As a construction attorney, I am often tasked with confronting architects and engineers on the decisions they made in planning or monitoring construction projects. The vast majority of times, the architect or engineer is well versed in the underlying regulations and codes on which he or she based their decisions. But sometimes, the architect or engineer admits to having no knowledge of the underlying codes and to having no previous experience on that type of project. This was the situation Grenfell Tower tragedy, in which 72 people died when high-rise apartment caught fire.
Studio E Architects won the bid to design and monitor construction of the Grenfell Tower project. The lead architect elected to use exterior cladding that had previously caught fire on other buildings. And, the lead architect admitted that did not know that the cladding he had selected caught fire on other projects, he had not read the regulations requiring that external walls must resist the spread of fire, and he had no knowledge of the regulatory guidance about how to deign cavity barriers.
To make matters worse, the designer responsible for day-to-day contact for the contractor was not a qualified architect. And, the lead architect had never worked on a similar high-rise building and had no experience with the cladding materials selected.
Finally, the architecture firm admitted that it manipulated its fees to avoid having to publicly bid the project.
These three very serious shortcomings make for a very bad day indeed. I have no question that insurers will be pointing their collective fingers at the architecture firm and demanding payment, if not its insurer’s policy limits, to compensate the victims in this situation. I would also question whether the architecture firm continues to operate.
Take Away: Don’t assume that a professional has the experience to do the job. Make sure you check their background and references to ensure that they know how to handle the project you have in mind. If you need help establishing qualification criteria for your project architect or engineer, we recommend that you contact an experienced construction attorney to help.