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Real Estate - Work Of The Architect

( Originally Published 1911 )



Architect's relation to real estate.—The architect's work touches the real estate business at many points. Some of these are as follows:

While negotiating for a sale, a broker frequently consults an architect in order to obtain from him the approximate cost of a prospective improvement. The value of the property as an investment is largely de-pendent upon the solution which the architect makes of the problem, and not necessarily upon the cost of the structure itself. The responsibility for determining the type of building to be put upon the lot rests with the real estate man. The architect does not claim to be a specialist in what may rent best in a particular locality ; all he claims to be able to do is to take the real estate man's advice upon such matters, and to apply that advice to the solution of the particular problem.

Preliminary rough sketch.—It is frequently necessary and often desirable, before purchasing a piece of property for the purpose of building, to secure from an architect a rough sketch of what may be placed upon it. Some problems are so simple that they solve themselves, but with the many complications of tenement house laws and sanitary codes, it is the cautious way to obtain such sketches from an architect. These differ radically from the sketches an architect would make for the construction of a building. They show a typical floor, to demonstrate how many rooms can be gotten out of the space available, what space they would occupy, and how they would be lighted; and from that the real estate man is able to figure out the rentals, and the approximate cost.

A matter which the architect finds very important to determine is the possibility of the light being shut off. Surveys usually show the height of the adjoining buildings, and their relation to the lines of the property, and having these data an architect can determine with reasonable certainty what the light is likely to be in a particular house.

Architect's opinion as to cost of construction. After the rough sketch is made, the broker asks the architect what the contemplated building would cost, and the architect gives his opinion. That opinion is not as definite as the real estate man usually takes it to be. Many people have an idea that the architect must be familiar with the building trade, and able to tell within a few hundred dollars, what a building should cost. That is absolutely impossible for an architect, because the building market is changing continually; and the cost can only be approximated on the basis of things which have been done of a similar character. The courts have decided in this country that the architect is not bound to the estimate unless there is a specific order to that effect before he begins. In the English courts it has been decided that an architect does his duty if he comes within 15 per cent of his instructions.

Working drawings. These drawings contain a great deal of construction information, as to the thickness of walls, size of doors, etc. From these drawings, with the aid of specifications, the contractors take off accurate quantities, and figure out the cost of the building. In obtaining estimates, it is astounding to learn the extent to which they vary. The only explanation is that one contractor gets his sub-bids from men who are busy, and the next contractor gets his from men who have more time. One man may agree to put up a building for $10,000, and another man may ask $20,000 for the same building.

Matters about which the architect should be in formed.—A matter which affects tenements and apartments is the grade of the street. There are a number of city streets where the city ordinances may differ with regard to projections ; the questions of easements, electricity, steam heat, the kind of foundation, whether or not there are party walls—all are matters about which the architect must consult the real estate man.

Survey furnished to the architect.-The first thing an architect asks for, before he makes his working drawings, is a survey of the lot. The surveys in the real estate office are different from those furnished to the architect : the architect gets a different type of information. He not only wants the size of the building and the lot, and the size of the adjoining buildings, but he requires the height of the adjoining building, the building line, depth of sewer below the street and the pitch of the curb. After the lot has been thus surveyed, the surveyor puts upon the ad joining walls or stakes, marks corresponding to those indicated upon his survey, upon which the levels are started top and bottom. It is of great importance that the first measurement be absolutely true.

Walls which lean.—It is frequently necessary to find out if the adjoining walls lean. Unfortunately, very few walls are plumb, and it is a great annoyance in building a steel frame building to find that the wall of a neighbor projects over at the top, although it may be on line at the bottom.

Another important thing to know is the depth of a neighbor's wall, as under existing laws the burden of protecting the wall may cause considerable expense.

Choice of an architect.—The first man consulted in a building operation is the architect : he comes into the operation first, and is the last man to get out. In private work the architect is selected by direct appointment; in large or public works, by competition. There are competitions of various kinds : the public competition, where anybody may submit a set of drawings; the limited competition, to which certain men are invited, and which others may enter if they want to do so; and the invited competition, in which every man is paid for his services.

After the selection, the architect proceeds to make the sketches already described. There may be an agreement that if, for instance, the property be not sold, that the architect shall not be paid for these sketches; but under ordinary circumstances, he expects to be paid for them. After they are approved, the architect is instructed to make his working drawings. If he proceed with that work, and then the owner comes back and makes radical changes, the architect has a right to charge for that extra service. It is the architect's duty to make as many of the small sketches as necessary, but when the scheme is determined upon, and he begins his working drawings, the owner is committed to that scheme. The architect's charge is usually 5 per cent upon the cost of a new building. His services include—to quote from Schedule of Proper Minimum Charges indorsed by the American Institute of Architects:_____

1. The Architect's professional services consist of the necessary conferences, the preparation of preliminary studies, working drawings, specifications, large scale and full size detail drawings, and of the general direction and supervision of the work, for which, except as hereinafter mentioned, the minimum charge based upon the total cost of the work complete, is six per cent.

