On a recent project, we received a call from an architect client whom had just met with an Owner.  The Owner had a contractor on site ready to start construction of a timber frame building over a full basement. The Owner had only schematic design drawings from a previous architect, whom they fired. The Owner’s contractor had been instructed to start construction the next Monday using these schematic drawings.

Here’s the problem, there were no foundation drawings or a geotechnical investigative report.

Allegheny Design Services was tasked with providing foundation drawings with no coordination with the building manufacturer (who was not yet under contract), the current Architect of Record or geotechnical information.

The solution was to provide partial drawings to the contractor enough to get him started, but not too much to compromise the coordination with the other disciplines.  Part of the problem with these expectations is that technology has claimed to be the magic bullet in providing designs ASAP.  As it turns out, the building system supplier made changes after the foundations were constructed.  This resulted in tearing out some column foundations and adding others.

Arrival of Information Technology

We have seen this situation more frequently since the arrival of information technology. Those of you that can remember the 80s and yes, even the 60s and 70s, expectations were commensurate with the tools available.

  1. Snail mail added two weeks to shop drawing review
  2. FedEx then removed this obstacle
  3. Next came the computer
  4. Shortly after, in 1982, AutoCAD was introduced as a desktop tool

This transition improved accuracy and speed in developing construction drawings. But this was only a tool. The architect and the engineer still had to apply their understanding of the construction process in delivering buildable documents.

Increased Computer Power and the Internet

Increased computer power allowed for the advancement of design software also. This removed the tedious hand design for engineering analysis. This resulted in quicker delivery of engineering designs. The disadvantage to recent graduates today is that they will not develop in-depth understanding of the engineering principles involved.

Then this thing called the internet was invented all thanks to Al Gore. In the owners mind, partially thanks to being told, the delivery of construction documents can be provided faster. Expectations are now at a higher standard than a couple of decades ago. Speed, accuracy and efficient designs are now the expectation.

The value of the design process, coordination and collaboration is now underestimated.  There are certain tasks that still must occur beyond what technology can provide.  These include finalizing the building concept, obtaining the geotechnical report and obtaining the shop drawings from the building manufacturer showing column layout and reactions.

As I like to say, you can only bake a cake so fast.  If one task gets ahead of the other, the risks are high that some rework will be needed.  The owner and contractor must also realize that contingency budgets are inversely proportional to the information available.


The successful design firm will have to learn how to negotiate the obstacles these issues present. If you go against the current and try to change an owner’s expectations, you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in.


How Technology Impacted Expectations in the AEC Industry

Regardless of speed of delivery of documents, certain conditions are constant:

  1. Owner – Driven Program or Design Changes:  In fast track projects, the owner may have not had enough time to make decisions critical to the design process. If construction is underway, the impact of these changes can prove costly.
  1. Design Errors:  No construction documents are perfect, even when adequate time is given for the design process to develop. In the best scenario, the accepted level of change orders due to design errors is up to 5% of the project cost.
  1. Design Omissions:  In fast track construction, foundation construction drawings are completed prior to the architectural design being complete. Therefore, the early phase drawings may omit allowances for yet-to-be-designed components.
  1. Construction Coordination Issues:  Early phase shop drawing review will not have the luxury of the availability of other trade shop drawings. An example is elevator manufacturer shop drawings. Pit depth and shaft size is the concern. Rooftop HVAC Unit location, weight and duct sizes are even later in the process.
  1. Unforeseen Site or Construction Conditions:  If not enough time is given to fully investigate geotechnical conditions or existing construction, the surprise will be revealed during construction. This in return, negatively impacts schedule and cost.

Each of these issues are here to stay. Owners and contractor expectations will not change as competition in our industry tends to sell services as faster and better.

How Can Allegheny Design Services Help You?

Our recommendation, which has met with success, is to be proactive in the design process. Consistently keeping the team informed, even not as the team leader, has helped us avoid problems. We’ve found when we anticipate problems rather than just reacting to them, that is half of the solution.

To learn more about ADS, visit our website here.

Thanks for reading,



Written by David Simpson, P.E., SECB, MBA, President, Principal Engineer

dave-simpson2David Simpson’s experience includes over 30 years in structural design and project management for industrial, commercial, institutional and nuclear/chemical facilities utilizing steel, concrete, masonry and wood. His accomplishments include design and construction administration of health care facilities, hotels, schools, shopping centers, aircraft hangars, numerous retail facilities and several forensic engineering assignments. He has professional registrations in D.C., Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Simpson graduated from the West Virginia Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and an MBA from West Virginia University.