Ask Ionic

Ask IONIC: Proposals and Process

In this video installment of our Ask IONIC series, Eugene Thompson shares the IONIC two-phase approach to developing proposals and the overall process. Click on the video and for Eugene’s overview:

Ask IONIC #2 – Contract Administration

Ask IONIC is a napkin series of questions that we often see from our client and others that may assist those who are seeking answers.

No question is dumb… just the ones you don’t ask.

We hope these help you understand our industry just a little bit better so you can make informed decisions. Information that leads to knowledge is the key to success.

What is contract administration and why do I need it?

This is the one of the most common questions we get in our office when our clients review our proposal. We always itemize out all the all of our work from conceptual design, schematic design, design development, construction documents and finally contract administration.

What is contract administration?

In short, as defined by CSI: Contract administration involves making decisions and the timely flow of information and decisions to enable completion of the project as required by the contract documents including review and observation of the construction project. This is important to the Owner and Consultant not only to determine that the work is proceeding in conformity with the contract documents, but also because it allows a final opportunity to detect any inaccuracies, ambiguities or inconsistencies in the design.

Many times people use the word construction administration, however, an architect typically is not involved in managing the actual construction. We do often manage the contract that involves the construction as defined above. We help the owner establish an agreement between themselves and the general contractor to produce a structure that is designated in detail supporting our construction documents.

We understand everything and are extremely familiar with what we put into the documents and are responsible for all of the calculations of all the details and all of the design decisions that went into the making of this (usually massive) set of documents.

It only makes sense that we would assist the owner in managing what we already produced.

When establishing the contractual agreement between the owner and general contractor, IONIC often includes the following:
1. Complete set of construction documents
2. Addendums
3. RFI’s Requests for Information
4. Written specifications

Often included:
1. General contractor’s proposal
2. Insurance
3. Proposed construction timeline
4. List of sub-contractors
5. Personnel list

All this detailed information is so everything will be encompassed in one agreement. This is sometimes very complicated. However, it is very important should something go wrong. We never want it to…but…just in case.

One of the small side bars that is often included in contract administration is bidding and negotiation. Typically there are always questions that come during the bidding process, whether you’re just having one contractor look at it along with his subs or you’re having multiple general contractors preparing a competitive bid. This is often established as a separate phase.

Why a separate phase?

We have had clients negotiate a contract, change their mind, bid the project, award it to the low bidder, change their mind, re-bid it, re-award it and then finally begin construction after some further negotiations.
And yes, IONIC wrote a contract for each general contractor during that time frame.
And yes, IONIC was present and/or involved during all of those discussions.
If bidding and negotiations were included under all of CA in this case we would have been out of our fee!

Another common question that occurs is why do I need to pay you for this?

We always hear that you produce a set of documents they should be perfect there should be no questions, there should be no issues, and if there are you must’ve made a mistake!

Construction simply does not work that way. I wish it did! There are always questions, ALWAYS! There are always substitutions, ALWAYS! There are always things in a set of drawings or the written word that cannot be covered completely or as clearly as envisioned. If it was…we would never finish the documents. And you would never get your building built.

It is just the nature of the beast!

The owners typically want a guarantee that our work will stand up properly will be capable of functioning in all manners of the design and we and IONIC, always stand behind our work. However, if we cannot see the contractor build the work and review his performance according to the way that we detailed the construction…how do we know if it is built correctly? How do we know that he did not make this mistake during construction inside the wall cavity that we have no easily accessible route to review down the road?

The contract administration is there to help the owner and contractor negotiate the complexity of a construction project so that it can be completed on time without enormous issues, mistakes, delays, added costs or whatever unknown expectations that may occur.

Some of the items that are typically included within contract administration are:

1. Creating a contract between owner and general contractor.

2. Respond to any RFIs request for information.

3. Review all pay applications from the general contractor to the owner for approval.

4. Conduct site investigations to review the progress and status of the work being performed by the general contractor and its subcontractors.

5 Respond and review any product submittals produced by the general contractor and its subcontractors for use in the project.

6. Coordinate any special inspections required from third-party jurisdictional agencies that review the work being performed.

7. Assist in reviewing any change orders that are generated by the general contractor either omitted from the original scope or added during construction. Note cynical and many times added scope of work and change orders also will increase the fees of the architect.

8. Review, complete, and report all punch list related work that is discovered during site visits to the project.

9. Produce closeout documents and operational manuals and warranties ensuring all pieces of literature complied with the requirements of the construction documents and contract agreement between the owner and the general contractor.

