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The Perils of Substitutions When value engineering goes wrong, architects are usually – but unfairly – blamed b y J i m A t k i n s , F AIA , a n d G r a n t A . S i mp s o n , F AIA

This is the first of a two-part series on the potential risks to architects when substitutions ordered by other members of the project team result in failure. The information is intended for general purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The authors recommend that readers consult with legal counsel to determine how laws apply to specific situations.

Substitutions of products and systems different from the architect’s original design are an ongoing reality in the construction industry today. In fact, it is rare when alternate products and building systems are not proposed by the owner, the contractor, or other parties. These substitutions, which can be new and untested, sometimes do not perform as the original specification intended or as the owner expects. Unfortunately, the result often leads to discontent, accusations, and a search for the guilty. The primary accused is usually the architect, who did not choose the product, did not originally specify it, and did not intend for it to be included in the project scope. This article will address the great imbalance of risk and reward associated with value engineering (VE) and substitutions. These changes are typically downplayed in the delivery process yet they carry potential for immense risk and damages for the architect when they go wrong. By definition all VE changes are substitutions because they are not originally specified by the architect.

Why Substitute? Substitutions are popular for several reasons beyond the idealistic expectation of higher quality or better performance for a lower cost. Contractors are most often the prime originators of substitutions, sometimes to reduce the cost of the work without having to return all of the associated money, a way of deferring cost risk. For owners, substitutions also can mean a reduction in the cost of the work, resulting in money returned to their pockets. While substitutions often appear benign and insignificant on the surface, the lower-cost


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Texas Architect May/June 2010: Health  
Texas Architect May/June 2010: Health  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...