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Can an Architect be a Contractor?

Architects are the ones who plan out buildings. Contractors are the ones who make those plans into reality. The question now is if an architect can be the one to turn drawings into buildings.

Yes, it’s not uncommon for licensed architects to become licensed contractors, given their construction background. In case you’re wondering how they’re able to balance these two professions, contractors don’t necessarily have to build everything in a project. Clients have the choice to choose a specific contractor for certain parts of a building (Ex. Structural, Interior-Finishes, HVAC, etc.)

Read on as will be going into the different details about each profession and how they affect a project’s construction.


What does an architect learn in architecture school?

An architecture school’s curriculum covers everything related to a building ranging from the planning to completion and everything in-between.

These are the main topics covered in architecture school. Instead of the usual description of these subjects, we’ll instead be highlighting how each of them is relevant for an architect who wants to be a contractor.

TopicWhat is covered in architecture school?
ConstructionThe most helpful topic in this list, architecture schools often teach about materials, frameworks, foundations, and pretty much every part of a building. Note that they don’t go in-depth into the process of how these things are built.
StructuralsA basic overview of how to plan a building can be made to stand up and simple calculations. Civil Engineers are the ones who do the actual computations for structural systems.
ElectricalFor planning and designing the electrical system of a building on a fundamental level.
PlumbingFor planning and designing the plumbing system of a building on a fundamental level.
AcousticsCovers the needed interventions to control sound in an environment. Valid for contractors as this class tackles how materials interact with sound.
DesignCome up with creative and functional designs for buildings. It can be helpful for contractors in understanding where the architect is coming from.
CAD / BIMCovers how to use software to create plans and models. Essential for understanding plans, which is needed for estimating logistics.
DraftingNot that relevant for a contractor.
PresentationTeaches how to explain concepts and designs to clients.  Important for contractors when justifying their prices and schedules to the client.

Due to the wide range of topics covered by architecture schools, most architects only briefly understand each project aspect. However, this is not to say that architects cannot learn how things are installed, which is essential for contractors to know if they operate efficiently. They have the building built as soon as cheaply and efficiently as possible.


What does a contractor do?

Contractors are the ones who are in charge of getting the building built. They are the ones who bring the plans into reality. They have a lot of responsibilities during the construction phase of a project, such as the following:

  1. Contractors need to have a network of suppliers, ranging from nails to bulldozers,  who can give them competitive prices to win bids for projects.
  1. Handle the logistics required of a building, mainly transportation, handling or storage, and working with materials(including installation, transportation in-site, and creating them from scratch). In short, contractors will be overseeing the workflow of the project.
  1. Be capable of working with multiple parties such as government officials, accountants, architects, clients, and agencies. This is essential because contractors always work within a schedule; common causes of delays in projects are disagreements or inefficiencies with other parties( Ex. Missing paperwork, lack of liquid funding, change in plans).

These are the primary responsibilities of a contractor during a project. The main skill needed from a contractor is the ability to manage things and manage them well.


How do contractors work?

This might sound like a silly topic to cover, but it’s essential to understand what sets contractors’ work apart from others.

  1. Contractors work on schedule.

Contractors try to complete a project as quickly as possible without compromising the quality of the building. Any additional expenses for the project over the contractor’s quoted price are shoulder by them, which incentives contractors to ensure that the building’s construction goes smoothly.

Schedules are determined mainly by the productivity of the workers and their availability. Productivity is measured by the workers’ output and the time it takes them to do the task. This is where an in-depth knowledge of how things are built comes into play when making estimations while creating projects’ schedules.

  1. Contractors work efficiently

We repeatedly mention the word efficiently in this article for a reason. From the bidding process to the project’s completion, a contractor’s ability to manage things well will keep them in the business. It’s all about creating the same amount of value(building) with fewer resources(expenses and time).

  1. Contractors work for quality.

Contractors are still held liable after the building is built. The ranges of liability depend from contract to contract. Yet, generally, if a building fails within ten years due to incorrect construction or low-quality materials, the contractor will have to cover the reparations costs as well as legal fees.

With that said, contractors need to make sure that the building’s quality is not compromised while working as efficiently as possible, which is much more complicated than it sounds considering all the factors that can go wrong (Ex. Bad weather, Human error, etc.)


How can an architect become a contractor?

Since architecture is a field related to construction, the bat, architects are eligible to become contractors if they choose to do so. They will need to study or take extra courses to specialize and learn more about contractor work. The essential one primarily knows how things are built and installed (Ex. How How construction works should make a concrete slab, how ties for foundation columns should be established, etc.).

Generally, there are federations or governing bodies that establish the standards for the contracting business. Although not required, architects who want to become contractors should get licensed and recognized by these groups.

The one key aspect of being an independent contractor that architects need to prepare for is the amount of capital and funding you’ll need. A loan from a bank might help but in general contracting work is highly resource-heavy. You’ll have to shell out your own money if you want your projects to stay on a good schedule.

The architect should also handle the responsibilities mentioned earlier in this article if they want a successful contracting career.


What makes an architect contractor different from the rest?

If there’s one guaranteed benefit of getting an architect-contractor is that they have an education in design. They have the necessary background in knowing how to pick suitable finishes for you, and they also have the skills to redesign it themselves.

As mentioned earlier, this is why it’s common to see architects practicing both, making them a package deal for clients for smaller-scale projects. Instead of going through the bidding process, hiring an architect-contractor allows the project to move much faster.

