The superintendence of building operations is one of the most important, and at times one of the most perplexing duties which an architect is called upon to perform. Plans may have been prepared with the greatest of skill and elaboration, and details may have been worked out to a marvel of perfection; and yet by the want of attention given at the proper time, costly mistakes may be made and results attained which are a source of annoyance and expense to the owner, and often a lasting discredit to both architect and builder. It is only by constant watchfulness and by the exercise of a thorough knowledge of common practices and materials, that these errors can be avoided, and it is the duty of the architect, as superintendent, and a just and impartial referee between the owner and the builder, to acquire this knowledge and to exercise it freely and decisively.

The owner, who has secured the services of an architect, will naturally expect from him something more than the builder could have furnished. Superiority in matters of taste he will expect as a matter of course, and beyond this a superior knowledge of materials and construction; and an executive ability to handle men and direct the many forces which must be applied to obtain a certain and satisfactory result. The architect should possess then, as superintendent, a thorough knowledge of the materials at his disposal and should see clearly before him, in his mind's eye, the building which he proposes to erect. To do this, he must know how all the various elements of the building are to be assembled and moulded into a complete whole.

To a familiarity with details must be added such a quickness of perception and soundness of judgment, that it will be impossible for any bad work to escape his notice, and to this knowledge of the general principles of building, he must add an understanding of principles and possibilities far beyond that of the builder, so that he can foresee causes and effects and guard against any waste of effort or of time. In his position of referee, he must show such a familiarity with building matters that his judgment will be respected by both owner and builder; and he must have confidence that his opinions are correct, and having rendered a decision he must stick to it, for if he shows weakness or indecision it will not take long for the workmen to discover it, and he will be discredited and very likely will be imposed upon. It will not do for the architect to trust too much to the generosity of the owner, or to the liberal intentions of the builder; for it is likely to be the case that both are at the same time trusting in the ability of the architect and the clearness of his foresight.

Relations With The Owner And Contractor

It is important to have as early as possible a clear understanding of what is to be expected by the owner, and to have him understand as clearly what is due to him from the architect. The owner, in his implicit confidence and trust in the foresight of the architect, is likely to visit upon him the blame for failures of particular construction, which can only be avoided by the care of superior workmen under the constant watchfulness of the builder or an ever alert clerk-of-the-works; and it is well for the architect to have it understood at the beginning that he cannot always be present and that he cannot in ordinary practice, guarantee perfection of plan or execution, but can agree to exercise reasonable care and observation.

With the contractor it should be clearly understood at the beginning that the work is to be done strictly in accordance with the drawings and specifications, that the materials are to be as called for, the workmen to be competent, and the builder himself interested and capable. If any material appears upon the site which is unfit, it should be rejected at once and finally, for any laxity or indecision upon this point at the start will be sure to be taken advantage of, and will be a precedent for future indifference. Any work not carefully done, or in accordance with drawings must be at once taken down, in the presence of the architect if possible, and any mistakes discovered should be noted before they are forgotten or crowded aside by other details.

Familiarity With Site

Of prime importance to the architect in starting a new building is a familiarity with the site and with local conditions and customs, and it will be of advantage to him to make the greatest possible use of the time usually spent in preliminary visits to the locality, to observe what is being, or has been done in the vicinity. The more familiar the architect is with local customs or possibilities, the more efficient will his supervision of that particular building become, that he may reject practices which are bad and profit by those which are good. There are very few buildings erected from which the young architect cannot learn something, and it is an unprogressive builder who has not some particular method which will be new to the superintendent.


Another essential, and one of greatest importance, is that the superintendent should have a perfect understanding of the drawings and specifications. If they have been prepared by the architect who is to superintend the work, an understanding is assured, but even in this case it will be necessary to consult the plans often, lest something be overlooked or confused with some other building which the architect may have in mind. It will also be of service in enabling him to look ahead, and to prevent many unintentional deviations which may cause delay or damage to the construction if once started upon, through carelessness or unfamiliarity on the part of the builder, or of the foreman upon whom will devolve many of the duties and responsibilities of modern building operations.

With the foreman an understanding should be had at once that he is to work with the architect, and not against him. It is poor policy for the architect to ignore suggestions made by the foreman, for if he is a thorough mechanic of ability and foresight, as the foreman of a building of any importance should be, he will often be in a position to save the owner from needless expense, and the architect from many of the vexatious conditions and minor complications which often arise in ordinary building transactions. The foreman, as well as the master builder himself, should receive personal instruction from the architect, and should be particularly instructed to look the drawings over carefully, and to report to the architect any discrepancies in figuring, or any apparent difficulties of execution which they may discover, as well as any points not clearly shown or fully understood.