These items are often critical to the process of construction and owners typically do not have the staff available for the experience needed to navigate through many of the issues that arise. Our office and our team has done this over and over again on project after project and have developed a set of skills, experiences, and past related concerns that we ensure to address during this process.

There are many times when an owner elects to only use contract administration and its limited use.
An example would be: “I’ll call you if I have a question.”
Okay, we will be here. However the liability for determining the work in evaluating the quality of the performance completely falls upon the ownership and the general contractor if you choose not to hire the architect for these COMPLETE services. Every now and then involving the architect doesn’t provide the surety or warranty.

It’s not always just structural concerns. Although that is a major issue with every project. They can also be how the insulation or weather barrier has been incorporated into the project. Did the contractor apply the vapor barrier the under slab insulation before pouring the foundation? Did the contractor incorporate the finished details like we anticipated and described during the design phases to our clients?

These are just some of the issues that we see day in and day out.

Consider contract administration as an insurance policy.

You are ensuring with the architect that all of the design details and individual components of the construction are performed in a manner that is acceptable.

The architect acts as the owner’s agent. We are here to protect the owner.

Hope this clarifies the question for you. Should you have others, please submit them to us and we will add them to the list and post answers. Send all questions to

We look forward to hearing from you.

Ask IONIC #1- Concept vs. Schematic

Ask IONIC is a napkin series of questions that we often see from our clients and others that may assist those who are seeking answers.

No question is dumb… just the ones you don’t ask.

We hope these help you understand our industry just a little bit better so you can make informed decisions. Information that leads to knowledge is the key to success.

Ask IONIC image

What is the difference between a “Conceptual” Phase and a “Schematic Design” Phase?

This is a question we received from a client after we had completed an IONIC Masterplan plan for the renovation of an existing facility. While preparing our proposal we included a phase for schematic design. The owner asked why we had included this because we had already prepared the concept… wasn’t this a duplication of services?

Actually no. It wasn’t a duplication but rather an extension of what we had started. In our initial study for the client, we used  PDF plan provided for the building. We had walked the site and taken a few pictures of the building so we had a good idea what challenges were going to be presented. No field measurements were conducted during the site visit.

Our office prepared a conceptual floor plan that represented areas for demolition, walls that were considered load-bearing and of course a new plan for how the client could adapt their program to the existing footprint in the most efficient manner. We also produced color exterior renderings for the proposed new use.

All was approved… now on to the next step.

So wasn’t that enough for you to jump in straight to the construction documents?

Unfortunately, NO!

First, we need to take detailed measurements of all the existing conditions so we can prepare an accurate digital plan to work with. Why is that important? Actually, a few inches here and there could take an area out of ADA compliance. Changes required during construction could cause delays and additional expenses. This first step is critical!

Secondly, once we have prepared all of the as-builts (definition: a digital accounting of the actual pre-existing conditions typically produced in AutoCAD.) Our design team can go back and develop the previously created floor plan concepts into a more detailed and accurate plan that not only we can use, but also our consultants. Again, we try to avoid changes in the field down the road.

Finally, we also take into account all the various little ambiguities with the exterior elevations and ensure that our heights are correct. Our bearing walls are correct. The structural integrity and sizes of existing beams are accurate. So many times we have seen changes made in the field that were never shown in the drawings provided.  Never assume!

With these new schematic documents completed, our office can proudly and confidently present a dimensioned floor plan, exterior elevations and even early building and/or wall sections of the design for everyone to progress safely onto the next phase of work.

Hope this clarifies the question for you. Should you have others, please submit them to us and we will add them to the list and post answers. Send all questions to

We look forward to hearing from you.

Where in the World is IONIC

When you’re finally ready to build the worship, commercial, office or restaurant space of your dreams – why would you let your potential partners be confined to your immediate radius?

We hear about business owners and decision-makers wanting to work with a specific architecture firm that aligns perfectly with their vision and values (often it’s us!) but headquartered out of state. Many times, they believe they must choose a firm closer to them, instead. Why!?

There’s no reason an architect based in your city can do a better job than one halfway across the country.
Architecture is an old discipline. It’s been practiced for centuries. For that reason, it’s also steeped in tradition and conventional beliefs. One of those beliefs being that build partners have to meet in-person to create the best space possible. Whether that means a lack of communication, a hurdle to building amicable relationships, or forfeiting oversight is the problem – it’s just not true.

