March 27, 2024

The Building Blocks of Construction Administration

The worlds of design and construction are closely related, yet they speak entirely different languages. They leverage different skill sets and expertise. They operate in different settings, with different materials, and at different project phases.

It’s certainly possible to hand off finalized design plans to the construction team and allow for a complete delineation between the two worlds, but that can drum up a whole host of problems stemming from well-intentioned but misaligned interpretations.

A lot hinges on maintaining a clear, consistent vision and understanding of every detail, with absolutely nothing getting lost in translation between design and construction. Luckily, Construction Administrators (CA) speak both “languages” fluently, and they’re a critical component of an effective design-build process.

We’re fortunate to have exceptional CAs working at BWBR, and we sat down with two of them for our latest podcast episode. Both Bryan Desma and Devin Little began their careers as architects before moving into construction administration, which is no coincidence; successful CA requires extensive knowledge of all aspects of construction and design.

The CA team at BWBR is unique in that while Bryan and Devin’s backgrounds reflect the design perspective, the team also has folks who originally come from the construction side. That combined experience delivers massive value for clients.

CA in Action

Construction administrators “shepherd the product through the construction phase,” Bryan says, “working with the contractor and making sure the design intent is met.”

One of the most valuable assets the team brings to construction is their deep understanding of BWBR’s design documents, “whereas the contractor, they’re not always working with BWBR every day,” Devin explains. “They might be used to seeing things a little differently, they might be looking to find something in a different section.” The CA team acts as interpreters, answering questions and verifying accuracy.

Along with bridging the gap between the design and build, construction administration encompasses a multifaceted set of tasks that includes managing all change orders and keeping tabs on all the financials associated with a design, among other key elements. While not all firms have a CA team, the specialized role lends a major hand in keeping construction running smoothly.

“Contractors need answers right away – there’s schedule and dollars on the line,” Bryan says. When architects juggle the roles of both construction and design, it can cause frustration and delays. “We have a dedicated CA who’s going to be on the job, monitoring the job, answering the phone at a moment’s notice, being able to go to project meetings without any excuses or delay. It’s really a benefit to the project.”

Even with CA in the picture, it’s a long process. Construction administrators are the last ones on a project from the design side and the final “face of the architect” for the client. The construction phase can last several times as long as the design phase, and CAs are there every step of the way.

A Million Little (Or Big) Things

Some of BWBR’s project plans have hundreds of sheets of drawings and even more sheets of specifications. “It’s millions of pieces of information. That needs a little help along the way, and that’s what we do,” says Bryan.

Contractors submit Requests for Information (RFIs) for big questions, and CAs not only address those but engage in numerous other levels of verification, from walkthroughs and inspections to reviews and quality checks. When a project is nearing completion, CAs use a punch list to verify that every element of the design has been translated into the final product. The goal: to be incredibly firm with quality control while maintaining “reasonable and fair” expectations with contractors.

It’s a fine line, Devin explains, and mistakes do happen. While a small dent may not be worth entirely re-working a storage room, the same error is typically unacceptable in an office space. They work closely with both the client and the contractors – plus mechanical, electrical, and plumbing specialists, engineers, code officials, vendors, and designers – to deliver quality results while protecting strict deadlines and budgets.

Making it Happen

It truly takes a pro to manage it all, and while their specialized knowledge is a critical element, the right personality plays a big factor, too.

“I believe what makes a good CA person is someone who’s not just detail oriented, but also someone who’s able to juggle a lot of moving parts,” says Devin. According to Bryan, it takes a cool and calm demeanor to manage conflicts that can arise through the fast-paced phases of construction.

The construction administrators’ unique set of skills is not only of huge value to our design teams, but also to our clients and contractors. Bryan says the level of service often surprises partners. “They’re surprised that we’re able to answer things so quickly and that we’re there for them,” he says. “I think that goes back to the dedicated CA and how we get the processes done here at BWBR.”

We’re lucky to have this talented team representing BWBR on the jobsite, bringing designs to life with high quality, beautiful buildings. From understanding specifications and interpreting documents to navigating client expectations and supporting contractors, construction administrators balance an array of roles to deliver visions as intended.

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