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How to run your own projects

The pros and cons of an architect acting as his/her own construction manager are explained by one man who is doing it

Architects who act as their own construction managers, employing specialist contractors directly and cutting out the main contractor, can effect considerable cost savings and improvements in quality. This has been the experience of Selcuk Avci since he reactivated the practice he runs with his wife, the theatre set and costume designer Sanja Jurca, on leaving ecd as design director in April last year.

'The architect becomes the sole trusted person - the old master-builder,' Avci said, describing a process with which he became involved almost by accident. The practice currently is doing fairly small-scale work - new houses, house conversions and restaurants - and on one project Avci found that the tenders were way over budget. He discovered that the contractor was adding about 50 per cent to the total cost of the subcontractors' work. So almost by default, and at the client's request, Avci cut out the contractor and acted as construction manager, letting individual contracts directly between the client and the specialist contractors. Subsequently he found himself taking this role on other projects as well.

In some ways it suits him very well. 'I don't like the barrier between the contractor and the architect,' he says. 'I like the contractor to tell me if it is sensible to put that screw there.' He feels much more in sympathy with the specialist contractor than with a typical main contractor, who often can block this essential communication. But, Avci warns, 'You have to choose the tradesmen well.'

The client feels much more involved with this approach. Typically, Avci divides the work into a number of packages and lets each one separately, in consultation with his client. This approach makes clients much more aware of the cost implications of any changes; the downside is that it is also easier for the client to change his mind at the last minute. When things go wrong, Avci does find construction management a headache. Small contractors can suddenly go missing, and stop answering their mobile phones. And it can be necessary to be tough. On the Galinheiro restaurant in Wembley, North London, the original door did not fit. 'I had to have the door remade,' said Avci. 'It was up to me to tell the guy that unless he did it he would never get another job.' In this case the threat worked, and the contractor changed the door immediately. But on another contract in Primrose Hill the joiner/ carpenter disappeared and left many things unfinished.

Not only does Avci not enjoy playing the heavy, he also finds it takes him away from what he most enjoys - designing. Almost in spite of himself the number of projects is growing: the latest is a restaurant and housing project in Islington's Upper Street called Troy and, with more on the horizon, he has set up a separate company within Avci + Jurca called Space 3 to handle construction management. He hopes eventually to have an architect within his practice dedicated to actually running the projects, giving him more time for design.

In that case he would enjoy fully the benefits of construction management - the greater control and the feedback from the people making the work. But the quality of the client is crucial too: 'It only works on a project where the client is self-aware and design-conscious,' he says. And it can also be nerve-racking for the client because there isn't a single lump-sum quote - just a budget - and there are no penalties for delays. But the benefits usually outweigh the disadvantages.

Another advantage Avci sees is that it is possible with construction management to start construction without having completed the design. 'It is mad but it is a fact - because as the architect you have a broad picture of what you want to do and can fix certain aspects of the design before others, such as demolitions, foundations, drains, main walls, and get these things started off and verbally instruct most of it.' This is of course the reason why developers fell in love with construction management in the 1980s, as it shortened the development time/borrowing period and brought forward the moment at which the building could be occupied.

Having almost drifted into construction management, Avci has felt forced to make things up as he goes along, with little guidance available. 'It would be interesting if this process could be formalised more,' he said. 'There is no guidance that exists for the small works market.' Failing this, he has drawn up his own list of do's and don'ts.

DO

get a client who understands design and will support your aims when the going gets tough

get a realistic budget and use that as a control document

make a work programme before you start and get the client and foreman's agreement to it

have one central/key tradesman to act as foreman/site enforcer who can act as your day-to-day contact

try to get all your specialist trade drawings ready before the relevant trades come on to site

get a price/quote for everything if you have time, otherwise negotiate the day rate well and ensure the foreman keeps pushing for progress

make very clear the lines of responsibility for ordering and delivery of goods to site. Ensure that the foreman has the ability to do this

get specialists to take full responsibility for their work, including making good and cleaning up afterwards

be careful with follow-on trades who may damage the work of others. They won't come back for free if the work was not protected

get things in writing even if you are dealing with lone tradesmen. If they don't write, you write and confirm.

DON'T

break up the trades too much - try to lump as much responsibility on to one or two key people in the project such as a carpenter or joiner

use individual one-man-band plumbers or electricians who may not have the back-up you need at crucial times

get into the role of ordering or buying for the trades, because you will always forget something which will delay them. Get the trade foreman to do it

innovate - if you have not done it before, don't do it under construction management. Minimise the variables. Once you are on top of cm, then you can innovate with details, etc

upset your friendly main contractors whom you will need for the lump- sum traditional contracts under which most of your other work may need to be done. They may feel upset that you are taking over their roles

start with a project that is too far away - a stone's throw is best for the first one.

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