This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
Before drawing plans an architect should inspect the proposed site, and determine the nature of the soil. If the building is to be on old foundations, he should observe these foundations, and determine their strength. If im-portant he should ascertain the character of the subsoil. He should also note any adjoining buildings, and the effect they may have upon the site in question. He should inquire of the owner about any easements, or rights in the owner's land, which other persons may have, such as rights of way, or what in this country are not common, rights of light and air, and about any party-wall agreement affecting the premises.
The plans when completed should (1) conform with the instructions given the architect, (2) comply with all laws which may be applicable, (3) not infringe the right of any third person, (4) be in accordance with all rules of the architect's science and art. It must be remembered that the employer's mere approval will not be an excuse for faults of which the employer is not a competent judge.
In regard to the agreement between the architect and his employer as to compensation, and as to powers which the architect is to exercise as the owner's agent, it is best to have a clear agreement in all respects. While a contract made by word of mouth is (aside from the statute of frauds or other provisions of law) as valid as a contract in writing, the latter has the advantage of precision, affording a certain means of showing what the agreement was. In all transactions, therefore, in which there is any possibility of dispute, it is desirable to have communications by letter rather than by word of mouth. An architect should make a practice of having business communications in writing, keeping letter press or carbon copies of all letters sent out, with some record of mailing, and should preserve all letters addressed to him bearing on his business.
If the architect is to act as the agent of the owner in making the building contract, it is especially necessary to have his exact powers in the way of accepting or rejecting offers made clear. In advertising for bids, the right -should be reserved to reject any or all offers.
If the architect has power to make the building contract in behalf of his employer, he should use great caution not only in choosing a contractor but also in his dealing with the successful and the unsuccessful bidders to avoid legal complications. Having first made it clear, by reserving the right to reject any or all offers, that he is merely asking for offers, and not himself making an offer to be accepted by the lowest bidder, it may be well to make his acceptance of the chosen offer conditional in some way according to the circumstances. The acceptance may, for instance, be upon condition that a satisfactory contract be executed within a certain time, and provision may also be made for a bond with sureties, to be furnished by the contractor for the fulfilment of the contract.
Where the architect is entrusted with the drawing of the contract, he may find, in ordinary cases, that the "Uniform Contract" is sufficient. In some cases, he may wish to modify this in many ways as his experience dictates. It is well for an architect to make notes on forms passing under his notice and on his experience with the various clauses of building contracts. The libraries will furnish books containing model agreements which will be found suggestive. The drawing of contracts for special cases is essentially a matter calling for judgment and experience. It is therefore impossible to give any directions here beyond those which are suggested in various parts of the article. In general, it is important in drawing a contract to consider carefully whether the words are so clear as to admit of only one interpretation. Clearness is best secured by making one carefully drawn statement of a point rather than by repetition in various forms of statement. It is to be considered whether general or specific words will best serve a purpose. By providing that a contractor shall furnish safe appliances the owner's interests will generally be better served than by specifying the kind of appliances to be used. If the kind of appliance were specified, then the risk of its safety would be transferred to the owner. On the other hand where the object is to prescribe a certain material, that material should be so specifically described that no other will come within the description.
Attention may be called to the fact that a building could be built, and a contract drawn, on a very different plan from that of the "Uniform Contract". For instance, instead of a contractor in the ordinary way, a person could be employed to purchase supplies and hire labor as the agent of the owner, receiving a salary or a lump sum for the work, and always subject to the owner's orders in every respect. Or the details of the "Uniform Contract" may be much altered; for instance, the certificate of the architect may be placed on a very different footing, or a provision may require monthly instalments for extras. Many other possible changes will suggest themselves to the student.
In drawing a contract one should be careful to specify just what in the way of papers, plans and drawings, goes to make up the contract, and to identify and refer accurately to such papers. The provisions for interim payments should be so arranged as to assure the owner of having always a sufficient margin between the amount paid to the contractor and the value of materials and labor furnished, as a protection in case of difficulties which may result in an unexpected increase of expense in completing the work. Above all, do not blindly use printed forms, without reading and considering all printed portions, and filling in all necessary blanks.
During the progress of the work it is necessary for the contractor's protection that the premises should be insured. Otherwise, as the contract is clearly an entire contract, if the work should be destroyed, he would be unable to recover compensation for the portion damaged. The "Uniform Contract" provides for insurance by the owner in the names of owner and contractor.
During the progress of the work, care must be taken in making changes in the contract to safeguard the interests of the parties, and to leave the contract in ascertainable and proper shape. If the contractor is excused from a portion of the work, it should be clearly understood that an allowance is to be made therefor. If the allowance can be fixed at the time, a source of possible future dispute will be avoided. Changes in the contract should be made in writing, if not in the form of a contract, at least in letters expressing the agreement of both parties. The common saying that "Silence gives consent", if relied upon, will he productive of difficulties.
An architect should have a regular system of bookkeeping which will enable him at any time to show how much labor of his own and of his office force has gone into any matter. Difficulties over fees cannot be foreseen, and the office system should provide for such contingencies by furnishing all the material needed for recovery on a, quantum meruit if necessary.