One brick at a time…,’ was a popular verse as we studied Building and Construction, in primary school, back in the days when 8-4-4 actually meant that. We were taught the basics and later tested on the same, such that by the time you left Standard Eight, you could mix cement, sand and ballast correctly and do a structurally sound, small construction.
In the outside world of cities with skyscrapers and mega homes, what we learnt remains but bare minimum for basic knowledge only. For a building of even one storey to stand and fulfill satisfactorily the purpose for which it was intended, a lot of professionals have to come into play -and work well. Poorly done construction work can and has not only cost a lot of money but also lives.
The National Construction Authority (NCA) has attributed the historic collapse of buildings, especially those under construction in the country to poor workmanship. “Use of unqualified people in the built environment was the main culprit for the catastrophes that have been witnessed in the industry in the past, a fact that we intend to change,” says Mr Daniel Manduku, the Chief Executive Director, NCA.
This is part of the reason that the Authority was formed, to register and regulate the players in the field and ensure that only qualified people are contracted to do construction work for Kenyans. “We have to ensure that the set code of conduct is followed and registration of contractors is the beginning,” he says. “That way, we are able to know who we are dealing with and can hold people accountable in case of a shoddy job.”
On site, professional consultants carry out quality control measures by making sure the contractors are using the materials specified and building according to properly prescribed measures. Things like quality of plaster, concrete reinforcement, piping, electrical connections and quality of materials supplied and used on site can be monitored. The consultant team will also assist in monitoring timelines for construction and ensuring a project is delivered on time and within budget.
“Besides, building and designing with non-professionals would come back to haunt you in the long run due to low quality accommodation and sometimes huge cost overruns that come about as a result of mistakes,” says Ms Susan Makhulo, an architect. So who exactly do you need to put up that building you have been saving for this long? Below are the major players.
The architect’s role is largely to design your project within the required regulatory norms, budget and appeal. They will, under the guidance of the local authority requirements, recommend designs which should meet your desired aesthetics and pocket. They will thus work with you to conceive the most optimal development and ensure the same is actualised on ground.
More often than not, architects will be expected to assume the role of a project manager, co-ordinating the deliverables of the whole project. This latter role is however being overtaken by project management consultants who ensure the project is delivered within the planned time and costs. “The role of the architect on the site is overall supervision and coordination of works being carried out by the main contractor, his subcontractors and the team of consultants,” says Susan.
Typically you’d have a main contractor, electrical subcontractor and mechanical (plumbing and drainage) subcontractor. In more complex sites, you may have a larger team of subcontractors including air conditioning specialists, acoustic design specialists, fire fighting specialists and so on. It is thus important to engage professionals right from the drawing board to completion of construction works. “They (professionals) are able to provide you with buildings that work!
During the design stage, the various professionals are able to incorporate aspects that give you a design that is both aesthetically and functionally sound,” she says. Aspects such as optimal sizing of rooms, lighting, optimal organisation of spaces such as kitchens and baths and the relationships of different rooms with each other can easily be messed up if you don’t engage the right people. “There is a reason why the study of all these aspects takes years!”
Quantity Surveyor (QS)
The quantity surveyor on the other hand is in charge of the project budget and will take care of the costs implication of the project, accounting for every dime expended. They will prepare Bills of Quantities that will stipulate the scope of works for the planned project. Further, they will enforce all contractual matters as far as the project is concerned.
The QS acts more like the bridge between the other contractors and the client. They interpret contracts and analyse legal implications for both parties. “A QS is the only professional on the site with a legal background and hence makes them the legal representations on site,” says Ms Jennifer Musyimi, a Quantity Surveyor with Anka Consultants. Besides interpreting contacts, the QS is supposed to ensure that the client gets value for money.
They check that what has been paid for is actually what is delivered. “The QS is supposed to be unbiased towards either the client or the contractor. They give the facts as they are, advise or even critique the client or contractor’s reasoning objectively, thus ensuring an overall satisfactory job.” Foregoing the services of a QS, or using a unqualified ones increases the chances of your costs getting inflated such that you end up with a much cheaper product than you paid for. The QS also reduces the conflict of interest, when the contractor supervises and appraises his own budget and contract.
The General Contractor
A building contractor finds, solicits bids from and schedules all of the subcontractors that are necessary to complete the project. The new homeowner or business owner contracts with the building contractor, and the building contractor contracts with the subcontractors and suppliers. In general, a contractor will coordinate all activities related to a building, dwelling or structure.
The contractor will supervise all employees and subcontractors to ensure that the project is completed as per the described scope and within all building codes, laws and regulations. The daily activity of a building contractor revolves around making sure that the overall plan for completion is implemented on a daily basis. This involves ensuring that all employees and subcontractors are working within their prescribed scope of work.
The engineers come in a wide variety. There will be a structural, a civil, an electrical and a mechanical engineer. A structural engineer will give guidelines on the strength of the structure. He is critical as far as stability of the building is concerned. In fact, a lot of the buildings that topple and collapse during construction end up not having a sound structural design. The civil engineer takes care of all roads and earthworks, but in most cases a structural engineer will double in for this role.
The electrical engineer will design the electrical connectivity and layouts for the proposed project. Beware that electricity is a sensitive issue for it may be fatal if poorly designed and implemented. It’s therefore wise to consult these engineers and ensure the right things are done. Lastly, the mechanical engineer will design the plumbing and drainage systems for the development. They will scientifically calculate flows of waste and then size the systems required. They will also dictate the requirements of water and ventilation in the buildings.
Besides the traditional players on the construction site, there are new entrants, necessitated by the intricacies of the modern built environment, which is demanding more and more specialisation. While initially, the QSs were the legal and financial representations on a site, now there are more specific professionals in finance, mortgage and risk assessment.
There are also the interior designers, who deal exclusively on the aesthetics of the inside of the house and landscapers who beautify and design the outside (lawns, pathways, flower beds). Finally, construction project managers are quickly getting accepted into the Kenyan market. These are hired to lead and oversee a variety of building projects from start to finish.But while some people use the terms “general contractor” and “construction manager” interchangeably, these are actually two different jobs.
Construction managers are typically involved from the start of a project, helping the client with the initial planning, as well as the selection of an architect and general contractor. Construction managers may also perform the first two tasks, then serve as general contractor. True general contractors aren’t involved in the building process until the initial planning and design work is completed.