Working with General Contractors: Why Architects and Contractors Need Each Other

General contractors and architects do not always see eye to eye. The two professions have different perspectives, thought processes, and expectations when it comes to commercial building projects. Whether the contractor and architect disagree about the design process or about how to manage a construction project, the differences in perspective can interfere with the overall success.

However, when contractors and architects understand how each benefits from the other’s work, these two groups of professionals gain insights into each other’s perspective as well as an appreciation for why they need one another to thrive.

Why Architects Need General Contractors

architects-and-contractorsWhile it is the architect who conceives of the design vision and creates an architectural plan to meet a client’s needs, it is the general contractor who brings that vision to life. Contractors pull from their knowledge of construction science and their wealth of experience on the jobsite to make important build decisions. They coordinate all the materials, labor, equipment and services necessary to build a sound and functional structure. Included among their responsibilities are the procurement of building permits, engagement of specialized subcontractors, management of onsite personnel, and administration of budgets.

Beyond general project management, one of the primary roles of the general contractor is to ensure the practicality and feasibility of building features. Just as the architect is more experienced in design, the general contractor knows what is and isn’t possible when it comes to construction and can identify design features that are not in the best interest of a building project. Architects, in their enthusiasm about the boundless possibilities of design, may at times be overly ambitious or push the limits of ingenuity. The actual construction of these well-intended designs is not always practical in terms of schedule or budget, and sometimes simply isn’t feasible. In such instances, a design change may be called for. An effective general contractor will not only identify when changing a design feature is the best option, but will also communicate the need clearly and effectively with the architect so that everyone on the project team recognizes that the compromise is in the best interest of the client.

Why General Contractors Need Architects


Most general contractors do not have the breadth or depth of design knowledge that an architect has. Many contractors specialize in a certain type of work using a limited range of techniques and materials and, therefore, are limited in their design abilities. Whereas, architects are often well-versed in the latest design concepts, construction materials and methods. This expertise enables architects to envision a broad range of possibilities for a space, allowing them to design a building to its full potential and to solve complex design problems more thoroughly and efficiently.

As mentioned, one of the biggest questions that can arise between general contractors and architects is how the architect’s design vision translates into construction. The contractor may disagree with certain design elements without understanding that they have been specified by the client. In these instances, an effective architect can explain the client’s reasoning behind certain design features and communicate the design vision so that the contractor can follow through per the specifications.

Other times, a contractor may be mid-construction when it becomes clear that a design simply isn’t feasible to build—either due to problems inherent in the design or issues that have arisen spontaneously on the jobsite. Either way, construction can only move forward once a new design is in place. When compromise is necessary, an effective architect can respond to change orders and adjust accordingly so that the project can move forward smoothly.

Architects and Contractors Understanding One Another


In the end, architects cannot see their project ideas, designs and visions fully realized without contractor management. Likewise, contractors need architects to create structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing designs before they can get to work bringing these designs to life.

By understanding one another’s roles, maintaining effective communication, and respecting each other’s professional perspectives, architects will make smarter design decisions and contractors will build those designs more successfully. This is a win-win for the architect, the general contractor and, not least, for the client.

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Looking for more insider tips on how to best work with general contractors? Check out our FREE downloadable guide, “Field Notes for Architects: A Contractor’s Guide to Construction.” Inside you’ll find everything you need regarding insider topics, budgetary tips, communication protocols and much more.


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