I n s i g h t :
l i a b i l i t y
RFI Shootout B y G r a n t A . Si m p s o n , F A I A , a n d J i m A t k i n s , F A I A
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. – Wyatt Earp
The architect’s documents in this part of the world have always been inherently conceptual. Additional information has typically been required by the contractor from the architect during the construction phase. Up until the 1970s this information was transferred informally during face-to-face meetings or by telephone. Back then, most construction contracts were “lump sum” and the concept of the contractor delivering a “complete” building was alive and well. No documentation of the discussions were needed or prepared. The proliferation of lawyers and claims in the 1950s and 1960s, coincidental with the invention of professional liability insurance, gave rise to the need for increased documentation. The era of asking questions and giving answers
5 / 6
2 0 0 8
without documentation had come to an end. The Request for Information (RFI) was born. A Request for Information is most frequently and legitimately used by contractors to ask architects questions about the intent of the construction documents, or to point out perceived omissions, or conflicts in the documents. It began as a written document, now digital, and it is tracked through software management programs capable of producing detailed reports on the RFI status. Because the contractor is solely responsible for bidding the work responsibly and for determining how the work will be divided among the trades, the contractor must coordinate the scope allocation for pricing and execution of the work of the various subcontractors to assure there is no gap in scope between the trades and that the work as it is constructed is coordinated. These are major elements of the Contractor’s Work Plan.
As with any complex human endeavor there are likely to be questions about how the work will be coordinated and sequenced. These subcontractor questions, once fielded almost entirely by the construction manager or general contractor, are now routinely passed through for the architect and engineers to answer.
Lethal Weapons The need for effective communication notwithstanding, RFIs can be very high risk documents because they are often used for the less legitimate purpose of documenting or at least creating the illusion of negligence by the design professionals. They are almost always presented with a demand that the answer is needed as soon as possible; implying that any time beyond an immediate answer will delay the project. If AIA document A201, Article 3.2.1 is followed wherein it requires the contractor to review the contract documents in advance to discover any
t e x a s
a r c h i t e c t