2. On residential work, alterations to existing buildings, monuments, furniture, decorative and cabinet work and landscape architecture, it is proper to make a higher charge than above indicated.

3. The Architect is entitled to compensation for articles purchased under his direction, even though not designed by him.

4. If an operation is conducted under separate contracts, rather than under a general contract, it is proper to charge a special fee in addition to the charges mentioned elsewhere in this schedule.

5. Where the Architect is not otherwise retained, consultation fees for professional advice are to be paid in proportion to the importance of the question involved and services rendered.

6. Where heating, ventilating, mechanical, structural, electrical and sanitary problems are of such a nature as to require the services of a specialist, the Owner is to pay for such services. Chemical and mechanical tests and surveys, when required, are to be paid for by the Owner.

7. Necessary traveling expenses are to be paid by the Owner.

8. If, after a definite scheme has been approved, changes in drawings, specifications or other documents are required by the Owner; or if the Architect be put to extra labor or expense by the delinquency or insolvency of a contractor, the Architect shall be paid for such additional services and expense.

9. Payments to the Architect are due as his work progresses in the following order: Upon completion of the preliminary studies, one-fifth of the entire fee; upon completion of specifications and general working drawings (exclusive of details), two-fifths additional, the remainder being due from time to time in proportion to the amount of service rendered. Until an actual estimate is received, charges are based upon the proposed cost of the work and payments received are on account of the entire fee.

10. In case of the abandonment or suspension of the work, the basis of settlement is to be as follows : For preliminary studies, a fee in accordance with the character and magnitude of the work; for preliminary studies, specifications and general working drawings (exclusive of details), three-fifths of the fee for complete services.

11. The supervision of an Architect (as distinguished, from the continuous personal superintendence which may be secured by the employment of a clerk of the works or superintendent of construction) means such inspection by the Architect or his deputy of work in studios and shops or a building or other work in process of erection, completion or alteration, as he finds necessary to ascertain whether it is being executed in general conformity with his drawings and specifications or directions. He has authority to reject any part of the work which does not so . conform and to order its removal and reconstruction. He has authority to act in emergencies that may arise in the course of construction, to order necessary changes, and to define the intent and meaning of the drawings and specifications. On operations where a clerk of the works or superintendent of construction is required, the Architect shall employ such assistance at the Owner's expense.

12. Drawings and specifications, as instruments of service, are the property of the Architect.

Superintendence. Superintendence by the architect does not require his presence on the work continually. The average architect, with moderate practice, will visit the work once or twice a week, but the number of times would entirely be determined by the progress of the work, and whether things were going smoothly. In larger pieces of work, it is necessary to have a clerk of the work, who is in charge all the time, and represents the architect. He is paid for by the owner, but reports daily to the architect's office.

Charge for small work, etc.—The architect's charge is different on smaller works which include the drawing of a large number of details, such as the designing of elaborate monumental works. Some architects make a practice of charging 8 per cent for new work that costs under $5,000, because it is difficult to make it pay at 5 per cent; for monumental work 10 per cent; and for work involving alterations 10 or 12 per cent. The prices quoted are those of the best practice; they have been adopted by the Institute of Architects; and have been recognized by the courts as right and proper. There. are a great many architects who charge less than these figures.

Specifications.—After the working drawings are made, the specifications are prepared, in which the trades are divided up, mason work, carpenter work, steel and iron, plumbing, electric work, steam fitting, etc.

Permits.—Contractors who are invited to send in estimates on the proposed work are provided with a copy of the drawings and specifications. While that is going on, the architect usually obtains the various permits which are necessary from the different municipal departments. After the permits are obtained, the next step is the selection of a contractor, by the owner, naturally, in consultation with the architect. The con-tract is usually what is known as the "Uniform Contract," which has been adopted by the Institute of Architects, and is amended from year to year.

Detail plans.—After the contract is made the architect begins to make his other working drawings. He then makes the framing plans, i. e., the details of the steel, which are sent to the mill, and from which the steel sections are gotten out, the details of door trim, doors, cornices, woodwork, terra cotta, galvanized iron, etc. That work proceeds practically during the construction of the building.

Expert service.—The architect frequently finds it necessary, in addition to the services spoken of, to provide expert service. That does not apply to ordinary work, but in the building of large hotels or public buildings. For instance, the science of electricity may have gone beyond the knowledge of the average architect, and he must retain a consulting engineer, the architect, however, retaining the control. The system of paying these experts is not definitely determined. The architects of larger practice who are able to dictate their terms have their clients pay for this additional service. In a large number of cases, the architect divides the commission on that particular part of the work with the expert. It is also sometimes necessary to have a sanitary engineer, who is compensated in the same way.

