Commission of Inquiry into the Quality of
Condominium Construction in British Columbia
Submitted to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council
Government of British Columbia
by Dave Barrett, Commissioner
June 1998

Chapter Two: The Framework of
Residential Construction

V. The Role of the Architect

BC architects, who have been responsible for the design and construction review of a portion of the multi-family residential buildings, are members of the provincially-mandated, self-regulating, Architectural Institute of BC (AIBC), established under the Architects Act. (It should be noted that Section 2.6 of the building code details the requirements for a coordinating registered professional to coordinate design work, undertake field reviews and deliver Letters of Assurance. The coordinating registered professional may be an architect or an engineer. Therefore, the discussion related to the activities of a coordinating registered professional, extends to engineers). As members of AIBC, architects are bound to abide by a set of by-laws; a code of ethics and professional conduct; a tariff of fees; a series of Letters of Assurance: and rules regarding architectural competitions. These are intended to safeguard their oath to "uphold the professional aims, and the art, and the science, of architecture and thereby improve the environment."

As explained above, it is unclear, because of the definitions regarding small buildings in the Code, whether the majority of wood-frame condominium structures involved design professionals to the degree considered practical. However, the Architect's Act is very clear concerning the need for design professionals on residential buildings, containing five or more units.

When architects are involved, developers seek their assistance in the design and development of land. This relationship sets in motion the process for designing and constructing a building. This will eventually involve other professionals and may last for more than two years, depending upon the size of the project. The services provided by the architect are in three general phases:

Phase 1 -- The Development Permit Phase (Design Phase) -- this is characterized by analyzing relevant zoning issues and conducting design studies, which lead to a set of development permit (DP) drawings, approved by the developer. These are submitted to the city planning department for review and approval.

Phase 2 -- The Building Permit Phase (Construction Documents Phase) -- This is the main production work in the office. This involves adding more technical information to the approved DP drawings, and resolving them for building code, fire safety, and health issues. These BP drawings are then submitted to the city building department, where they are reviewed for compliance with the Building Code or, as in the case of the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Building By-law.

Phase 3 -- The Construction Phase (Contract Administration and Field Review Phase) -- With the approved building permit set, the architect gives the developer the final set of plans, which are, in turn, given to the general contractor or builder to begin construction. The architect may assist the developer in tendering and bidding the contract but primarily, the role consists of administering the contract and providing field review services, as required by the Letters of Assurances.

For all Part 3 buildings of the BCBC, there is a requirement for a registered professional to submit Letters of Assurance confirming that the design components of the plans and supporting documents prepared by the registered professional, substantially comply with the BCBC. After construction, but prior to requesting a final inspection, the registered professional submits a "Letter of Assurance C", confirming that she/he has fulfilled the obligations for field reviews and that those components, as built, substantially comply with the design drawings submitted to the municipality.

The Letters of Assurance require that the registered professional be responsible for design and field review of exterior finishes, roofing, wall cladding systems, thermal insulation systems, including condensation control and cavity ventilation, and exterior glazing.

In his presentation before the Commission, John Davidson, representing the Architectural Institute of BC, stated:

"We are perplexed as problem-solvers, by the multiple apparent causes and the variety of combinations of those causes from building to building. We are frustrated that after more than three years of effort, we do not have a complete and satisfactory answer to the cause, nor full agreement on the best repair strategy."

The Commission is disturbed if the professionals charged with the responsibility for design and appropriate implementation of the technology, have incomplete solutions and, in the face of this lack of knowledge, did not do everything in their power to stop the building of faulty structures. However, the Commission understands that the competition within the profession, the Institute's passive powers, and the ultimate decision regarding what is included and excluded in the construction of a building, rests with the developer. The AIBC also offered disturbing news in its presentation, that the system is not working because of pressures, constraints, and a nervousness among architects about losing contracts because of pressure from major developers to approve their buildings.

The knowledge surrounding proper construction has been well understood by some professionals. In fact, not all multi-family residential construction has problems, and appropriate technology has been included in some residential buildings. Certainly, most commercial buildings in British Columbia are built with appropriate technology.

Submissions by individual architects and other professionals also discussed reasons for the current crisis.

"I am appearing before this Commission because I believe architects must bear some responsibility for these leaking buildings, and it is our duty to the public first to disclose that, and then to address it. We need to adjust our standards of practice in this particular area of the market, we need to put and end to such breaches of duty, we need to re-examine the state of our art, if we are to provide the public with the protection they are entitled to expect from architects."

