Here’s how it goes. An architect spends twenty years or more developing a reliable specification based on research and product performance to play it safe when it comes to water intrusion or exterior cladding—because we don’t want to take a chance on some new, unproven product.
The project starts and all appears to be going well until the Value Engineering (VE) begins—which is used these days for cost-cutting. The proposed VE substitutions are purported to “save” the owner a lot of money if accepted according to the owner and contractor.
3.4.2 Except in the case of minor changes in the Work approved by the Architect…, the Contractor may make substitutions only with the consent of the Owner, after evaluation by the Architect and in accordance with a Change Order or Construction Change Directive.
The AIA General Conditions require in Section 3.4.2, “…the Contractor may make substitutions only with the consent of the Owner, after evaluation by the Architect…” This allows the owner to accept substitutions without the architect’s consent; however, if non-consent is not documented, the architect can be viewed as accepting the substitution by its failure to object.
You are given twenty-four hours to review proposed product substitutions for the ones you have spent years researching and developing in your specifications. The condition often put forth is that the project will be delayed if you do not respond immediately. You may have never seen or heard of these products, or you may be aware but consider them inferior.
The VE review meeting is held, and you will come off as the bad guy if you object to the owner’s savings. Pressure is applied, and you are told that the project may not go forward unless you accept the proposed substitutions. They’re all staring at you across the table. What’s your decision?
Many times, the architect will acquiesce and agree to use a new, untested product. It can be especially difficult to deny a repeat client. The architect may explain to the owner the product’s unproven characteristics and its apparent lower quality. But the money argument usually wins. The items accepted on the VE list are added to the owner-contractor agreement by exhibit with no supporting specifications or product data, just the cryptic handwritten list. The contractor’s price is conditioned upon the VE substitutions.
Fast forward to the sound of the owner’s voice screaming at you over your cell phone. The product failed and there is water in the building. Deep water. And you are now in it over your head. The product representative asserts that the product was not properly installed. Meetings are held and tempers flare. The inquisition begins.
Let’s stop and take measure of what just happened. You are the only architect on the project. You have the sole authority to specify the products and systems to be used on the project, and that authority is intended to be sustained and preserved by your required approval of changes to the project scope. Yet through the VE process that is in widespread use in the industry, an unlicensed person can change the scope of the project and later claim no responsibility because they are not the architect. This is a chilling example of an architect’s stolen identity.