Building is a prototype- why its worth paying for good documents when building

In general Australians like to buy things as cheaply as possible, and think money for design is a waste. Good design may be expensive, however, bad or incomplete design may cost a lot!

Good building is achieved when well developed ideas have been developed and followed through from concept to the last brush stroke on the completed structure. A good concept is of little value unless it has been communicated to the builder in detail and has been translated into the built form. To make a good building involves a process and the labour of many people. And labour costs money.

Just as for all products, you get what you pay for. Cost is dependant on 3 things, in this order,
a) The time required for the labour
b) The hourly rate of the labourers
c) The cost of overheads

Unfortunately, all three will vary from architect to architect. More experienced architects may be slightly faster, but all require sufficient time to document a building well. A top architect surprisingly may have a cheaper hourly rate, as they know they will put in more time. The office and car may say nothing about an architects skill, but they may say a lot about the overheads!

However, no matter who the architect is, cutting design fees means they will have to reduce the time spent. Reducing the time spent reduces the amount of drawings, which reduces the detail given.

Also asking for a fast design process will certainly reduce the output work, and reduce the resolution of detail.

Reducing the resolution in documentation means that the issues not resolved will need to be resolved on site.

Resolving issues on site results in high levels of stress on site. When stress levels are high there is a huge likelihood of mistakes being made and/or poor building outcomes, including inbuilt faults that may increase the building life cycle costs. A leaking building may be hard to fix and the leak may cause it's early failure. Fixing mistakes on site, where $5,000 goes nowhere, can cost much more than the designers fees. Fixing mistakes also has knock-on effects, such as time delay.

Almost certainly a builder on site without detail or guidance will produce outcomes that are not in accordance with the concept. This results in a less valuable end product. The loss in building value could exceed the designers fees. A top architect carrying the work all the way through can add the 'style' that can add thousands of value to a building for resale or leasing.

This in in general. Recent experience has shown the incredible value of having a well co-ordinated and checked set of construction documents. Time should be spent after the tender process where all of the drawings are updated and throughly checked for discrepancies. This should take some time even for a small job. This is money well spent.

There are always discrepancies in a drawing set. Without a thorough checking process there may be many discrepancies and even errors that result in mistakes on site. Checking reduces this.

Trying to save time and money, the drawings can be rushed to tender. There will be many discrepancies that the builder may not spot. If cost cutting is then also attempted the discrepancies will be increased. To not make a new set of drawings will result on much stress on site and possibly delay. Taking out things results in unexpected consequences that need to be resolved in detail by an expert. It may be worth a lot of money at this stage to spend a little money and fully update the drawings.

Why is all this time and money worth spending on design and producing good documents?

A building will cost more than your car. Your car took at least a full year to go from prototype to production. If it is the first in a series, it will take even longer. A building may contain as many parts as your car. Some of them move. Just like the bits in a car the bits of a building all have to fit together. The bits of a building also have to endure the forces that mean a building is always, ever so slightly, moving. The first new model of a car always has faults, this is despite being checked in prototype, after the first models come back for repair they fix the next model in the series. The last in the series is always the best quality and least likely to have faults (I'm a mechanics daughter).

But... a building is usually only built once to a unique design, that has never been built before. A building is at its best like the very first prototype of a car, the one you never see, as they then modify and modify to get it (mostly) right. Building with poor documentation is like building that first prototype of a car half by guess. If we built cars like this they would not be safe to drive!

Even with good documentation there will always, always be things that need to be resolved on site, like the tweaking of a prototype. Good documentation means many many issues have already been thought through. Its cheaper to resolve something on paper once than to fiddle on site.

Why is it there are always issues and extra costs on site?

If a tender has been put together by the builder hastily, and the documents are are not clear to them the builder's subcontractors will 'cover' themselves. On site they finally fully appreciate the design. Builders will always have 'fat'. They do this as they know something will go wrong. This, regrettably, is experience.

One reason for extra costs on site is,
just as the first line a designer draws on the paper is often erased as the issues of the design are revealed,
so in building work needs to be undone.
This is the nature of making something new.
This is why Rolls Royce uses virtual computer visualization before they make the prototype, to then produce the engine!
Building is real scale visualization/prototype experimentation and final production in one.

In addition, the labour is human and has lapses of concentration, misreads drawings,instructions, alcohol affects work the next day, makes poor decisions when stressed, meeting deadlines, working at night, has misplaced pride, may have poor communication skills, attitudes to safety/authority, and may not think ahead etc and etc.

(As my parents removed the drop-forged spanner I was born with and gave me a hammer at 8, a power saw at 14 and the carpentry for a house at 24, I've learned it takes effort to make things go right.)

If any of the people involved knew where the inevitable mess would occur on site- it wouldn't happen. What can make the mess worse is the builder's pride, unwillingness to bear the costs of rectification (often due to a low tender) and a owner who has high expectations and is quick to blame. When (not 'if') the mess occurs, recriminations halt progress and sour relationships, whereas understanding could produce creative solutions. For the administering architect there is stress in any mess, small or large, what makes it more stressful is the owner becoming upset with the builder.

At the end of a job sometimes there is a lack of perception of proportion where the majority of good things that went right are forgotten for one or two smaller things (with noticeable cost implications) that go wrong.

Knowing this can give a owner power. This allows them to give right praise for work well done that may build goodwill for when something needs to be fixed.

Even in a good set of documents there may be something missing, especially if there are late changes that needed resolving and co-ordinating. Even if architects work hard to cover the detail to reduce variations due to missing design, updated detail may be required on site due to the 80/20 principle, where 80% is easily done and 20% takes much more effort.

The last 1% to a perfect set of documents is impossible, at least, since humans left Eden.

Why do owners need to have money allowed for contingency?

All people wanting to build should consider a contingency sum of between 2-5% of the total budget for building work as being part of the budget. There is nothing worse than the stress of not having the money to finish. There will be extra costs that arise while building that increase the tender price.

This is because, as explained above, there will be unresolved issues, mistakes on site, things missing from the documents, unexpected conditions on site and there will be opportunities to improve things (read-spend more money).

This is because each unique building is a prototype.

If people know they are carrying out a brave and exciting experiment when procuring a building and allow appropriate time and money for it, they can enjoy the construction and the fun of making things work during the process. If not they need to be prepared for stress. A lot of stress.