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COVID-19 Considerations for Architects

Image Credit: Piotr Banak, Concert Hall in Żelazowa Wola

This guide is not a medical or public health document and does not discuss medical aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Refer to and follow the professional guidance published by Australian health authorities and the directions of the state and federal government.

At the time of publication, most state, territory and federal governments continue to consider construction services as an ‘essential service’ which is allowed to continue, subject to a few limitations and public health guidance. The general advice provided in this guide may no longer apply if state or federal government declared construction services as ‘non essential’. It is recommended that you seek legal advice on the complexities of navigating the uncertainties of construction in the pandemic environment.

All content provided by CAD Australia Pty Ltd. is for reference purposes and as general guidance. It does not take into account specific circumstances and should not be relied on in that way. It is not legal, financial, insurance, or other advice and you should seek independent verification or advice before relying on this content in circumstances where loss or damage may result.

Information Source: AIA

General Considerations

As with many other professions, architects can feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent global response to minimise the impact of the virus as well as guidance from the Australian governments brings into question how architects should respond.

The main focus of this note is on the construction contract and how architects administering contracts should navigate delays, contractual rights and construction contracts in a pandemic environment. It shouldn’t be considered an exhaustive list of scenarios, but rather a rough guide.

Skilled and Healthy Labour

Since COVID-19 has an impact on the labour force and how construction work and on-site visits are conducted, there is an overall limitation on such activities. This extends to the ability of contractors and subcontractors to continue activity on site. Although tradespeople and crews are stiull permitted to attend work sites, since these are deemed essential services, contractors may adopt resitricted building practices and work times to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. This may slow the work program. A good resource and guide for on-site activities is HIA and Insurance Council of Australia (ICA)’s 9 guidelines:

  • Applying social distancing measures on worksites
  • Meeting government self-isolation rules on and off worksites
  • Keeping the property owner informed of all CVOVID-19 prevention measures including site management plans
  • Isolating construction areas from non-building areas
  • Managing project schedules to reduce the number of trades on site at the same time
  • Ensuring workers have access to appropriate personal protection equipment
  • Ensuring workers have access to appropriate hygiene and safety facilities
  • Encouraging contactless payments and deliveries, and travelling off peak
  • Organising site inductions and updates on the latest government requirements

Supply of Materials

Since Australia’s main supply of materials comes from key manufacturing centres in Asia and Europe via global and local supply chains, there is already widespread impact or delayed production. At this stage, there will be significant impacts to the supply of materials to project sites which will be further delayed due to the limited availability of the labour force.

Capital Financing

Capital financing is one of the core components of the construction process which is being impacted. It is estimated that COVID-19 will have larger economic impacts and may cause continued unemployement and may reduce cash flow for small and large businesses. It may be necessary for businesses to consider other options they have under te construction contract and consultancy agreement for the project. 

Inversely, the owner’s financial agreements are contracts like any other that will have certain requirements and conditions which will need to be met. An unstable and changing health and economic enviroment may affect the assumptions and contractual conditions for that funding. Funding arrangements that are paying for the project and all dependent factors, may change in an economic downturn, which has consequences for the vialbility of projects and construction contracts. 

Communication

While COVID-19 is causing a level of social isolation, the AIA recommends for architects to maintain clear and regular communication with clients and stakeholders, including the financier, and to encourage all parties involved to provide regular and timely information that can have an impact on the project and building work. The aim should be to collectively strategise an approach to minimise the risks and goes some way to avoid forseeable negative future events and sources of dispute.

Risks and Impacts

The potential risks associated with suspended construction projects mid-build include damage to the structuer due to weather and vandalism, as well as the costs associated with demobilising and remobilising. Signed contracts are legally binding documents that set out responsibilities and obligations. If the parties involved are unsure about a reasonable completion date or assured of consistent project finance, the parties should seriously consider whether to wait before signing the contract. As usual, the architect should be suggesting that the owner get legal advice about whether or how to enter into a construction contract where such uncertainties can be forseen.

For projects underway it is important to see the project through to the end and work collaboratively to make sure the project meets the correct deadlines and standards. A disruption of a pandemic need not bring the project to a halt, so it may be necessary to consider the greater logistical, contractual and financial risks if a builder simply walks away from a project. There may simply be a delay on the project and small setbacks need not be fatal for the entire project. Thus, it may be better to preserve the project and the site works until such time as the works can be resumed and the project completed. 

Material-wise, it may be a good idea for the architect to substitute project materials with local materials that may be less susceptible to supply chain delays or disruptions. Ultimately, it is for the builder to make decisions regarding the source of materials as well as the management of materials, not the owner. Before the architect considers substituting materials they should discuss the impact on the design and budget with the client and negotiate for revised feesfor this additional scope of service. Architects should make a decision as to whether this will help minimise the risk of delays to the construciton project, which is further compounded by a limited availability of tradespeople. 

A construction project is an arrangement of mutual outcomes that requires a steady flow of materials, labour, capital and the skilled management of pragmatic co-ordination of complexity of experienced professionals. Although a pandemic is a largely rare occurrence, it is now part of the challenges that experienced professionals will need to face and strategise through. Each challenge that COVID-19 presents should be calmly assessed, addressed and administered in the spirit of mutual benefit and pragmatic co-operation in accordance to the responsibilities set forth in the construction contract.

Construction projects are complex entities that are largely dependent on many different factors. Thus, it is reccommended for all parties to seek legal advice if they are unsure of their rights, obligations and options. 

 

Disclaimer

This information is a summary of information provided by the AIA. This content is for reference purposes only and serves as general guidence. It does not take into account specific circumstances. It is not legal, financial, insurance or other advice and you should seek independent verification or advice before relying on this content in circumstances where loss or damange might result.