That's a good article, James, and an easy read. In future articles, I might suggest some discussion about dispute resolution procedures, and having them in both the architect's contract with the owner and between the owner and the contractor. In my opinion, one of the first, easiest and best dispute resolution contractual clauses is something like this:
First: Owner and Architect (or if involving the builder: Owner & Contractor & Architect) will make themselves conveniently available to each other and will make sincere efforts to discuss any issues politely with the desire of resolving the issue(s). The first means of preferred discussion and interaction will be through in-person discussions. If that is not possible, the second means of discussion will be through phone calls. None of the parties will use e-mails to engage in controversial exchanges that lead to non-productive activities. All parties agree to talk openly and freely with each other to satisfactorily resolve issues to everyone's mutual benefit.
This simple first step, in my opinion, should be stated clearly in the key contracts with owner/architect and between the owner/contractor. Without this simple, humane requirement, some people can tend to become aggressive and start finger-pointing, if they perceive that people are not listening or helping them, which doesn't help anyone resolve anything. A team approach that begins with frank and friendly discussions in person can solve most of humanity's problems, including relationships between design/owner and construction people. The reference to e-mails, I think we can all attest to as being a good requirement.
There must be psychological studies of how this particular mode of communication can lend itself to airing one's frustrations, which doesn't typically play well in other people's minds. Do not engage. Meaning: do not be drawn into heated debates in e-mails. Do not argue. Nobody ever won an argument. For some odd reason, e-mails lend themselves to that, along with all the indispensable communication we all enjoy over the Internet these days.
It is really difficult for people to sit in a room with another human being, look them in the eye and call them names and raise your voice to them. That is why it is far better to have a contractual clause that compels the parties to get together in person. That is preferred. You can still tell someone off over the phone, but there is still a social taboo about that which can end in a hang-up which isn't nice either (and implies a severing of polite conversation); so that is the second line of communication regarding controversy. Avoid the dreaded e-mail mode with controversial issues.
My opinion is that there should be a requirement that at least 3 in-person meetings must be held and documented in order to take any dispute to the next higher level, which might be mediation, then binding arbitration, with no litigation, as part of the clause to consider. During 3 meetings, if all parties are sincere, surely all parties can understand that it is in everyone's interest to resolve issues.
This is all part of Self Defense for ALL parties: Architects, Engineers, Owners and Contractors: a sincere willingness to talk about what is troubling one or more parties to the project and help them solve the issues. There is a tremendous amount of brainpower sitting together in such a meeting (or meetings). My experience has been that if all concerned participate willingly and with good intent, that is the best self defense for everyone involved in the design/construction and ownership process.
Oh yeah: as far as just the architect: create Very good documents and specifications with excellent details that work well.
Rand Soellner AIA
Rand Soellner Architect
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