With virtual communication processes now firmly ingrained in almost all businesses, in-person contact with your architect is an unnecessary remnant of the past. At IONIC, we’re licensed in almost twenty different states and in-demand in many of them. We continue to form great relationships, complete amazing spaces, and ensure top-notch service for our clients whether they are sitting in our Virginia headquarters, or not.


Your goal should be to find the highest performing firm with a portfolio that excites you, whether they can stop by your office for lunch or call in from a different climate. Experience, attitude, and design acumen are more important than proximity.

IONIC is licensed in 15 states. If you’re interested in working with us and your job is located in one of them, let’s talk!




New York State
North Carolina
South Carolina
New Jersey

DeZign Trend: Going the Full Distance with IONIC

Team IONIC is not the type to move on very quickly. We like to ensure that our designs are brought to life beautifully (and correctly). So, seeing projects through to the end is very important to our firm. But keeping your architect involved past the concept and design phase isn’t just for our assurance – it protects clients (you) and helps the contractor. 

That’s why we encourage all of our clients to take advantage of our Contract Administration (or CA) services. As Contract Administrator, the architect has many duties. That includes everything from completing paperwork to carrying out regular inspections and monitoring progress on-site. It means having a set of informed eyes on all aspects of your project, at all times. 

As the person who ultimately takes ownership of the new space, it’s important to protect your investment. Keeping your architect on for CA does just that. 

On too many occasions our team visited a worksite to find less expensive windows installed, concrete laid outside of code or countless other shortcuts and mistakes. 

By visiting the site regularly, viewing the work often and ensuring it’s being built in accordance with the contract documentation – the client can rest assured that the quality of workmanship and the end result will be exactly what they expect. 

Sometimes it isn’t about preventing mistakes. Good contractors like to have an architect involved because Contract Administration gives them guidance during the build. 

Your architect is the designer – that includes design of the construction details (how it is built). The contractor is the builder, following the architect’s instructions. Even detailed drawings and specifications cannot always fully describe complex plans. It helps enormously if the architect who created the concept and design is available during construction. They can answer questions, give instructions and be a professional and informed point of contact to make any design/technical decisions if required.

As Contract Administrators, we do everything possible to ensure our designs reach their full potential. If you’re ready to start your project and get it done correctly, let Ionic DeZign Studios know. 

Ask IONIC #9 – Punchlist?

Ask IONIC is a napkin series of questions that we often hear from our client and others that may assist those who are also seeking answers.

No question is dumb… just the ones you don’t ask.

We hope these will help you understand our industry just a little better so you can make informed decisions on your project.

Information that leads to knowledge is the key to success.


What is a punch list?

Too often, we in the architectural and construction world forget that we have our own language. It’s kind of like Starbucks… the only company in the world that makes up their own language to order some coffee…and you HAVE TO use it get your Caramel Macchiato, Venti, Skim, Extra Shot, Extra-Hot, Extra-Whip, Sugar-Free…blah blah blah! Some of the terms that we commonly use are not necessarily familiar with the rest of the world. The word punchlist is probably one of those words that not everybody understands.

The definition of punchlist is a written documented list of all of the items on the construction project that do not meet the standards or expectations for completion.

Sometimes items that are incomplete or missing will be added on to this list as well.

Many times IONIC prefers to allow the contractor to generate their own punchlist first prior to the architect of record walking through the site. They will most likely know the areas that need to be addressed before a giant list is created. The contractor requires his subcontractors to review their work and ensure it is ready for inspection. Mostly because a giant list of issues or incomplete work doesn’t look good on the contractor. Beforehand, we as the architect, may take notice of areas of concern and call them out informally to the GC so they can address them prior to origination of the punchlist. This can give everyone a clear expectation of the desired outcome.

Obviously, we want them to complete things on time so making them aware of our concerns earlier on helps them address the items more quickly without impacting the completion schedule.

Once the contractor has established the readiness of the project for architect and owner inspection, the meeting date is scheduled for all parties to participate. During that time, all parties will walk the site together and review not only the exterior of the building but also all of the interior including any site work that may have been performed as well. Anything that was included in the general contractor’s contract will be reviewed for completeness and the satisfactory level of performance that was expected.

Separate from the general contractor’s punchlist, other vendors that the owner has hired independently may be included on the primary punchlist or a separate punchlist for their action items. This could include furniture, telecommunications, signage, and other related items.