268. Various kinds of contracts.—Upon the basis of the uniform contract, contracts of various kinds are made. The sort of contract entered into by the builders with the largest business and the best reputations is that based upon the cost plus a definite profit, usually 10 per cent. As a rule these contracts are only entered into by men of considerable means, who can afford to be placed in a position before going ahead with a building, where they are not exactly informed as to the cost. There is also the contract based on the cost plus percentage, but upon which the contractor gives a guarantee that the building will not cost over a specified amount. In most of these contracts the builder will submit his bill to the architect once a month or once in two months ; that will be audited, and he will get the amount thus audited, plus 10 per cent.

Subdividing contracts.—The contracts on the 10 per cent basis are nearly all general contracts. In this country it is a rather rare thing, except in the case of very large construction companies, for the owner to employ directly those who do the work of the various sub-trades. The other system is that of dividing the work into four or five contracts, and it is probably the form used in the largest number of medium-sized operations. The divisions generally made are : mason work, carpenter work, plumbing, heating, electricity, and iron and steel. In that way the owner saves the profit which the general contractor would make upon each of those trades, if they were put into one contract. Even in this subdivision one class of work may include various ' subtrades; for instance, masonry may include plastering, concrete, tiling, etc.

Drawing and signing of plans and specifications. —An important clause in the uniform contract is that which provides that the drawings and specifications be signed by the parties to the contract. This sometimes seems unnecessary, but it is frequently of great importance, as it establishes beyond a doubt that they are the particular drawings which are called for. Some-times there may be two sets of drawings for a specific lot, and the question will arise, which was the set intended to be included in the contract; consequently, the signatures are most important. The care with which the plans and specifications are drawn is also of great importance. The general clause of the specification, in particular, if properly written, will prevent many of those extra orders, which are so much trouble to owners.

Extras.—The system provided in most carefully drawn contracts is that when extra work is required the contractor shall submit an estimate for that extra work, and receive a written order from the architect. It is advisable that the owner or his attorney sign the order also, so that they may know that they are spending an extra amount. Such matters are more easily settled when the work is going on than when it is finished.

Method of paying contracts.—The method of payment of the contracts is sometimes by payment of a certain amount when a certain percentage of the work is done. That is the system in a great many contracts of the 10 per cent type, but it is apt to lead to a great deal of unnecessary controversy. The better way is to make a certain definite amount of money due when certain definite things are done, that payment being usually on the basis of 70 to 90 per cent of the value of that work, the balance being left for the last payment, so that the owner may be able to protect himself.

Architect's decision impartial. The architect's position, in deciding upon these payments and all matters in relation to the interpretation of the plans and specifications, is supposed to be impartial. There is a belief that the architect is bound to decide with the owner, because he receives his fee from him, but that is not the position in which the architect considers himself. He considers that he should be an impartial judge; and that the owner employs him to act as his agent because he has technical knowledge, and is able to conduct the business of building better than he is.

In large undertakings an important part of the business of building is the conferences between all the people interested in the work. If one man does not do his work on time, the whole line is inconvenienced, so it is important that everybody be thoroughly informed as to the way the work is progressing.

Necessary certificates.—When a building in a city is completed, certificates are required from proper authorities before it may be occupied such as, for in-stance, a board of underwriters, departments of water supply, gas and electricity, the bureau of buildings, and the gas company. If the building be a loft building, the building law often requires that the amount of load which the floors will hold be posted upon the floors, the idea being to avoid accidents from over-loading.

Planning an apartment.—The general principle which governs an architect in planning a building for income is that there must be as much rentable space as possible, with the public space as small as possible. It does not follow that large spaces are convenient spaces, so the architect in providing large rooms, must place his fixtures and openings in such a position as to permit the maximum amount of use. He usually attempts to obtain large wall spaces by massing his openings.

The architect must plan within the apartment so that some rooms may be reached by the private hall, but that hall may be no larger than necessary.

Stairs and elevators are always placed, if possible, in a position equally distant from each apartment; and an attempt is made to mass the plumbing, so that it is back to back, not only for purposes of economy, but also for the purpose of sanitation, as the fewer pipes, the more free from obstruction they are likely to be.

The closet space is something which the American architect has learned to consider valuable, as it sometimes makes or unmakes an apartment; and he must utilize every possible space for the purpose of closets.

The occupancy of the basement and the height of the stories are determined by law; in fact the peculiarities of the buildings of almost every city in the world, in their last analysis, are legal peculiarities.

Planning a warehouse or business building.—In the planning of a warehouse, the problem is simple. It is mainly the securing' of light, and the placing of stairs and elevators, depending on the size of the lot. If it is a single lot, the question of division does not present itself so strongly, but in the large buildings over twenty-five feet it is usual to try to place the elevators so that the loft can be divided, if necessary, and to place the plumbing and wiring in such a position that, if the building be altered, each tenant may have his own current and plumbing fixtures.



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