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the building code for many years provided that all cement mortar should be mixed with long cattle hair: of course that particular section of the ordinance was violated as often as there was a building erected in the town, and yet what else could be done?
However, ignorance of the building code does not as a rule bring as serious consequences upon the head of the architect as does ignorance of the rather unusual quasi-judicial position which he occupies, and that more architects do not get into very serious trouble is probably more due to the complacence of their clients, than to the correctness of the positions assumed by the architects. As a matter of fact this book came to be written because Mr. Blake, acting as my attorney, discovered that I had very curious and false notions of my duties and responsibilities, and finding that the clients for whom I worked, had other views equally curious and untenable, the idea naturally suggested itself that brief and authoritative statements of the law in its relation to architect and client alike, would be valuable.
Another thing which makes such a hand book almost a necessity is that a copy of the laws would not help much, even if one took the time and trouble to wade through a young library of “Acts” to find the ones which concern building and building contracts. The law is made as much by the interpretations placed upon it by various judges, as by its letter; and the judicial precedents and interpretations established in the different juris
dictions are of vastly more importance than the mere texts of the statutes alone.
Of course I am writing from the standpoint of the layman, and without much real knowledge of the abstruse workings of the legal mind; but that is the way it seems to me. Therefore I wish to find out just what I ought to do to protect myself from my client and to protect my client from my builder. In case of trouble I must go to a lawyer, unless from previous cases of similar kind I have gathered a knowledge of the proper steps to take; it is certain that I will not go to a lawyer until I find myself in trouble, and then I may
find that I have done all sorts of things which I ought not to have done, and left undone those things which I ought to have done, and there is no health in my case. Yet a little care and foresight and especially a little knowledge would have kept me from doing things (to a lawyer) obviously foolish and even criminal.
Most architects do not at all know how much authority is conferred upon them, and most clients do not know either, so that, depending upon the temperament of the architect and of the owner, in some jobs the architect becomes a mere servant, who has to carry out the owner's mandates without regard to contractual limitations, while in other jobs the architect becomes a sort of petty dictator, whose statements are accepted by the owner and the builder as final and binding.
This condition of affairs exists—and can only continue to exist–because of the very complete
ignorance on the part of the owner and of the architect as to the exact status of their relations. Most of us perhaps are willing to usurp authority if we think no ill will follow, but most of us also would be very careful if we knew that such usurpation might have the most unpleasant financial consequences. The architect can afford neither to be the tool nor the boss of his client, and he should be able to proceed with his work with fairness to the owner and to the builder, and without fear that in the exercise of his authority, he may become liable to discharge without compensation.
I think most architects have more trouble with clients than they do with builders. This is perhaps only natural, since builders are in the business all the time and know the ropes, at least in a general sort of way, while a very great majority of owners are building for the first and only time, and have very little knowledge of what they are undertaking when they sign a contract, or even when they ask an architect for sketches.
The question of the architect's liability is something that most architects do not understand at all. I was very greatly surprised to learn that I had no authority to alter the definite letter of the specifications or allow any departure from the terms of the contract without the consent of the owner. Prior to the receipt of this information I had probably never constructed a building in which the specifications were literally adhered to, and it is also possible that I have not constructed
one since; but at least I have been careful to see that I permitted no changes, without the owner's consent, which would cost any very great amount to alter back to conform with the original specifications.
Probably most architects do permit minor changes which result in the betterment of the job, or which make things easier for the contractor without detriment to the job, and for which there is no extra asked or expected. Architects are accustomed to use their own judgment in making these changes, and most clients are willing to accept the architect's judgment on such points. However when a careful client, over zealous for his own interest, discovers that such a change has been made, over his head, as he thinks, he is apt to place the worst possible construction upon it. He can if he likes, insist upon work being done in exact accordance with the original contract and it may cost the architect a lot of money to do it.
I remember in one of my own jobs, I had specified that nothing but galvanized nails should be used in the exterior trim; in some way the clause slipped by the contractor (I do not think there was any ill intention on his part) and a very considerable portion of the exterior trim was applied to the house, between inspection visits, with ordinary nails. To remove these nails would have destroyed the trim, and would have resulted in the loss to the contractor of a very considerable sum. Furthermore it would have taken from
four to six weeks to secure new trim, and have delayed the job sufficiently to mean extreme discomfort to the owner. I did what I thought fair and best; had the nail heads well set in and puttied at once, and galvanized nails added in sufficient number to hold the trim. I am informed that by this act I assumed a rather grave responsibility, yet I hardly see that any other action would have been beneficial to the job. I know now that I should have secured the prior consent of my client in order to clear myself of any possible financial responsibility.
It is cases like this that have made me extremely glad to have this book of Mr. Blake's to read over.
In the first place I am going to fix the general principles of the law in its relation to the architect, builder and owner, firmly in mind, and in the second place by use of the index I can discover what I should do in any particular case where there is a possibility of trouble arising. Of course in a case of actual trouble, I shall still go at once to my lawyer, but I shall be able to go with my record absolutely clear, and with the certainty that both the law and its interpretation will be on my side.
AYMAR EMBURY II. New York City, October, 1915.