Know Your Professionals

Know Your Professionals
 Me, and a team of architects on a site tour - Photo by Adrian Gittens

Me, and a team of architects on a site tour - Photo by Adrian Gittens

It seems that growth, development and expansion has been one of the major indicators of human progression for centuries. For some reason we find tremendous joy from taking whatever we have and multiplying it- expanding our borders- in every aspect of life. Inner development inevitably bursts out into our outer environment...and so we build, but not without help.

If you've finally gotten to that stage where you want to embark on a new project, who do you call? Below are a list of professionals whose services you should be acquainted with if you want to complete your project successfully.

DISCLAIMER:

This list is by no means exhaustive, neither do the descriptions encapsulate ALL aspects of the job-descriptions of the listed professionals. This post is meant to stimulate the reader  toward doing further research into finding suitable professionals for upcoming projects. I have focused on the few main professionals that one would have to consider if embarking on a residential project.

SURVEYORS:

LAND & HYDROGRAPHIC SURVEYORS

Your Land and Hydrophic Surveyor can provide you with information concerning your land's topographical and dimensional features and other relevant data. Such features include contour lines, water-courses, boundary lines, land elevation, Geographical coordinates etc. This is the professional you call when you are trying to establish what the base elements are within your parcel of land, before preparing for development.

Most projects require that the client obtain a Cadastral Map, at the very least, and also a Topographical Survey (especially if the land isn't flat). Cadastral Maps can be obtained through the Land and Surveys Division here in Trinidad, and they also link you to related professionals relative to your needs. 

VALUATION SURVEYORS (Property Appraisers)

Valuation Surveyors are experts in assessing the fair market value of a property for use by the client in a variety of scenarios. Some scenarios may include determining property value for resale, determining whether a property is a good investment, upgrading a property for insurance purposes, negotiations for fair compensation for properties, for rent and sale negotiations, and the list goes on. Valuations are also included in their list of expertise. Valuation Surveyors will come to your site, inspect your property and make computations based on accepted industry standards, delivering a report at the end. 

Valuations have renewed significance with recent property tax reforms locally, and some home owners choose to handle Valuations through companies like Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Ltd. (TTMF)

QUANTITY SURVEYORS (Construction Cost Consultants)

Quantity Surveyors disclose the costs linked to constructing a project by costing out the components defined in the design to a level that allows the client to have very clear expectations about the final construction budget. They can also perform indepth cost analyses that can predict life cycle expenditures and returns on the project, and also predict how construction costs may vary and evolve throughout the construction process. Project feasibility can be determined through their services, and they also assist during the construction process to keep the project on budget, especially if the scope of work changes. By working with your quantity surveyor, design choices can be re-evaluated to create solutions that are better in line with the project's financial goals, given shifting project parameters.

Information about all the surveying types mentioned above can be found here at the Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad and Tobago website, along with a list of their member surveyors in each category.

DESIGNERS

This is where things tend to get a bit tricky. There are many people with varying levels of design education and training and sometimes titles are misconstrued and roles misunderstood, but hopefully the following makes things clearer: 

ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNERS/ GRADUATE ARCHITECTS

This is a professional who has completed tertiary education in the field of Architecture but has not yet been registered with the Board of Architecture of Trinidad and Tobago. This individual should therefore be able to offer design expertise for your building project, including drawings, models, and other related services becoming of the role of an Architect. However, since registration is lacking, there may be limits for this professional in terms of the liability that they can accept for their designs, and also linked to their knowledge related to engaging Statutory and Regulatory bodies associated with the construction industry.

