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​The Three Cs Every Architect Should Rely Upon to Minimize the Risk of Danger

04.12.19  |  By Keith J. Stevens

The architect’s duty to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of the public from dangers such as personal injuries, property damage and fire hazards has never been as significant as it is today.  While not all hazards can be avoided, it is incumbent upon every architect to exercise the utmost care in limiting the risk of danger.  In protecting the public, you the architect will secure the added benefit of protecting yourself from potential lawsuits and other claims.  In order to accomplish these goals, you should rely on the three Cs: (1) contracts; (2) codes; and (3) consultants.

First and foremost, the contract documents should clearly define the scope of services of each party involved with a project.  The most comprehensive agreements in this regard are AIA agreements.  AIA Document B101-2017 is the Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect.  This document clearly defines both the owner’s and architect’s responsibilities during all phases of the project. 

Before determining whether to use B101, you need to decide what level of responsibilities you want to retain. In entering into an AIA B101 agreement, the architect undertakes responsibility for the entire design of the project.  For example, an architect who enters into a B101 Agreement is responsible for all facets of the engineering requirements for the project.  This puts the onus on the architect to retain the proper consultants to protect the public from unnecessary dangers.  For those architects who prefer an AIA agreement, but do not want to bear responsibility for the design of the entire project, AIA B103 and B109 shift responsibility to the owner for retaining the consultants, preparing cost estimates and even scheduling the various facets of the project.  B103 is used for large and/or complex projects while B109 is relied upon for certain multi-family and mixed use residential projects.

Whether relying upon B101, B103 or B109, the General Conditions of the contract are almost always defined by AIA A201 which is incorporated into the owner/architect agreement.  In terms of life safety, Article 3 and Article 10 of A201 place a heavy burden on the contractor to avoid injuries to persons and property.  Article 3 provides in relevant part that the contractor shall supervise and direct the work, as well as be solely responsible for the construction means, methods, techniques, sequences and procedures.  Article 10 provides in relevant part that the contractor shall be responsible for taking reasonable precautions and providing reasonable protection to prevent injury or damage to persons, the work and other property.   Accordingly, A201 limits the potential liability which may be imputed onto the architect who does not direct, control or supervise the construction.

When it is not feasible to enter into an AIA agreement, an architect must take extra precautions to ensure that the contract documents clearly define each party’s scope of work.  An effective way to avoid confusion is to separately list the specific services which are not included in your scope of work.  For example, you should exclude controlled inspections for all items which it did not design.  By specifically excluding these items from its contract, you make the owner aware that other entities must be retained to safeguard the public.

While the contract documents are an architect’s first line of defense, every architect should be familiar with the relevant sections of the building, fire prevention and energy codes which are applicable to a project.  This holds especially true when the code sections are designed to safeguard the public against potential hazards.  When you are not familiar with the relevant sections of the Building Code and/or do not possess the required expertise to perform certain facets of a project, you must retain the proper consultants to avoid creating an otherwise avoidable danger.

By way of an example, my architect client who was unfamiliar with Alteration Type 1 additions was retained to design the gut rehabilitation of the existing stories of a building and the addition of another floor. The project included a new wooden open staircase throughout the building.  The architect relied on an expeditor in lieu of a MEP engineer in determining the fire safety requirements for the Alteration Type 1 addition.

In saving the cost of retaining a MEP engineer, my client designed a building which was a significant fire hazard. In deviation of the New York City Building Code, the architect’s design omitted: (1) fire rated enclosures for the wooden staircase; and (2) fire sprinklers and a fire escape (i.e., a second means of egress) which should have been installed in conjunction with the staircase. While the Department of Buildings caught my client’s omissions before the building was occupied, this potential catastrophe could have been avoided had the architect retained the proper MEP consultant.

While it is not possible to eliminate the risk of danger, the three Cs will certainly help you limit the risk and, consequently, mitigate your risk against potential claims and lawsuits.   In doing so, you will have more time to pursue the other three Cs which are important to every architect: concept, creation and construction.

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