The American Institute of Architects

A Chapter of the American Institute of Architects

You and Your Architect

Frequently Asked Questions – Solicitation

Q: What are the general services engineers and architects provide?

A: Basic service on a typical project includes feasibility study, preliminary design, final design, construction bid evaluation and construction observation.

Q: How are architectural and engineering firms retained?

A: The traditional method of hiring engineering and architectural firms for public work is through a process known as negotiated procurement or qualifications-based selection. There are five major elements to this procurement procedure: public notice, submittals of qualifications, review of submittals, ranking respondents and negotiation of a contract.

Q: Why does the process for selection of a firm to construct a project differ from that used to in the selection of a firm to design the same project?

A: Construction projects are easily awarded because all of the major aspects of the project are defined from the start, including the type and amount of construction materials required to complete the project. Architecture contracts have to turn a client's undefined concept into a set of plans and specifications. In short: Architects and engineers take and idea and give it definition. The contractor takes that definition -- which has already been developed -- and turns it into physical reality.

Q: What other types of firms are selected through qualifications-based selection?

A: All professional design firms should be retained for public work through qualifications-based selection, including geotechnical, landscape architectural and surveying firms. But before going after a second firm, be aware that design firms frequently offer combined services. For example, many firms provide both architectural and engineering services, hence the term A/E. Many civil engineering firms also provide land surveying services.

Q: How does qualifications-based selection work?

A: The client announces that it needs architectural or engineering services for a particular project and invites interested firms to submit information about qualifications and experience. The client then reviews and evaluates the submissions and selects a "short list" of three to five firms. Personal interviews are usually conducted with these firms to discuss each firm's qualifications, philosophies, and overall approach to the project. Once these interviews are completed, the client ranks the firms. The top-ranked firm is then invited to negotiate a formal agreement. This includes a discussion of the company's concepts and goals, the alternatives that might be considered, a specific scope of work, the general approach of the firm to the scope of work and the firm's compensation for the project.

Q: Does this process inhibit competition?

A: Not at all. It simply focuses competition for professional services on the most meaningful factors: Qualifications, competence, track record and availability.

Q: Are there programs to help prospective clients take advantage of qualifications-based selection procedures?

A: Yes. In most states, design professionals offer assistance to state and local agencies through professional societies. In some states, programs have been established to provide independent facilitators or technical advisors with a qualifications based selection procedure. Through work with public officials, the programs provide the contracting agency with an efficient process. This process is a long term benefit to both taxpayers and facility users.

The Six Step program

Step 1: Programming/Deciding What to Build

The owner and architect discuss the requirements for the project (how many rooms, the function of the spaces, etc.,) testing the fit between the owner's needs, wants and budget.

Step 2: Schematic Design/Rough Sketches

The architect prepares a series of rough sketches, known as schematic designs, which show the general arrangement of the rooms and the site. Some architects also prepare models to help visualize the project. The owner approves these sketches before proceeding to the next phase.

Step 3: Design Development/Refining the Design

The architect prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed design. Floor plans show all the rooms in correct size and shape. Outline specifications are prepared, listing the major materials and room finishes.

Step 4: Preparation of Construction Documents

Once the owner has approved the design, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications, which the contractor will use to establish actual construction cost and build the project. These drawings and specifications become part of the building contract.

Step 5: Hiring the Contractor

The owner selects and hires the contractor. The architect may be willing to make some recommendations. In many cases, owners choose from among several contractors they have asked to submit bids on the job. The architect can help prepare bidding documents as well as invitations to bid and instructions to bidders.

Step 6: Construction Administration

While the contractor will physically build the structure or addition, the architect can assist the owner in making sure the project is built according to the plans and specifications. The architect can make site visits to observe construction, review and approve the contractor's applications for payment and generally keep the owner informed of the project's progress. The contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules and procedures.

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