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Contract's with Architects

Contract's with Architects

Contract's with Architects

We all know that Architect’s like percent based Contracts.  Especially when tax dollars are paying for the projects.  We all know that most States require the selection of the architects and engineers to be based on qualification then after selection you can discuss fees.  Yet Architects will then look for the low bidder for Structural and MEP services to maximize their profits.  Unfortunately we all have to compete with the Local Engineer working out of his basement that bids low doesn’t run calc’s, oversizes everything and runs the project cost up witch the Architect likes because it generates higher fees for him.

My question is, How can we stop Architects from selecting engineers on public projects based on fees and not qualification?  

Just for fun, we recently had a project where a site condition caused some wells to be moved.  No design changes were required but the cost for the change order was approximately $200,000.  For this project the Architect will receive an additional $14,000 for this Change Order, yet they argue that the change was a CA matter and we should not get any additional fees.

We are seeing MEP’s going to percent based contracts.  Are you doing this with Architects?  If a project comes in $1 Million over budget why should only the Architect get the extra fee.

Structural engineers have more liability then ever before, we have codes that change every time we wake up.  Yet, Architects think are fees should be decreasing.   We have done a poor job educating the public of our services and why we should be paid for them.  How can we change this?

Let me just say, I would never recommend a percent based contract to a client.  What incentive do I have to save you money if my fee is based on Construction costs.

RE: Contract's with Architects

You've hit the biggest building design industry barrier to better design in your post.  Percentage fees do not provide any incentive to design lower energy buildings, since why would anyone do more work for less fees if you are being paid on a percentage of the Mech/Elec/Structural contract value??!!  

Stupidest method of applying professional fees I've ever seen.  What does every other profession out there do?  (Accountants, Lawyers, Doctors, etc.) - that's right- hourly based fees.  Client wants service, client pays for every service asked for.

Building engineering will likely be regulated into providing a minimum level of services sooner or later.  Right now, the only check and balance on poor engineering service is the legal system, and the increasing number of construction site related accidents and failures, as well as long term building system problems and poorly functioning, energy guzzling building systems.

Another thing that bugs me right now, as it's fresh on my mind on a current project, is that Architects and many Client Project Managers will only pay your Construction Admin. services based on the Contractors' monthly progress claim.  Every structural, mechanical, and electrical building design engineer knows that the level of effort and hours expended to review shop drawings, and other general admin. has a skewed bell curve such that at least half of the CA hours are expended in the first 25% of the project progress.  And then you have the wild card of a group of low-bidder Trades who have bad site Karma, causing an average of 20-30 e-mails a day along with multiple RFI's (Requests For Information), since they seem to have forgotten completely how to join a few building components together from the Trade School courses they allegedly took.

RE: Contract's with Architects

Design/build all the way!  With design/build, all the liability and all the benefit reside with the same people. It's a system where innovation is rewarded.  A more optimal design makes YOUR firm more money, rather than just saving a customer money and netting you exactly the same fees!

Qualifications-based selection is lovely in theory, but in practice can become a bait and switch game.  Any large firm could put together a great team to do a particular job- in theory- and then swap these staff out in favour of whoever happens to not be fully utilized at the moment.  Sure, it reduces the risk of using fly-by-night operations, but it also shuts out small firms entirely.  Great if you're working for an established firm I guess, but not really in the interest of clients or the market- or of engineers trying to strike out on their own.

RE: Contract's with Architects

MoltenMetal:  The Building Design-Build teams in your neighborhood must be better than what I get to deal with up here.  Up here, Design-Build means put the cheapest, quickest delivery piece of crap together that barely meets the Owners Stated Goals and Specifications.  Zero Innovation, as that would invite potential litigation if it doesn't work the way it was supposed to.

I completely agree about the Large Firm "Team" - having experienced that scenario in my past, that's exactly what happens.  And, the folks in that office who are under-utilized are usually the guys no one else wants on their teams due to their inability to meet goals or other reasons (incompetence, mainly).

RE: Contract's with Architects

Your mileage may differ, but my clients seldom appreciate being sold more than what they ask for.  They REALLY don't like being forced to take more than what they ask for by virtue of specs and drawings they've paid to have prepared on their behalf, regardless how cheap those services may have been up-front.  And they REALLY hate being forced to pay for more than what they need merely to give some engineer-for-hire a better night's sleep.  

They have every right to hire others to advise them in relation to their needs and to help them write good bid specs, and to review bids as they come in, if they aren't competent to do that themselves.

There's no objective standard of quality:  good, cheap, fast:  pick the two that matter most and hope for as much of the third as you can get!  The cheapest, fastest thing which MEETS their stated needs is what they're paying for.  If they get what they've stated that they need, they should be happy.  If they get LESS than that, they have recourse to warranties and to the courts.

