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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



How to Be Part of the Architectural Process

Oswald Bertolini, Principal
Bertolini Architectural Works

The Lay of the Land

I want to talk a little bit about the usual steps that you need to take to get your project to work well. A lot of what happens is complicated. It is a big deal. You’re going to spend a lot of money. At some point, the process will become dirty, noisy, and get in the middle of your life.

I also want to talk a little bit about the changes that we have in the regulatory environment that have an impact on how and what you do. The city is pushing for more specific regulations for better quality, almost perfect buildings. They have a large group of inspectors looking out for little defects. This will change how the projects are done in the very near future, and you need to be prepared. The board members who have gone through the process in the past should not assume that it’s going to be the same in the future. Things are changing rapidly.

Now What?

How does a board approach an exterior restoration project? The first thing I tell board members is that they need to be a part of the process. If you form a committee, you really want to have the right people from the board. Normally, it’s best if you have two or three people who have the time, the inclination, or perhaps some knowledge about construction to act as the committee, which is the liaison with those doing the work.

In effect, you’re entering a temporary marriage with this team for about two years. Consequently, you really want to have a manager who is interested in what you’re doing and also the right professionals – an engineer or an architect. Make sure they can answer your questions, because that’s a big part of it. If you’re comfortable with them, then you’re probably going to be comfortable with the results. The board needs to listen to what we say, and they need to ask questions. It’s good to ask questions. But they need to listen to the answers. Sometimes people don’t want to hear what they don’t want to hear.

In the process of making the city safer, a lot of the regulations have become tighter. Some of them can be onerous. If you have a building that is over 15 stories in height, you need to have site safety. And over two summers, that means sometimes tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars. The cost of starting a project (mobilization, protection, rigging, fees, filings, inspections, etc.) represent around 10% on large project but up to 40% on a small one. We recommend that our clients aim for large volume projects, say every 10 years, as opposed to smaller projects every couple of years. This maximizes the net amount of money that goes into their building.

Don’t look for shortcuts. Don’t think that a company is going to do it for less money because they are from out of town or something like that. Provide your full support. Don’t expect miracles. If a contractor tells you that the workers don’t make noise, they don’t make dust – it’s just not going to happen. They don’t hire ballerinas. They hire construction guys, and that’s what they do. And they think that it’s nonsense that you don’t want dust or noise.

One final note about timing. If you finish your project preparation by Christmas and you bid the project in the winter, you probably will get better prices, more carefully developed estimates, and a shot at the best crews and best foreman for the job, which is very important. Do it right. You’ll get a better result, which should last for a long, long time.

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