IONIC has a preferred way of producing this list that alleviates many questions and inquiries during the procedure and final completion. We provide a detailed scenario and explanation of the items that we have a concerns with. For example if we simply said room 101 in the far left corner has a flaw in the drywall near the baseboard, the contractor may not know exactly the location and will have to come back to the architect to indicate where this flaw actually occurs.

That happens if ONLY words are used and not pictures also.

The items that IONIC incorporates into a punchlist are the following:

1. A written list is created in an Excel type format that lists numerically all of the issues to be addressed. It also includes the location such as a room number or location on the exterior of the facility. It also includes the responsible party for the general contractor to assign to the responsible subcontractor that performed this work and the action necessary to resolve. This list is often delivered digitally so that several parties can address it during the course of resolution.

Recently, we’ve begun using it as a shared document so that any update to the work being completed is immediately alerted to all parties. This prevents multiple copies going out and unauthorized changes.

Less confusion and more communication!

2. Floor plans and Elevations. IONIC produces a small set of 11 x 17 size documents that incorporate floor plans, exterior elevations and if necessary interior elevations that are highlighted with a circle and a number and that references back to the Excel spreadsheet. By utilizing this procedure it eliminates all doubt of the area of concern. Sometimes this can be a bit time-consuming but we feel that in the long run it helps all parties involved to address the punchlist items quickly.

3. One feature that IONIC most often incorporates into our punchlist report is a photographic record of all of these areas. Photographs of the area of concern are taken and produced in the individual report that references again the item numbers on the Excel spreadsheet. Typically in the remarks column of the spreadsheet IONIC will list photograph numbers as a reference for all the parties. This isn’t always done for each and every one of the items but done for most of them. For instance we wouldn’t take photos of each and every occurrence where there might be a flaw in the paint finish. We wouldn’t necessarily take photos of final cleaning or close out documents such as warranty services but rather just listed as part of the general punchlist notes that the general contractor needs to address. This keeps the photograph report from getting too large and cumbersome.

With these three items provided in the punchlist documents the outstanding completion can be quickly addressed by all parties. This helps to get that final 10% of the project accomplished swiftly and efficiently.

By the architect producing these documents in writing, the contractor is then notified that this is a concern for the architect and owner. If it was just said in passing during the site visit there isn’t any record that can be addressed.

Written notices are always the best procedure.

Once items have been completed by the contractor and subcontractor, notification goes back out to the architect and owner to review again. This doesn’t always occur if there is only a minimal number or non-consequential items. Sometimes the contractor can simply take a picture of the completed work and send it to the parties for their final review and approval. However if an additional site visit needs to be performed, the walk-through follows a similar process as before and confirms each item has been addressed appropriately. If an item has not been addressed, it remains on the list and is updated once again for distribution to all parties.

The completion of the punch list is part of the process that is required for the general contractor to receive release of their retainage payment. If the final completed items do not get addressed in a timely manner and to the satisfaction of the owner then the retainage will remain.

There are times when a reduction in retainage below the 10% will occur for large projects if most of the items have been addressed and only minor items remain. This is at the owner’s discretion. It is always wise to retain enough money on the contract to ensure that all the work can be completed should the contractor failed to do so. In some cases we have seen a contractor walk off of a project and not complete these items. The owner retains that money and can utilize those funds to hire other workers to complete the work satisfactorily in accordance with the AIA agreement.

If we get to this stage it gets a bit ugly. I think we all prefer that the project get completed as we originally planned. Good contractors with solid reputations will never leave the project unfinished. They look for solutions.

Once all the items have been completed and the contract is fulfilled, the general contractor will typically issue warranties and final completion of the contractual agreement for all parties to sign off on.

Yay! The project is finished and you can now move into your new facility! 

Ask IONIC #10 – What is Design/Build?

Ask IONIC is a napkin series of questions that we often hear from our client and others that may assist those who are also seeking answers.

No question is dumb… just the ones you don’t ask.

We hope these will help you understand our industry just a little better so you can make informed decisions on your project.

Information that leads to knowledge is the key to success.

The Benefits of Design-Build Construction

What business wouldn’t want to choose a building process that offers opportunities to save money, to reduce construction time, to allow customization, to optimize quality, and to streamline the entire experience?

So before you answer that question… don’t you think you should understand what design-build means?

Unfortunately it means different things to different people. There are pros and cons with everything. IONIC has worked with hundreds of clients over our many years in business, and finding the key advantage that each project requires is the right process our clients should utilize.

