Programming and Analysis: Owner's Responsibilities/Surveys

  • 07 February, 2020

The roles of the parties involved in a construction project are of critical importance. Clear responsibilities contribute to a process that runs more smoothly, promotes better communication, and hopefully makes the process less contentious. The roles of the owner, architect, and contractor are outlined in the AIA contracts. In general, the architect is responsible for the design intent, the contractor for the work and construction site, and the owner for the site.

The owner's responsibilities to the site include possessing the information necessary to understand site conditions. This includes (but may not be exclusive to) geotechnical reports and surveys. The reason why the owner is responsible for the site is essentially tied to risk. The Owner, in regard to the existing site conditions, is the party to whom it is most appropriate to assign that risk.

There is not one but multiple surveys to consider. The most common surveys are metes and bounds, plat of survey, and American Land Title Association (ALTA) surveys.

Metes and bounds surveys measure off of benchmarks. Between the benchmarks are distances/ dimensions and angles noted from the cardinal points. What benchmarks are chosen depends on the site. Common benchmarks include trees, water features, rock piles, etc.

A plat of survey, also called a plat survey or boundary survey, is a much more accurate survey and serves in an official capacity. Plats of the survey are connected to property deeds and are compared against the deed when created. For instance, iron bars are installed at different corners to set up points of reference. What I find interesting about these (and ALTA) surveys is that because they are used in an official capacity, the procedures and requirements are outlined in standards of practice issued by the responsible jurisdiction and/or organization. These standards include the size and type of iron bar to use, the depth to which they are to be installed, soil conditions for installation, and so on. These plats of the survey are performed by a licensed, professional land surveyor and require a seal and signature on the survey.

An ALTA survey is much more detailed than a plat of survey and is recommended particularly for commercial properties where risk is higher. Due to a higher level of detail, they are also more expensive but offer more protection in case of disputes. ALTA surveys follow standards per ALTA and American Congress of Surveying and Mapping (ACSM).

The types of surveys needed for a project depend on the project type, location, if it is on vacant land or in a dense urban area, insurance requirements, acquisition, etc. Although it is the responsibility of the owner to provide the survey, the architect absolutely must know about the different types and the level of detail, as they often make recommendations. Often, the owner will ask the architect to order the survey, but that should be discouraged because in doing so, the architect assumes the risk that should be allocated to the owner and could be held liable.

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