This was a week bracketed in disappointments.
The week began on Monday with a breakfast meeting of the building “team” – the Owner, the Architect, and the Contractor, as well as the chief executives of each firm. The Owner had begun to express in words what the others had been expressing in demeanor: The relationship had become adversarial and the Owner targeted the Contractor as the source of the issue. The Owner/CEO had called the breakfast meeting as a way of getting the entire team together to address the matter, clear the air and reset the relationship.
Remember that this building is probably the only office building of scale under construction in this very depressed region. Remember that the Contractor was invited to the project because of the strength of relationship with the Architect and after having done preliminary estimating and other consulting for the Owner.
After the CEO made opening remarks to the intention of resetting the relationship, the Contractor responded with a long list of grievances. By the time the breakfast had ended, the executive member of the Contractor’s team had informed the Owner that because he chose a bid-build approach the relationship was inherently adversarial. All of the value of the opportunity initially given to the Contractor, and despite the opportunity to redress his team’s management style, the Contractor concluded the meeting with the arrogance of advising the Owner that, in his view of the world, because he had to bid for the work, his team’s management would sustain an adversarial approach to the work.
I ended the week in a lunch meeting with a former member of the Owner’s Board. He had been, clearly because of the context the CEO was concerned about, invited to look into the project. We had now had several meetings, and my assumption was that the lunch agenda would provide an opportunity to mutually reflect and calibrate. He was new to the project this week, and yet the project was months old.
Remember that my role is as “owner’s representative.” The Architect had proposed to the Owner that she should have someone who could manage the project on her behalf, and recommended me. An atypical part of the relationship was that I was engaged by the Architect in this role, rather than directly by the Owner. This Architect, as many in this time, had come to see the erosion of their role in architecture and relationship with owners by construction managers, program manager, real estate consultants, other consultants, and others. The Architect was progressively expanding his portfolio of services to rebuild his strength of practice, robustness of engagement and richness of relationship with his clients. Taking on the Owner’s Representative services at the invitation of this Owner was part of that strategy.
Over the past few weeks I had generally caused a bit of a flurry in the Architect’s office. They had come to recognize certain issues of project responsiveness that I had identified, and had brought the matter to executive attention, had assigned a new project manager, had instituted a set of workshops to bring all construction phase matters up to date, and had instituted a series of regular meeting to assure that they had top attention on the project and were responding to the Contractor’s needs and the Owner’s interests.
I had also, during this period, defended the Owner in a number of matters arising on site related to interpretations of the contract for construction. Cumulatively, these decisions and directions had the influence of deflecting emerging claims for a few hundred thousands of dollars.
Our lunch was cordial, and conversation ranged from unfolding a bit of our individual backgrounds, to stories of common interest, and to discussion of specific matters relating to the project. The final question he had of me, ending the lunch and ending this week of disappointments was, “Now, you’re employed by the Architect, right? Isn’t that something of a conflict?”