I recently sat in a meeting with an architect and among other things we talked about RFI’s (Request for Information.) He made a comment that stood out when he said it and it has periodically resurfaced in my thoughts ever since. We were discussing project protocols for a new Montecito residence and I had mentioned how I liked to send the RFI’s to the architect and copy the necessary consultants. His initial response was “I do not like RFI’s.” I am sure that I looked a little surprised because RFI’s are the living part of the contract documents that help remedy the document’s errors and omissions, and clarify intent.
I can understand the architect’s comment. RFI’s can make an architect look bad and put doubt in the owner’s mind about the architect’s competence. I have seen the RFI process used as a tool to win an owner’s favor in a competitive environment, when architects control the purse strings, have an ego to protect, or are financially vulnerable. However, a competent architect with a sound product will not be a victim to these tactics. Conversely, a contractor may risk its credibility by issuing fallacious, snide, and/or redundant RFI’s. These wayward RFI’s should be easily identified by an astute architect and called to the team’s attention. The risk of appearing disingenuous in front of the ownership should help keep the integrity of the RFI process intact. There is an interesting article that elaborates on the architect’s point of view by the American Institute of Architects entitled “Shootout at the RFI Corral.” Though this article has some good information, some of its points need to be lassoed and pulled back to reality. Perhaps I can return fire on this article in a future blog post.
From my point of view, however, the RFI is probably the most important process in project administration. The RFI allows one to track, sort, chronicle and query every decision and thought in a project that is not accurately or clearly represented in the contract documents and allows the decisions to be efficiently distributed to everyone involved. In a contentious and/or poorly designed project, a substantial amount of RFI’s may need to be generated. On our Chapala One project in downtown Santa Barbara, we issued over 900 RFI’s. More typically, in my experience, I would expect around 100 RFI’s for a $2,000,000 project. The Chapala One project was not typical, and extreme in every sense. Not only does the RFI process help clarify and correct errors and omissions, it also is the impetus for other contract modifications. The most notable modification is the change order for cost and time. If there are problems with the contract documents, a question can be asked and remedy can be provided. If the solution alters the value of the contracted scope of work, the change order process can start using the RFI response as its reason.
I chose to give this architect the benefit of the doubt. We have a good working relationship and he has a good reputation. I have started reviewing the drawings and developing a list of questions, being careful that the answers are not located somewhere else in the drawings. I believe that these RFI questions should be well received because they will only help improve their document package. We will see… there is a lot of construction ahead.
Scott A Miners, LEED AP
Melchiori Construction Company