There's no guarantee that merely hiring the design engineer on an hourly basis gives a client a better finished item at the end of the day than would be had by hiring a firm which is both designing AND constructing the item and taking a single fee for both.  The latter SHOULD, in theory at least, give the design engineer motivation to optimize the use of materials and labour because the benefit lands in their employer's pocket, but that's not a foolproof thing for sure.  It's possible for both models to give good value for money and a good product at the end of the day.  It's also possible for an ignorant client to get bilked royally by either method.

RE: Contract's with Architects

"cheapest, quickest delivery piece of crap together that barely meets the Owners Stated Goals and Specifications"

That being practically the definition of a well engineered product. Hilarious. If you don't want a piece of crap, mention that in the spec.


Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: Contract's with Architects

Depends on what "a piece of crap" is:  In my world a well engineered product delivered within the Client's timeline also has to work past the one year warrantee period.  The work I see here barely makes it past the warrantee period before major work is required.  What I'm used to seeing are very poor HVAC systems applications that don't meet the Client's or Code requirements in the first place, that require a lot of expensive corrective action afterwards to bring the building systems up to what they barely need to be to be safe, have reasonable operating costs, and a reasonable operating life expectancy.

Granted, a lot of the problems I see are a result of poorly defined Client Goals in the first place, where the Design-Builder has managed to provide substandard, poorly designed and operating building systems, that guzzle a ton of energy, and don't provide indoor comfort.

RE: Contract's with Architects

If you want a piece of crap just build a PEMB.  The next wind or ice storm will bring it down.

RE: Contract's with Architects


Whoooaaaa there Pawdna.  Done a lot of concrete foundations for these these PEMB's over the years.  I have not personally seen or heard of any of those particular ones fail...yet.

What has been your experience?

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering

RE: Contract's with Architects

Greg:  LOL!  I'll have to add that one to every bid spec I send out for quote!  "The unit, as designed and constructed, must not be a piece of crap."  Talk about the ultimate objective-oriented spec!

I'm in a weird niche business I guess.  My clients are very often large, multinational concerns who have well-developed boiler-plate specifications- which happen to be crazy overkill at best or completely inapplicable and/or physically impossible to apply to the type of systems we design and build at worst.  I often see clients specifying to me that "their unit MUST be a piece of crap in these very specific and particular ways". I must spend a lot of my time and effort explaining to them what portions of their spec we're taking exception to because they will render the unit non-functional, and where they're swatting a fly with a pile-driver or driving a screw with a sledgehammer (ie where the same objective can be met in a more efficient way).  Sometimes they're organizationally incapable of permitting exception to their own specs, even when they realize that they do not properly apply.  More often, they're utterly unwilling to accept that their specs add (greatly) to cost and schedule relative to meeting their goals another way.  

RE: Contract's with Architects

We have looked at over 30 buildings that collapsed in the Midwest ice storms the last two years.  Every single one was a PEMB.  Many of the early building code changes were created because of PEMB failures.   When you take every load reduction possible and design the steel frame to a stress ration of .999999, you are just asking for failure.  Remember the lightest structure wins the contract.  I will say that the majority of failures are from local producers although the big boys still had a few come down.

We design plenty of foundation‘s for them as well, usually we are picked by the Architect up front and get to specify the design loads.  Spell out everything for them, allow no reductions, add a minimum of 10 psf to the live load and don’t allow Exposure Cat. B for wind.  It’s not a bad idea to require a 10-20 percent increase in wind pressures or limit the stress ration to 0.9.  The PEMB will complain and say it is not needed but then again when I asked them why their buildings failed in the ice storm they all stated “above code loads”.  Sorry a building designed for 20 psf live load should not collapse with 22 psf of snow and ice load.

RE: Contract's with Architects

There was an article in one of the Structural Engineering magazines a year or two ago.  It listed several different PEMB failures.  My favorite was a corporate jet hanger that collapsed because someone installed a series of pipe claps upside down.  This then flatted the small “turn up” on the “z” purlin which caused a localized failure which resulted in the main frame unbraced length increases and it to fail bringing the building down on top of several private jets.  Needless to say the damage was many millions over a $2 clamp.  While technical the error was not with the PEMB do you think a bar joist or steel beam would have failed with the clamp installed the wrong way?
Always require that the PEMB manufacture certify that the finished building meets their standards before final acceptance.      

RE: Contract's with Architects

BRGENG:  what you're saying is that the design codes these buildings were engineered to were inadequate for the conditions the buildings experienced.

