Forensic architects serve multiple purposes throughout construction projects. Most commonly, they are brought in to investigate the root cause of damages caused by construction defects or other damages to buildings. Owners, architects, and contractors also hire forensic architects during the design and construction phase to help identify potential trouble and advise on how to avoid it. These professionals are especially useful when a project team is unable to identify or come to a consensus about the source of a problem. The role of a forensic architect is to be an unbiased, third-party expert, identifying issues within the construction or building, determining causes, and suggesting solutions.
Why a Forensic Architect?
As anyone familiar with the construction industry knows, there may be little time to fix an issue before it becomes a significant problem, which includes delayed occupancy, the threat of lawsuits, and loss of income. There is often finger-pointing about the party at fault. No one wants to be responsible and liable for the mistake that caused the problem. Whatever the issue and its cause, the project team—owner, developer, architect, and contractors—need a lasting, cost-effective solution. This is the time to hire a forensic architect: a neutral third party to determine what has happened and who is likely at fault.
What a Forensic Architect Is and Is Not
Forensic architects are able to investigate and come to an unbiased conclusion because they have education, training, and experience in construction and design and a thorough understanding of construction standards and practices.
Forensic architects are experts in a variety of problems, including:
- Physics of building materials
- How natural forces interact with buildings
- How occupants interact with and use buildings
- Fire resistance of building components
- Building components
- Building systems
- Building functions
Forensic architects are not engineers or scientists, though they may seek the opinion of those experts or may even send materials to a testing lab. There are three general ways a project team can use a forensic architect:
- As a quality assurance measure during the design and construction phase;
- As a construction administrator during the project; and
- For an after-the-fact review when complications arise.
The skills they employ are the same.
When involved in the design process or pre-construction review, a forensic architect can help avoid some situations that become problems once the project is complete. They offer quality assurance for a project. They may review areas including technical design, mechanical systems, and accessibility.
Some project teams hire forensic architects to oversee the project as a construction administrator. As a full part of the construction team, the architect can help qualify construction, identify issues as they arise, and help effectively deal with changes in scope, design, or materials to avoid future problems.
Because of the complex nature of a building and its systems, sometimes problems do not arise until long after the construction is complete and the building is occupied. When called in to deal with a completed troubled project, forensic architects follow a specific process to identify what happened and offer mitigation options. Their job is to:
- Record existing conditions
- Review design documents, specifications, and manufacturer requirements
- Examine building systems
- Determine problems and causes
Forensic architects are a valuable resource for construction projects. They can help avoid trouble in the first place or identify and help mitigate difficulties after the fact. As expert problem solvers, these architects help resolve conflicts and lower risk for everyone involved in the project.
Read more about the role of an expert witness to resolve construction disputes.
CCA has a team of architects, forensics engineers, and construction experts who work together to find the root cause of a problem by examining structures, materials, systems, designs, delays, and construction means and methods. Learn more about our forensics capabilities.