Ask the Architect

Missing: one architect


Q. We have a strange situation: Our architect has fallen off the face of the earth. He just disappeared. We got plans about six months ago, and then he just stopped returning phone calls or communicating in any way. We want to change our plans, and now we also need to change our architect. The first plans, apparently, were approved for a permit, but contractors are telling us there’s so much missing that they can’t possibly build, since the whole house is made of steel and concrete, which they want to change. The contractors have made suggestions, but who is the responsible person to make our changes, before we choose to have it done by the contractor?

A. This scenario sounds like you’re headed to a potential disaster, either financially or structurally. First, either the previous architect has to be reached or the plans need to be redrawn by another licensed architect or engineer. The contractor may be well meaning, but because law enforcers don’t hold the contractor responsible for design errors or even errors in judgment, you could end up with a structural or code nightmare, where either safety, or your finances, or both, are compromised.
For example, the biggest disasters in history, when many people were killed, resulted from either suggested changes that weren’t fully checked or poor assumptions that everyone knew what each party was doing, and allowed the project to move forward without taking all, and I mean all, necessary precautions. The Kansas City Skywalk collapse killed 104 people dancing at a wedding in a hotel because someone made a change to cables holding up the bridges, and it wasn’t completely re-engineered. The bridge collapse in Minneapolis showed a blatant disregard for safety, when the materials that were to be used to replace the old structure were piled onto the half of the bridge that was closed to traffic. It was assumed that the asymmetric load wasn’t a problem.
The recent collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., was another disaster that could have been prevented. Poor decisions and changes, including not thoroughly or thoughtfully re-checking the structure calculations after the developers added an entire floor and a tremendous extra load to the existing new columns, was just part of the problem. Planters with full-sized trees were added, the pool deck was connected to the base of the building instead of being independent, and the pool deck wasn’t sloped to drains, allowing water to seep into the steel reinforcing for years without proper waterproofing.
Now you have a complicated project with an architect missing in action, and a contractor who will bear no responsibility for the design suggesting design changes. I hope you realize that you need to start over, get the scope of work in front of a new professional and avoid the potential problems you’re headed for. Don’t rely on public authorities or a permit to be the answer to your problems. Good communication is your only relief.

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.