 

ARCHITECTS/ REGISTERED ARCHITECTS

A Registered Architect is a professional who has completed tertiary education in the field of Architecture and has gone on to be registered with the Board of Architecture of Trinidad and Tobago after completing a period of internship under other registered architects, and has written the Registration Exam. This professional can offer the same design expertise as the Architectural Designer above, along with knowledge of dealing with Statutory and Regulatory Bodies associated with the construction industry. This professional also has a higher professional responsibility for their design work and accepts greater personal liability for such. Registered Architects are also expected to maintain their status by engaging continued professional education to keep them abreast of the latest knowledge in the industry. Architects are also able to engage with contractors at contractual level, holding them responsible for completing the building project in keeping with the design and construction drawings; and also to engage with clients to ensure that contractors receive remuneration for works done in a timely and consistent manner, and that the project runs smoothly overall.

Please note that under the broader field of ARCHITECTURE, there are also architectural specialties, for example:

Landscape Architecture -

 Photo by Annie Spratt

Photo by Annie Spratt

These architects specialize in the design of both natural and built elements in the outdoor landscape. Their knowledge would also encompass understanding plant species and their growth patterns; and laying out sight lines, paths, and sculptural elements in the landscape in such a way that it complements other built elements within the scheme (for example, a landscape architect would plan a garden that properly accentuates the best features of your home) etc. 

Interior Architecture -

These are architects whose focus in on interior space. They are equipped to manage projects where there is extensive remodeling of the interior to include complex systems (eg. electrical, plumbing and structural works) etc. Some of their portfolio may overlap with other designers (like Interior Designers) but they are not to be confused with such.

Information about Architects locally can be found at the website of the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Architects (TTIA) here, and a list of Architects currently registered with the Board of Architecture of Trinidad and Tobago can be be found here.
 

INTERIOR DESIGNERS

 photo by Jason Briscoe

photo by Jason Briscoe

Interior Designers specialize in the design of interior spaces, inclusive of minor structural, mechanical and plumbing works, and through to finishes, furniture and accessory sourcing and purchase, and even final setup/ staging of the completed design. Interior Designers complete Tertiary Education linked to their field of study, and are often ratified by their own registration process. In the US, Interior design education has to be accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), and Interior Designer have to go through a 2 year period of internship (similar to architects) after which they write the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam. 

Locally, we do not have any equivalent to these, and you would find that many interior designers practicing locally were educated abroad and then returned home to practice. Interior Designers are also required to maintain their professional status by engaging continued professional education through bodies like the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Interior Designers Education Council (IDEC) and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA).

 

INTERIOR DECORATORS

Interior Decorators work with the furniture, soft furnishings of a space, accessories and other non-built elements of the interior to create cohesive interior environments. Like Interior Designers, they also source furniture and follow through to final setup /staging of the space. As the name suggests, their focus is on the decorative elements of the space, and should not involve structural, mechanical or electrical elements. Decorators may work along with other professionals if the job requires a wider range of expertise.

 

 

ENGINEERS

Civil Engineers

Civil Engineers tend to work on larger projects related to bridges, dams, water supply systems etc, but on smaller projects like homes, they can offer invaluable expertise with respect to overseeing surveying operations, and providing construction reference points and elevations, drainage plans, land grading schemes etc. especially on sloped or otherwise complex sites.

 

STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS

Structural engineers design, plan and oversee structural systems of buildings, inclusive of foundations, framing, etc. They usually work along with architects and other designs to bring complex designs to life and to ensure that the built structures perform well according to safety and quality codes, and also are consistent with the aesthetic direction of the architect. Structural engineers can also advise on which structural systems are most suitable for various applications, with considerations for building context, construction budget and performance requirements. In Trinidad we have varying soil types across the country (which affects which type of foundation and structural design in required) and also have to consider earthquake readiness in our building design, so a structural engineer should be included in your must-have list of professionals for any given project.

 

MEP (Mechanical Electrical and Plumbing) Engineers

These engineers plan and design for the synergistic coordination of mechanized components of the building design (eg. Air Conditioning systems, generators, refrigeration systems, elevators and escalators etc) with electrical systems ( placement of electrical panels, wire circuitry systems) and plumbing systems. Their contribution can have significant positive effects on keeping the construction process fluid, and properly coordinated. This prevents wastage of time and money through having to do repeat work with respect to having to burst walls and ceilings after the fact to cater for MEP requirements of a building. It also ensures that the building can indeed cater for its functional demands (preventing electrical fires and damage of equipment caused by overloading the systems).