Maura Gatensby, Architect

Many times, the Commission heard that the building envelope leakage problem is linked, in part, to "faulty design". This means insufficient attention to details, both in terms of the amount of information on the drawings, and in terms of the time spent in on-site review of the assembly. There are presently no guidelines specifying the amount of detail, other than the minimum defined by municipal departments. The degree of information varies from architect to architect. For example, in the case of a balcony, one architect may show just one detail, whereas another may show several details about how various components come together.

The lack of attention to detail can create on-site confrontations, in which the architect blames the contractor for not knowing how to properly construct balconies, and the contractor blames the architect for not showing enough specific detail on the drawing. Meanwhile, the developer is pressuring both parties to get the project completed as soon as possible, in order to get on the market.

From the submissions, it would appear that increased competition among architects for the same jobs, has led to a price war and, subsequently, a lowering of management and production standards. These, in turn, translate into poor detailing and specifications on the drawings, resulting in poor communication and confused workmanship on the job-site.

The details regarding the roles and responsibilities of architects differ from other private and public sector participants in the industry, but the symptom of lowering quality and performance standards to meet the demands of an industry increasingly drained of substance, are the same.

The AIBC needs to respond more aggressively to the leaky condo problem. It is appreciated that the Institute is attempting to address this crisis by establishing the Building Envelope Education Program and participating in the development of CMHC's Best Practices Guide. However, as a self-regulating body, there has been little effort, during the past several years, to take remedial action on the question of whether the architect's professionalism has been compromised. Architect's should be encouraged to rely on the support of their Institute when issues of this importance arise.

There are currently 1,350 architects in the province, with a relatively small number involved in multi-family residential design. A number of presenters raised concerns over the role the architect had played in the design and construction of their building. The Institute's regulatory and discipline role, however, is passive in that a formal complaint regarding the architect's activities must be filed with the Institute. A review is then undertaken.

The public is largely unaware of the role of the Institute, and there is no attempt on the Institute's part to deal with evidence of ineffective or negligent practices unless a formal complaint is filed. That is, an architect is under no obligation to advise the Institute when a settlement is made regarding quality of design work or professional performance. As a result, it is difficult for the Institute to identify, on a pro-active basis, problems such as design issues related to leaky condos.

  Recommendation #25: That the AIBC impress upon its members the need for fulfilling their long-standing obligation to the public through an active identification of the issues involved, and a full scale approach to improving Architect's standards of practice.

  Recommendation #26: That the requirement for appropriate professional services on residential buildings, as constituted in the Architect's Act, be enforced.

  Recommendation #27. That the AIBC increase its efforts to work with APEGBC and other industry representatives to develop a common understanding and an agreed to strategy for ensuring quality building envelope design and review of construction through the Homeowner Protection Office's Research and Education initiative.

Currently, forms CCAC 6 and 7 (standard forms of contract between the architect and the owner), are not required. Making them mandatory will formalize the architect's services to the developer and make it easier for the AIBC to enforce its code of professional conduct.

  Recommendation #28: That standard forms of contract become compulsory between the architect and developer in multi-residential design.

The architect currently visits the site, reviews the items on the Letters of Assurance, then leaves. A requirement that the general contractor provide a construction schedule, a complete sub-trade list, and submit a written, monthly progress report to the architect would allow the architect to time field visits more effectively. The architect must spend more time on site than is currently the case.

  Recommendation #29: General contractors or builders improve their communication with architects (or coordinating engineers) and the city inspectors, by informing each party as to the stage of construction.

Independent inspection companies offer experienced inspectors, who come on site during construction and inspect materials and installation procedures in their respective trades or products. Some offer third-party liability to the homeowner. An example of these inspection services are those offered in association with the Canadian Roofing Standards Association and the Roofing Contractor Association of BC.

  Recommendation #30: Architects (and coordinating engineers) should be encouraged to use third-party inspection services and manufacturers' inspection services to augment their field reviews.

The Commission understands that AIBC is reviewing mandatory third-party liability coverage for architects, as well, the proposed mandatory warranty program will determine performance standards in the industry, and as a result, the Commission is not making an explicit recommendation regarding liability coverage for Architects.

Ongoing research into the appropriate building science practice as well the testing of materials used in envelope construction (such as for windows, insulation, internal structure and external cladding), as well as education across a wide range of responsibilities, including design, is necessary. It is important that the architectural community contribute to the process that is needed to redress the problems in residential construction.

  Recommendation #31: That the Architects Act be amended to require, and the Homeowner Protection Act be structured to receive, as part of the funding for the proposed Education and Research function of the Homeowner Protection Office, an annual fee from each AIBC member of $1,000.


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Copyright © 1998: Government of the Province of British Columbia