How many times should an architect visit and inspect a build?

I guess the answer has to be ‘How long is a piece of string?’

Again (see previous posts on the site inspection cards), a special thanks to Geoff Wilkinson who provided invaluable advice and documentation on the UK system and really got me thinking about this subject.

Let’s first however look at what contractually the architect is meant to do:

In the RIAI Agreement between Client & Architect (Domestic) it goes as follows:

“During Work Stage 4 (Construction) the architect will visit the site at intervals s/he considers appropriate to the stage of construction to inspect the progress and quality of the work and to determine that the work is being carried out generally in accordance with the contract documents. Frequent or constant inspection does not form part of the standard service….It is the contractors responsibility to supervise the building work.”

This raises two important issues:

1. What therefore is the point of the architect ?

and

2. Surely the architect is going to miss something at some stage?

Let’s deal with these two points in turn and let’s get legal with it…

The legal situation regarding site inspections goes back to the last century where:

“If an architect is entrusted with the general direction and superintendence of the work, his duties could not be performed if he were expected to go over individually every matter of detail, and if his certificate were to be held bad by a court of law because he has not himself gone into every detail” (Clemence v Clarke 1880)

The purpose therefore throughout the build is to inspect and certify that the works are ‘generally in accordance with the contract documents’. If work is not ‘generally in accordance with the contract documents’ then the work therefore cannot be certified. The purpose therefore of the architects’ inspections is to ensure that no work is defective and not in accordance with the contract documents. Relying solely on the contractor without a professional, independent, third party to inspect the works would be the route to disaster.

But how many times should the architect inspect? One a week? Twice a week? Once a month? It is held that an architect is entitled to use his judgement as to how frequently he inspects:

“…He may in such circumstances think that he knows the builder sufficiently well and can rely upon him to carry out a good job…It may be that the omission of the Architect to find the defect was due to no more than error of judgement, or was a deliberately calculated risk which, in all circumstances of the case, was reasonable and proper” East Ham Corporation v Bernard Sunley (1966)

Now do you see the key word in there? Risk..

I’d never really thought of it before but in every construction project there is an element of risk when undertaking site inspections. In part answer to point 2. It is impossible for the architect to see every single thing that the contractor does and at the beginning of each build the architect needs to undertake a Risk Assessment concerning project type, stage, level of skill of contractor etc… It is this system that the UK Building Control employs when undertaking a risk assessment calculating the number of required visits through a build; even as far as scoring each risk to give an optimum number of required visits.

The conclusion therefore on whether the architect is undertaking a suitable number of visits can only really be fully decided at the end, frequently by a judge when the question will be asked “Was the attention [inspections] given enough for this particular job”. So therefore as an architect I have to ask myself at all stages of the build “Am I giving the right amount of attention to this particular project at this particular stage”. And unfortunately that level of ‘attention’ doesn’t come at the lowest possible price.

ps In a completely different yet similar vein; I always change the wording on the Bank ‘Draw-Down’ certificate from ‘Supervise’ to ‘Inspect and Certify’; as you can now see from this post they are two completely different and separate activities.

Comments (as always) welcome…

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