How do Architects, Designers, and General Contractors work together? When you’re renovating your house and you hire a designer, architect, or home builder, that individual or firm will begin to assemble a team comprised of the other two roles. Then as your project progresses, the leader of said team will create the plans and begin hiring subcontractors and trades, like construction workers and wallpaper hangers, to carry out the various components of the plans.

But where do you start? Who is the leader? Who draws up those plans? And who hires the trades and handles any disputes? How does the team communicate with one another? How about with YOU? That’s what we’re getting into today. Read on to see how architects, designers, and general contractors work together:

Who is the Leader?

Taking the lead- Which person on the lead is going to set the pace, the mood, the flow of information?  It’s best to have one conductor and the others follow the lead. It really doesn’t matter which one, as long as that person is competent and delivers on being a great leader. The most important thing is that all parties are in agreement on who that person is– likely the first person hired by the homeowner, or whomever they defer to.

Who Makes the Plans?

For any project to flow smoothly there need to be plans. The plans are simply the directions on how to succeed in building the design intentions.When you have insufficient plans or completely lack any plans, it is very hard to succeed on a project and can result in a lot of wasted time and money. Without plans there is a lot of room for errors, miscommunication and expensive mistakes. Architects and designers are responsible for plans. This provides the blueprint for which trades need to be hired to carry out which tasks in the highest quality and most efficient way possible.

Architecture plans

Who is Responsible for Purchasing and Hiring Trades?

Some contractors like to mark up work and materials, some architects or designers may also want to mark up work and materials. Some charge flat fees, or charge for their time and a take percentage on what was bought.  It’s really important that the three trades (Contractor, architect, and designer) understand how the others are being compensated and find a fair way to work together. This is an example of an instance in which it is very important to know how one another are being paid.

Example: A designer agrees to a flat fee and to buy materials at cost. They select the windows and doors for a house and show the owner the trade discounted price. The contractor gets upset because they planned to bring the windows to the job and mark them up. The contractor now has to work on the windows and doors installation process for less money than they thought they were going to get or go to the owner and ask for more money. No one is happy when this happens. The team needs to be in agreement on who is responsible for what items. There are a lot of moving parts here — this is where research and experience make a huge difference!

Communication Methods Between Architects, Designers, and Contractors

Timely, clear and efficient communication is key if you want a project to flow and hope to be on time and on budget. Early on the three trades should agree to how they want to share information, approvals and request for more information. This should happen before or around when plans are being drawn up and before proceeding any further. Some trades might keep professional work hours during the week and others work on the weekends. It can get frustrating for both sides to want to communicate when they’re unaware of certain boundaries. Every team is different and the preferred and accepted methods of communication should be spelled out at the start.

There are a few questions to ask to make sure communication runs smoothly:

  • How quickly do you expect an answer?  
  • Does a contractor call when in the field needing info immediately but has not given the A or D a head’s up and they are off in another meeting?  
  • Is the A or D constantly slow in responding to requests for more information?  
  • Is it better to write emails and document all communication or is it faster and more efficient to get on a quick call?

Designers and architects working together

What happens when someone is a weak link?

Dealing With the Weak Link: Unfortunately you run into situations where one of the team members just isn’t pulling their weight. They don’t answer emails or calls, they have no work ethic, they don’t take responsibility. Or, perhaps, they are just over committed or inexperienced. How is your team going to handle this person? At what point do you get the homeowner involved? No homeowner wants to get in the middle of this, they hired what they think is a professional team and want you to handle the workings of it. In this scenario the other two team members will either try to communicate with a lot of patience or, if the person needs to be replaced, they will involve the homeowner. By this point, if the homeowner doesn’t want to fire the failing party, because they’ve been absent throughout the team’s discussion- they’d op’t to leave the job before becoming involved in a lawsuit or dragging out the project.

When Ego Rears Its Head

Usually all three trades on construction projects have some type of ego — These are trades that take pride in their work, as most creatives do. That can be an awesome super power! But sometimes it can get in the way. It’s important for the homeowner to respect the professional in each field, who is likely the most knowledgeable about their respective trade, as opposed to wanting to do things how you think they should be done. You’ll end up not only insulting other people, but will probably make some expensive mistakes. It takes a very mature, gracious, and experienced team to listen and learn from others, even when you think you know it all. Trust and experience go a long way!

Hopefully this guide offered some insight into what it’s like to work on a client’s home from the design-build team’s perspective. If you have questions or require some more advice from a home building professional, we’d love to help!