The Language of Construction

Construction Workers

There is a somewhat common language used on the American construction site that might be considered to some degree a dialect of sorts. And although it may be spoken with different accents depending on your geographic location within the country, the use of construction language is pretty much the same. It entails a shortened grammatical sentence structure, creative verb conjugation and double negatives with some occasional words borrowed figuratively from the maritime vocation. This language is not taught, but absorbed thru experiences and conversations either first hand or overheard at the construction site. Primarily used by the male worker, these gentlemen can be amazingly proper when removed from the construction setting.

But this isn’t the language of construction that we are referring to. The language that is the subject of this post is more technical in nature and is a matter of communication protocol established by the AIA family of design and construction agreements. It is a manner of communication between the Architect and Contractor to identify changes to the construction documents; drawings and specifications. The changes have to do with how the project is to be built and can affect or not affect the cost, schedule, or both. The effect on cost and schedule can be either upwards or downwards, shorter or longer.

The formal documents (forms) that used are:

  • ASI; Architects Supplemental Instruction
  • PR; Proposal Request
  • CCD; Construction Change Directive
  • CO; Change Order

Some other documents used that are less formal but common place are:

  • RFI; request for information
  • PC; proposed change (or PCO proposed change order)
  • CDN; construction deficiency notice

The ASI document is used by the Architect to inform the Contractor of a minor change to the work that does not impact cost or schedule. Architects use their best judgment that there is no impact to cost or schedule. The Contractor uses their best judgment as to whether they agree there is no impact and pass it along to their subcontractors. The subcontractors who are the ones that actually perform the work then weigh in on whether it impacts cost or schedule. To the Architect’s dismay, it seems that trades find a reason that they are impacted. What follows is a rational discussion of the merits of whether it is or not. The Architect advises and makes recommendations to the Owner who can then also weigh in on the matter.

An example of an ASI would be that the color of the walls need to be changed. The timing of the ASI is before the paint has been ordered and applied to the wall and the new paint selected is of equal cost as the previous color.

The PR document is used by the Architect to inform the Contractor of a change to the work that involves either cost, schedule or both. The Contractor passes it on to their subcontractors who respond with a price and/or number of construction days that reflects the change in scope to the project. it is the duty of the Architect to review the proposed cost/schedule changes and advise the Owner whether they are fair and properly reflect the change to the project. Discussions may ensue with the Contractor if there are differences of opinion.

The CCD document is used by the Architect to inform the Contractor of a change to the work that is urgent to the project and cannot wait on the usual process of pricing by the subcontractors. In this case, the method of determining cost are agreed upon (e.g. actual cost of materials and labor with mark-up) and the Contractor proceeds immediately with the work.

In all the above situations, the Architects communicates with the Owner on the impending issuing of the ASI, PR or CCD. When changes to cost and/or schedule are agreed upon, the Architect issues a CO which is signed by the Architect, Owner and Contractor making it an official change to the construction documents.

The RFI is issued by the Contractor to the Architect to request a clarification to the construction documents. The Architect is obligated to provide clarifications to the documents when requested. There are times when the clarification has no bearing on the scope of the project. But there are times when the Contractor may believe that there is an impact and will send a PC (or PCO) to the Architect.

I have found that the most dreaded document issued by the Architect is the CDN. This is a serious document to issue and it informs the Contractor that some portion of the work is not in accordance with the drawings or specifications and is therefore deficient. When deficient work is discovered, payment for that work can be withheld from the Contractor until such time the work is corrected and is brought into conformance with the construction documents. This document must be used judiciously and with good cause because when it is issued it gets the serious attention of a lot of people.

The ultimate attention-getting directive is when the Contractor is instructed to “stop work” on a portion of all of the project. Only the Owner has the authority to instruct the Contractor to stop the work but it is usually done in consultation with the Architect. I have seen this bring out the owners of construction companies that had not previously visited the construction site.

Road Sign at Construction Site

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