Another point to mention is that architects are experts at understanding plans and what they entail, which is a great skill to have as a contractor. Most cost estimations are derived from plans and specifications, used to determine how many units are needed for a specific item.

There will be some downsides, considering that they do not specialize or contract the architect’s primary profession. This should not pose a problem for smaller projects but will be detrimental for bigger ones since the logistics for those types of projects are much more demanding.


Specialized Contractors

With all this talk about logistics, efficiency, schedules, and whatnot. It might still seem that architects can’t practice both professions at the same time while producing quality work. That is true; it will be much more difficult for architects to be general contractors. However, architects can also opt to be specialized contractors if they still want to practice this work line.

A specialized contractor, also called a sub-contractor, focuses on building only a specific part of a building. This can range from only doing roofs, interior finishes, foundations etc. This type of contract is a lot easier to manage and execute than general contracting because of the reduced amount of logistics needed.

It’s not uncommon in the industry to have multiple contractors working on the same project. If you think about it, it would be much more efficient and better for the project if contractors handle parts of the buildings they specialize in. These contractors often only work with the general contractor and not with the client directly.


Can a person be the architect and the contractor for a project?

Yes, there are no provisions that prohibit an architect from also being the contractor for a project. As long as the client approves, then there shouldn’t be a problem. This will come with its pros and cons.

The main benefit is that you’ll work with fewer people, which is excellent if you get along with them already. The architect will also be less likely to make mistakes while having the building constructed because they’re the ones who came up with the plans in the first place.

However, the main con is that it doesn’t get to give you a second opinion on things. It’s not uncommon for contractors to suggest some parts of the plan they find impractical or too expensive, given the construction costs.

In general, it’s only recommended to get an architect who will also work as a contractor if you trust their experience and expertise.


What other professions can become a contractor?

Civil engineers are also capable of becoming contractors. They’re trained to know how materials interact with forces and how to make sure buildings can stand upright, which is essential for a contractor to understand, considering that structural failure is the worst thing that can happen to a building.

Interior designers can also be specialized contractors for interior spaces. It’s not uncommon for significant buildings such as hotels, malls, and other massive leisure spaces to hire contractors with this type of specialization.

Suppliers can also technically be contractors. This often happens when installing specialized parts of the building, such as elevators, HVAC, and modular homes.


Construction Manager vs. Contractors: What’s the difference?

The main difference between a construction manager and a contractor is their relationship with other clients. Usually, contractors are only hired through bids, while a construction manager is usually personally hired by the client to assist them throughout the project from start to finish.

Contractors work with a plan that’s already finished and approved and works towards executing that vision while construction managers are there to help clients make decisions. In contrast, the plan is being created (For example, adding a bathroom at a particular part of a building will cost more since it’s farther from your main pipe).

Generally, construction managers are more well-suited for planning more extensive developments and buildings.


How to best work with a contractor

As you might have guessed by now, managing the construction of a building is no easy work. To make things easier for everyone, we want to share some tips to help you when working with a contractor.

  1. Finalize everything beforehand

One of the most significant delays for a project is a sudden change in the building’s plans. Changing the plans will completely throw off the contractor’s estimations, schedule, logistics tracking, etc. It will also be much more expensive to have additional spaces built.

  1. Prepare the necessary documents.

This includes making sure that you have the necessary documentation, legal papers, contracts, etc., before having contractors bid for your project. Contractors aren’t allowed to build and will most likely refuse to work with you if you have important documents that are missing( title for the land,

  1. Set reasonable expectations

There will be a lot of things that can cause a project to get delayed. From bad weather conditions, faulty materials from suppliers, human errors, etc. It’s unreasonable to assume that everything’s going to go as planned. Be patient with the professionals you’re working with, and don’t try to force them to continue when conditions are not ideal.

  1. Check-in from time to time

Regularly visiting the construction site is a great thing to do. It allows you to see how things are going and talk with your contractor if you find something amiss. Seeing how things are being built is also very practical because it allows homeowners to learn many valuable things about their home( where the insulation is, how water gets to them, the wiring of their electrical system, etc.).

These four main points will help you make the most out of your working relationship with your contractor. Being a good client goes a long way for the success of any project.


Conclusion

Architects can also be good contractors, given that they take the extra effort to learn the specifics of the industry to get properly licensed and accredited. They can also opt to specialize in their practice of contracting by only working with certain parts of a project, which is a lot easier than managing the construction of an entire building.

Contractors are the ones who are mainly in charge of how the building will be constructed and everything else that it implies. The nature of contracting work requires them to manage logistics, employees, finances, and paperwork. They’re responsible for whatever happens during the building’s construction and for some time after.


Sources

https://study.com/how_to_become_a_construction_contractor.html

https://www.delphiconstruction.com/what-is-the-difference-between-general-contracting-and-construction-management/

https://esub.com/resources/subcontractor-vs-contractor-understanding-the-difference/

https://www.letsbuild.com/blog/contractor-role-duties

https://www.levelset.com/blog/general-contractor-definition/

https://work.chron.com/building-contractor-do-13061.html

Jordan Harris

From the earliest age I can remember, I was planning and building things, and there was no question that Architecture was the right career fit for me. With more than 20 years of experience in the industry, I am absolutely thrilled and privileged to share my knowledge and experience with everyone through this blog.

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