July 1, 2020

Historically, the relationship between architects and contractors has been characterized as adversarial. Regardless of what history says, our relationship is symbiotic—we can’t complete projects or meet our clients’ goals and objectives without each other. In fact, building a strong relationship between the architect and contractor should be prioritized before building anything else.

As a member of the American Institute of Architects and Association of General Contractors of America Joint Committee, I’m passionate about encouraging architects and contractors to walk a mile in each other’s shoes to develop stronger, more collaborative and empathetic relationships. A large part of that collaboration is construction contract administration—one of the most important steps of project delivery. Working together to effectively and efficiently manage complex project proceedings is challenging enough, but the coronavirus pandemic has added unprecedented complexities to this already challenging environment.

As the architecture and construction industry continues to navigate through this global pandemic, we must begin the develop strategies that allow us to continue to deliver projects while protecting the safety and well-being of the design team and those on the construction site. I recently participated in a virtual panel discussion hosted by the American Institute of Architects’ Construction Contract Administration Knowledge Community and discussed the challenges associated with construction administration during the pandemic. I also shared how Gresham Smith is rising to the challenge and predicted where the industry may be impacted in both the short- and long-term. Keep reading for five key takeaways from the webinar.



Rethinking PPE

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires that personal protective equipment (PPE) be worn on every construction site. Every visitor, whether an architect, subcontractor or member of the media, should at minimum wear a hard hat, safety vest, gloves, eye protection and closed-toe shoes to minimize exposure to safety hazards that could potentially cause injuries. However, we’ve now added another non-negotiable PPE requirement: masks.

When I visited construction sites to observe the construction process pre-pandemic, I didn’t think twice about borrowing a hard hat or safety vest from the construction trailer. Now, every member of the project team and visitor to the site should utilize their own PPE to minimize spreading germs. As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage of supplies has led to an inflation in prices. The design and construction industry should consider planning PPE supply for future events such as this.



Shaking Up Schedules

In an effort to maximize social distancing efforts, I’ve asked that the floor is clear of subcontractors before I walk with the project superintendent. However, it may not always be practical to empty the floor before a field visit, so consider visiting the jobsite at off times, such as early in the morning before shifts start or late in the evening once workers have left for the day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also challenged our industry to rethink what work we can and can’t do while working remotely. At Gresham Smith, we’re conducting most OAC meetings virtually, and when we do meet with the owner and contractor in person, we meet at an off-site location to reduce our time on the construction site. In addition to minimizing health risks, this method is also saving on travel expenses and shrinking our carbon footprint.



Standardizing Sanitation

Construction sites are notoriously dusty and dirty, but the pandemic has forced us to prioritize cleanliness. One jobsite I recently visited had an employee designated to clean the stair rails and door handles all day. We never had designated employees cleaning surfaces pre-pandemic—will this become the new normal? Not only do high-touch surfaces need cleaning, but shared tools need sanitizing as well between each subcontractor’s use.


Making Space

It’s been interesting to watch a project get built while workers attempt to stay six feet apart which in many instances can be nearly impossible.  Social distancing in construction elevators has been the biggest surprise for me—I wasn’t aware how much longer it would take subcontractors to travel to different floors. Will we see additional elevators on jobsites in the future to avoid construction delays? Additionally, future social distancing efforts could mean fewer workers on construction sites, which could potentially lead to longer construction schedules and more expensive projects.



Embracing Technology

Thanks to established and collaborative relationships with the contractors that construct our projects, our teams at Gresham Smith have been relying on technology more than ever to conduct activities that would normally be done in person on the construction sites. In lieu of in-person site visits, the contractors are giving FaceTime tours when we can’t have our boots on the ground, acting as quality control and allowing us to take screenshots for site visit reports. Moving forward, the design and construction industry will have to consider what kind of site visit observations and inspections meets the obligation outlined on contracts as well as the accepted standard of care. Are virtual inspections the way forward, or will we continue to conduct in person inspections to fulfill our contractual duties?  The use of advanced technologies such as 360-degree cameras and drones will undoubtedly become more common on construction sites in the future.



From new PPE requirements and sanitization practices to non-traditional methods of visiting project sites, the coronavirus pandemic has challenged us all to rethink the ways we administer construction contracts. Through it all architects and contractors are continuing to push forward, delivering high-quality projects while leaning on and learning from each other in the process. The world is changing faster than ever before, but we’re figuring out our “new normal” together and I believe that through collaboration and empathy for each other we can emerge even stronger than before.