Contracting with Consultants: Part 2, Disciplines to Consider

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The simplest of projects, or those in which straightforward engineering services are provided within a trade subcontractor’s scope of services on a design-build basis, may not necessitate any consideration by the architect of consulting services. Any increase in project complexity, however, will likely require expertise not internally provided by the architect. The number of consultants and their respective competencies needed by architects will vary for each commission and can be grouped in four broad categories.

First, core design consultants provide the likeliest and most necessary engineering services. These firms are included in nearly every architectural/engineering (a/e) team assembled for architectural commissions. Most often, these firms provide structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering.

Second, specialty design consultants provide a full spectrum of highly focused sub-disciplinary services, specific programmatic expertise, or signature design capabilities.  

  • Sub-disciplinary services (in alphabetical order) include but are not limited to: accessibility; acoustical design; building envelope and waterproofing; code; cost estimation; change order evaluation; doors and hardware; ecologist; energy modeling, LEED, and other certifications, commissioning; environmental; fixtures, furnishings, and equipment purchasing agent; interiors; irrigation; land planner; landscape; lighting systems and controls; low-voltage systems (AV, IT, and security systems); project scheduling; quality assurance; security; signage and graphics; specifications; structural wind tunnel and dispersion analysis; sustainability design; transportation; vertical transportation; and other specialty disciplines.
  • Programmatic expertise may be provided by specialists and planners (again, in alphabetical order) including but not limited to the following typologies: central energy; food service; laboratory; library; master planning; parking; theater; urban planning; water features; and other program specialists.
  • Signature interior designers are often hired to complement architectural teams. Signature architects, in the role of associate architect, offer services to firms that limit their own services to an architect-of-record role. Alternatively, a design-oriented firm may perform as the prime professional, retaining another firm as associate architect for production assistance or construction administration support at distant job sites. Such interiors and/or architectural pairings are created for business development, client-preference, project funding, firm capacity, or other reasons.

Third, other non-design consultants may be retained to support very specific and unusual needs, including but not limited to: economists; public administration; fair housing; affordability; and other advisors.

Fourth, architects should endeavor to have certain consultants retained solely and directly by the client. This serves to manage, but not eliminate, liability exposures; it does not relieve the architect of coordination responsibilities, however. For more specifics, please see Part 4. Services contracted to the client (in alphabetical order) include but are not limited to: art consultant; civil engineering; construction management; cost estimating where the a/e team has a right to rely on others; environmental testing; foundation dewatering; geotechnical services; historic certifications; land use attorney; mockup testing; retail leasing; security that may require governmental approval or extraordinary confidentiality; signage, branding, and wayfinding beyond code-required items that may speak directly to client imagery and uses; special inspections; survey; traffic; and others.  

AIA has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors. The AIA’s Risk Management Program posts new materials and resources periodically.

Read our full seven-part series on Contracting with Consultants >

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