When a designed structure of any kind experiences loadings it wasn't designed for, it should be expected to fail- and the failure is not automatically the engineer's fault.

Obviously a design which relies on the particular installation of something to prevent a catastrophic failure should have that component inspected as part of fabrication.  Doesn't matter if it's a $2 clamp or a plate which needs to be drilled or punched rather than flame-cut (see another thread where this topic was discussed- the ignorance of what ACTUALLY goes on during construction was a bit scary to me).  

I agree that a design that is SO touchy to installation detail should be reconsidered as inadequately safe, but that's just my opinion.  That said, you could try to design something- anything- so that it's idiot-proof but you'd fail.  Idiot-resistance is the best you can hope for.  Sufficient experience with idiots will show that they're extremely creative and resourceful and imaginative in their idiocy.  But the mere fact that idiots exist is NOT a license to over-design.

RE: Contract's with Architects

Well think of it this way
All those buildings are made generally by the lowest bidder

RE: Contract's with Architects

I've long thought owners would get far better value by going with the second low bid rather than the low bid.

RE: Contract's with Architects


Sounds like you are mostly talking about farm sheds. These are given a lower factor of safety as they are generally not a life safety hazard.

You cant expect farmers to build a bomb shelter every time they need somewhere to store their tractor.

RE: Contract's with Architects

No, it is more like Elementary School Gymnasiums, grocery stores, a town hall (with Police Station) and commercial retail buildings to name a few.  We would not be called to look at a farm building.  The farmer could rebuild it cheaper than having us tell him why it failed.  

RE: Contract's with Architects

Here is a question to ask yourself.  Would you design a building knowing if one part failed the building would collapse?   Would you take every reduction allowed per code and design that member to a stress level of 1?  When it fails and the building collapses do you just say to yourself, “It was designed per code, it is not my fault”.  

If you answered yes to the above questions then you are a PEMB manufacture.  If you answered no,  then you are a real engineer who understands the importance of what we do as Engineers.

RE: Contract's with Architects

BRGENG:  I don't design buildings, so I can't answer your question per se.  But I do design systems which contain single critical components or subsystems which, if loaded significantly beyond the loadings assumed during their design, could potentially fail with consequences equivalent to or worse than that of a building collapse.  And yes, I do think I understand the importance of what I do as an engineer.

"Would you take every reduction allowed per code and design that (safety critical) member to a stress level of 1?"

I don't know much about your field, so take what I say with the appropriate measure of salt.  That said, respectfully, your question indicates to me that your problem is more with the codes and standards that PEMB engineers design their buildings to rather than with the way the PEMB engineers apply these codes and standards.  You're expecting them to know WHICH code-permitted reductions they should NOT take without being provided that guidance by the code.  You're similarly expecting them to know when they're not supposed to critically load members in a design, without the code's guidance.  

Your responsibility as an engineer is to bring these flaws to the attention of the bodies administering these codes and standards- and to point out any errors or omissions made on the part of engineers who do not actually apply the codes and standards correctly.

RE: Contract's with Architects

The earlier questions were questions in general and not directed at you.  No offense, but if you don’t design buildings and you don’t understand PEMB systems then you should probably post elsewhere.     Structural Engineers have long dealt with problems associated with PEMB.  Just remember you get what you pay for and if a PEMB cost less than regular construction there is a reason why.  You can save money the first time and rebuild or just do it correctly to begin with.

RE: Contract's with Architects


Sorry, that is a different matter then. Parents have a right to expect that the buildings their children are educated in have a high level of safety. Such buildings should have a level of redundancy to ensure this. I finf it a real worry that this is not the case. How do they justify the fire rating on these things?

Anyway back to the OP. The engineer should not be treated as a subcontractor to the architect but should be chosen by the same qualifactions basis as them and should be employed directly by the client. This eliminates any conflict of interest on the part of the architect/engineer and ensures that the engineer is the best one for the job.

RE: Contract's with Architects

You know, over the years, metal buildings have moved from farm and out buildings with less of a chance of loss of life, to manufacturing and now to homes, churches and, as mentioned, schools.  It seems that $$$ is driving the decision of the clients to use these structures.  Personally, in tornado alley, I think that these structures should not be used for any use other than agricultural.  

Should not an importance factor be included in their design, or some other structural restriction, where the chance for the loss of life is greater than an agricultural structure.  That seems only reasonable to me based on your experiences BRGENG.

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering

RE: Contract's with Architects


There is in ASCE7-05

For school building >250 people capacity I = 1.15
Otherwise I = 1.00

Farm buildings I=0.77

Possibly the schools are limiting capacity to less than 250 to avoid the 15% additional load.

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