this standard of care is a perfect set of plans and specifications with no problems what-so-ever. To design professionals this standard of care translates to set of plans and specifications in which the best possible care was taken to safely meet the needs of the customer. However, there is no guarantee of perfection on the part of the design professional.
In the 1896 landmark case Coombs v Beede, the Supreme Court of Maine held: "The responsibility resting on an architect is essentially the same as that which rests upon a lawyer to his client, or upon a physician to his patient...". [Coombs v Beede, 89 Me. 187, 36 A. 104 (1896)]
One way to look at this is a surgeon cannot guarantee a perfect procedure or a complete recovery, and an attorney cannot guarantee a favorable judgment. Instead, they are expected to apply their knowledge and experience in a competent manner that best serves the interest of their clients, regardless of the outcome. Like attorneys and physicians, design professionals cannot guarantee the results of their service.
In 1960, the Court of Pennsylvania concluded in case of Bloomsburg Mills v Sordoni Construction: "An architect is bound to perform with reasonable care the duties for which he contracts... His client has the right to regard him as skilled in the science of construction of buildings, and to expect that he will use reasonable and ordinary care and diligence in the application of his professional knowledge... [H]e does not guarantee a perfect plan or a satisfactory result..." [Bloomsburg Mills v Sordoni Construction, 401 Pa. 358, 164A.2d201 (1960)]
Design professionals do their best to catch all conflicts, inconsistencies and oversights. However, sometimes they cannot “see the forest for the trees” and items are missed. This, in turn, can have the unfortunate effect of a change order and/or delay in project completion. As a result, the owner is not pleased with spending more money and not being able to occupy the new building when originally promised.
Here is where constructability review, peer review and/or third party review of plans and specifications comes into play. A new set of eyes reviewing the plans and specifications provides a fresh perspective on the project. There is still no guarantee all conflicts and inconsistencies will be caught and fixed. However, based on my experience, as well as the findings of the Federal Facilities Council’s Report on the Role of Facility Design Reviews in Facilities Construction, independent thorough reviews of plans and specifications have a substantial return on investment for the owner. These reviews will also save the design professional time (therefore money) during the project due to fewer requests for information (RFI), fewer change order (CO) reviews and fewer architectural supplemental instructions (ASI).