Choosing the right process should be the best for the client… not everyone else.

We hear a lot of suggestions from many individuals that have very little experience in project management processes trying to influence how a project should be managed.

Question: Would you listen to your financial adviser if he has only made a few investments? What experience does he have? What is his track record? Exactly! Today, we’re pleased to be regarded as an industry expert in determining our clients’ most suitable process for their specific project.

Not all processes are created equal! Neither are the projects!

This blog post will highlight a process loaded with many intrinsic benefits. Known as “Design-Build,” its cost efficiency, time savings, and collaborative nature have made it popular among clients for everything from commercial and municipal buildings to sports facilities, churches, restaurants, manufacturing plants, medical facilities, and more.

1. The Design-Build Team Selection Process
To begin with, the design-build process has the ability to be much more fluid than traditional design-bid-build. (If it’s approached the right way. The problem is that too many times it isn’t done the right way) In design-bid-build, the owner hires an architect to design a set of plans then puts the job out to bid. Instead of long gaps of time and (remember, time is money) between different phases of a project being completed by different participants, each member of a design-build team works together from the start and during every step of the process to help move things along quickly and more smoothly.

In truth, the idea that the design-bid-build process is entirely antiquated and riddled with inefficiency and waste is not true. Remember what we said at the beginning: it’s a process, an option to consider for your particular set of circumstances. Some contractors do not approach it as a team effort but rather that the architect is a luxury (I take great exception to this). The right architect has their unequivocal talents no different than the contractor does. It’s a team. A quarterback can be great, if he has his lineman, but can’t achieve anything at all without quality teammates.

The idea that any contractor can build anything is just as wrong as saying that any architect can design anything. They all have their specialties and experiences. Architects shouldn’t be lumped into the same pile together any more than all contractors should be grouped together with the “two guys and a pick-up truck.” That’s why the selection process is a critical step. Our goal at this stage is to ensure that you find the team whose goals for success are as cohesive as possible. Design-build can allow you to vet potential candidates based on experience, then dig into the details of your specific project.

2. The Pre-Construction Phase
This design-build selection process often overlaps with the next phase—the pre-construction phase—since the design-build team selected will likely have already done a significant amount of research and analysis of the construction site and other particulars of the project. Conceptual drawings and vivid visions are produced in the form of conceptual floor plans, exterior elevations, renderings and even a conceptual site plan.
Our goal at this stage is to provide the image that everyone on the team can focus toward without question. A sort of dream board without all of that cutting and pasting.
Notice that you’d have the potential to save time even at the very beginning of the project. The key to this savings was that you found the right team with right linemen (the contractor) and the right quarterback (the architect).

This pre-construction step is critical. Attention to detail is paramount. This is when the design team will learn about the owner’s business, including goals, challenges, budget, and overall vision for the project and put that into a vision. The contractor or build team will ask as many questions as necessary, so as to get a solid picture of what is expected to be delivered. Our clients tell us that they find this phase invaluable. This is when our experience can help you fine-tune plans based on what we have learned from more than 40 years in architecture.

3. The Evaluation Phase
Efficiencies, added benefits, cost reductions, and enhancements have grown out of this collaborative, team-focused process. During this phase, the owner, architects, engineers, contractors, and other consultants work together as a team to assess existing structures, electrical systems, HVAC systems, operational necessities, and more to determine what needs to be done before construction starts. These assessments allow for a thorough analysis of the construction site, which helps the design-build team maximize efficiency throughout the project.

At this stage, we view our work—together with you and the entire team—as an excellent opportunity to assess areas for cost savings and optimized productivity, while also meeting functional requirements. We’ll leave no stone un-turned when it comes to suggesting ways to save time, money, or logistical hassles. This process helps us deliver a product that suits your needs and schedule.

4. Ready…Set…
The overall project vision is established during this phase, and design development drawings are produced. Pricing estimates can be established during this phase as well, and a firm budget is provided. In addition, we’ll have a timeline for you so that you understand start and end dates, and every critical point in between.
Our goal at this stage is to ensure that you find the construction experience as disruption-free as possible.

Bottom line: IONIC has often experienced that fewer design changes and construction mistakes are made due to miscommunication when design-build is employed. The increase in collaboration enables customization and innovation, which results in less time and fewer materials being wasted at each stage of the project.

The result?

A higher quality deliverable—with no surprises—ultimately resulting in increased satisfaction by the owner.

Let us know if we can help you on your next project and find the riht solution for your needs.