Design After Disaster
Typically, the design and construction process for most building projects begins with a client’s desire or wish to creatively resolve a shelter problem or to create a new image or life direction. These are premeditated processes that involve much thought, consideration of alternatives, acquisition of property, finances, and other resources necessary to achieve the desired goal. This process usually takes place in a happy atmosphere filled with hope and anticipation.
Such is often not the case when the building project is necessitated by a disaster. In this case, the design and construction activity often take place in an atmosphere of anxiety, despair, and trepidation. Post-disaster clients have had their whole world turned upside down and have possibly just lost everything familiar in their world: their home, mementos, vehicles, pets, places of employment, and perhaps even loved ones.
Overnight, they have been tossed from their once familiar, comfortable, safe lifestyle into turmoil where they need to provide food and shelter for themselves. There are many unanswered questions and a great need for assistance and information. Once their basic needs are accommodated, they can begin to focus on where to go from here. Understand that post-disaster clients are unlike typical design clients. They are not entering this process or effort willingly. This design and construction activity was the farthest thing down on their bucket list for this time in their lives. But here they are; so, how can design professionals assist in this process?
Communication and dialogue are important in any design process and even more so when operating in the post-disaster environment. Here are some factors to be aware of:
- Exempt Project Type
If the project involves a single-family residential use, an unlicensed person may provide design services if the project is no more than two-stories and a basement in height and of conventional wood frame construction. Such a person should also meet the experience criteria described below (see exemptions under Article 3, starting with Business and Professions Code (BPC) § 5537).
- Non-Exempt Project Type
If the project does not meet the above criteria or is a commercial use, then a licensed design professional (either a licensed architect or registered civil/structural engineer) must be in responsible charge of the design and preparation of the construction documentation. This is true if the client wishes to use other than "conventional wood frame" construction for their residence.
- Written Contract
ALWAYS use a written contract that at least defines who does what to whom, how much it will cost, and what the end-product is expected to be. Missed expectations are most often the causes for disputes between the parties in a design and construction process. The written contract criteria found in the Architects Practice Act can form the basis for this purpose (BPC § 5536.22).
We would recommend that post-disaster clients be directed to the California Architects Board publication Consumer’s Guide to Hiring an Architect as a useful resource before engaging either a licensed or an unlicensed designer.