Limits to Punch List Responsibility

Posted on October 22, 2010


My entire architecture career I harbored a secret fear when executing a punch list:  I felt that if everything was not perfect, I was letting the owner down as the architect, and maybe it was my fault. It took many years and projects for me to realize that since it takes a quality effort of more than the architect to turn out a move-in-ready project, all of those individuals are also on the hook for punch list items.

The greatest stress producer at punch list time is reaching an understanding with the owner that both my and his expectations for quality are similar. Many times, this has been demonstrated throughout the project so that the punch list is an final delivery affirmation of what was design, engineered and built.

So I have confirmed and accepted that the architect is not to blame for everything that is not perfect at punch list time. Whew.

Ironically, it took me many years to reprogram my thinking, only to join an integrated design-build (IDB) firm, where ultimately everything is my / our responsibility. We operate at Haskell with a servant leadership theme, so if something is amiss with the client, anyone on the team is empowered to serve the client and fix it. It may not be me swinging the hammer or hanging the drywall, but the design-build team answers to the owner. With IDB, any problem is a Haskell problem, not something an architect deflects to an engineer with ‘not my problem’.

In the end, I can only worry about things in my control. I do not control the owner or subcontractors and their definition of ‘finished’ or ‘industry standard’ versus my definitions. However, I do have a responsibility to make sure my work scope and everything involved is a complete design. With integrated design-build, the scopes and responsiblities blend together. Lucky for me, mine fall just short of having to strap on a tool belt—and that I can handle.