Information about engineers in Trinidad can be obtained here at the website of the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago
 

DRAFTsmen

 Photo by Christian Kaindl

Photo by Christian Kaindl

Draftsmen are technicians trained in the 2 dimensional representation of built environments or systems. Draftsmen are usually linked with various other design professionals and focus their training to match their field of interest. It is important to note that Draftsmen are NOT designers, but experienced draftsmen in any field can acquire skills related to their field of focus after working with designers over the years. 

Architects, Interior Designers, Engineers etc. all employ draftsmen to help to produce the technical documents linked to their various fields. Hence, Draftsmen are integral in the design process to produce the technical information needed to complete projects in an accurate and timely way, since they specialize in developing a visual language to represent 3 dimensional realities in a 2 dimensional way that can be understood by those executing the project in the field. 

In Trinidad especially, I think that many clients misunderstand that draftsmen are supposed to be PARTNERS with other design professionals and CANNOT REPLACE design professionals. I've been asked many a time by a home owner "Can you draw house plans?" When I proceed to explain that the technical house plan is included along with other professional services by the architect, I usually get a response like "Well, I have a draftsman who can provide a house plan for me". It becomes clear during the course of the conversation that the client sees the draftsman and architect as being one and the same, or interchangeable, and I see this misconception as being detrimental to the construction industry. Draftsmen are not trained in design, neither do they go through the training to deal with regulatory and statutory bodies in Trinidad and Tobago. Within the course of a draftsman's career, some information related to these duties can and will be acquired by the draftsman, but it is critical to differentiate between the specialties of the architect and the draftsman. Early in my design career I was often called upon to correct design faux pas made by draftsmen who engaged with clients in the role of the designer. I was presented with a number of horrors ranging from mismatched/uncoordinated drawings to drawings that had no relationship to the realities of the site to which they were to be applied. All of this could be prevented if the various professionals functioned in partnership as they should.

 

PROJECT MANAGERS

Project Managers are responsible for overseeing the entire project to ensure that the project is completed in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. It is important to note that in the past, project management was also included in the role of the architect (as it still is today) but the specialty of Project Management has allowed for a new dynamic to develop between Project Managers and Architects, especially in projects where the project management role would  prove to be too complex for the architect or when the architect needs to maintain a design focus (this occurs frequently with housing developments). Project Managers will work along with the client, designers and contractors to ensure that each party produces the information needed at the right time in the process to keep the project on budget and schedule, and also maintain quality control. Project Managers need to have an understanding of the general roles and responsibilities of the various professionals with whom he/she will liaise during the course of the project to ensure that all deliverables are being submitted on time.  Project managers will also assist with sending out tender packages to various contractors and administering the construction contract (if that falls within their scope of services on that particular project, relative to the architect or contractor). As such, Project Managers constantly keep an eye on construction costs, materials, and professionals associated with the project throughout the project duration. 

A CLOSING WORD:

When evaluating which professionals to include in your design project, it is first critical to see the value that each professional provides in each situation. Each professional must be honoured in his/her own right and be allowed to maximize his/her training in the area of expertise to afford the client the greatest benefit. An Architect can no more be interchangeable with an Interior Designer, than a Draftsman can be with an Architect. Assuming otherwise limits the progress we can make within the construction industry, and also reduces the appreciation of the expertise of professionals in general. 

Trinidad and Tobago has long celebrated an amateur-professional culture, with many people claiming the titles of professionals without training to support these claims, even though industry experience may be present. This is a delicate situation that most home-owners will have to navigate to preserve quality control. Seeking referrals, and double-checking with professional associations can help to separate the sheep from the goats, so to speak. In some cases, amateurs do an excellent job, but I believe that it is still important to make the distinction between professionals and amateurs and to honour each in a unique way.