Part I – Why are Architects “Targets of Opportunity?”

Date Line: 2630-2611 BC, IMHOTEP designs the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, Egypt.

According to contemporary thinking, Imhotep was the first Architect to be known by name, in recorded history. He was the designer of the monumental step-pyramid building for the Egyptian pharaoh Djoser including perhaps, the first known use of stone columns to support a building structure. Fast forward approximately 4,680 years. Today Architecture has become so much more than a single building.  Present-day Architecture is the art, science, and entrepreneurial business of designing and constructing individual spaces, buildings, neighborhoods, communities, and municipalities to add greater value to societies’ future growth and viability.

We as Architects, unlike in some other countries, are entrepreneurs in the United States. In other words, the US government and local Jurisdictions control the spatial envelope within which an Architect can design through zoning and building codes. However, it is completely up to each individual Architect (“Firm”) to secure its own design commissions, self-finance its efforts, secure and train its talent, assemble professional specialists to support design processes and being solely responsible to coordinate the entire design/construction team effort,…the “point-of-the-spear”.

So, setting aside for the moment the art and science aspects of Architecture, with this entrepreneurial role and responsibility to its Clients, all Architect’s face both risks and rewards which are measurable. From my eighty (80) or so design and construction dispute case exposure, serving as an Expert Witness, Mediator and /or Arbitrator, it has been my experience that the chance of the Architect being drawn into such matters is highly probable once there is a Plaintiff Complaint. Sometimes the Architect (“Firm”) is initially named or it takes a second round of Complaints to include the Architect but never fear, the Architect may be then, enjoined in a third-party action.

Why is an Architect the target?  THERE ARE SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES TO FAIL! 

  1. An Architect has usually made promises to its Client (visa-versa) in writing. The terms, quality, and performance under this agreement “hand-shake” will always be tested by the Client and/or opposing Parties. If it is weak, then it will be difficult to defend.
  2. An Architect is solely responsible for the preparation of Construction Documents leading to the securing of a Building Permit and also, the actual documentation upon which the Contractor will rely to construct, both the “where” and the “quality” of the design. The Contractor is separately responsible for the “how”. If the documentation is not accurate, complete and coordinated, it will be difficult to defend.
  3. Architect’s projects usually take time. In other words, unlike buying a car, where the purchaser may, within a short period of days, purchase the vehicle, building project can range from a few months to a few years depending of numerous variables. During this time- frame an Architect may experience staffing changes, code changes, building system changes and/or financial pressures rendering the business ineffective. These changes are not predictable and may influence the Architect’s service capability, unknown at the agreement initiation. If any of these issues are not immediately communicated to the Client, Contractor and design team, then the outcomes it will be difficult to defend.
  4. Plaintiffs and Defendants traditionally perceive Architects as financially successful and “deep pockets”. If the Architect (“Firm”) neglects to carry Professional Liability Insurance, it does so at its own peril and any Complaint will be difficult to defend.

All of these potential practice liabilities will be measured by the Plaintiff and/or Defendant through a “Reasonable Standard of Care”, which will be discussed in Part 2 of this Blog release.

© 2018

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