Assignment of design to constructors: Continuing the discussion

One example of inappropriate deferred engineering could occur if a structural engineer unintentionally omits critical annotations fully describing the size of steel members and the loads and eccentricities that are associated with the connections between them.
One example of inappropriate deferred engineering could occur if a structural engineer unintentionally omits critical annotations fully describing the size of steel members and the loads and eccentricities that are associated with the connections between them.

Proprietary or prescriptive specifications establish detailed material descriptions and the manner in which the work is to be performed. They often include lists of acceptable products or single basis-of-design products, which the constructor is required to follow without deviation except where specifically accepted by the RPR through a formal substitution process. These specifications also contain an implied warranty: if followed, they will provide an acceptable result for the project, which remains the responsibility of the RPR.

Performance specifications establish the objective or standard necessary for the component outcome, requiring the constructor to exercise ingenuity in achieving the stated standard of performance and fulfill contractual obligations in selecting means and methods. The corresponding responsibility for selection of the design solution is deferred to the constructor, which essentially assumes the role of designer with respect to deferred design elements or components described. This is the key reason for reliance statements as a submittal indicating the constructor’s ability to undertake the deferred design responsibilities.

Deferred design does not improperly shift design responsibility to the constructor as long as the documentation provided by the RPR states clearly the limits of design involvement and describes the required design solution using explicit language. The constructor is not a design professional and must obtain the services of appropriate supporting registered professionals or supporting certified/qualified contributors early in the construction phase of the project to allow for appropriate communications and co-ordination with the RPR. The constructor also remains responsible for promptly identifying any errors, inconsistencies, or omissions within the contract documents once the supporting registered professionals or supporting certified/qualified contributors are engaged, but does not assume the RPR’s design responsibility by providing design review or constructability analyses.

It is the contractor’s responsibility to perform co-ordination between components forming deferred design content and the construction documents provided for the project, and to obtain interpretation where ambiguities, disconnects, errors, or omissions within the information provided make interpretation of the RPR’s design requirements unclear.

Further, the constructor is responsible for including costs and risks associated with deferred design within the construction documents issued for bid and confirming design requirements contained within the specifications are appropriate for the risks being taken on under contract.

The constructor’s supporting registered professional or supporting certified/qualified contributor assumes similar liabilities in creating design solutions through the process of submitting supporting documentation in the form of reliance statements and sealed and signed shop drawings. This establishes a similar relationship with the CPR as the other contributing RPR for performance associated with providing the design solution. There is no transference of project liability for design and engineering from the RPR—only an appropriate level of liability associated with providing the design solution based on the building component or element being deferred to the constructor. The RPR’s review of design solutions provided by the constructor is only for general conformance to the required design or engineering for the project (informational submittal). The duty for correctness of the design solution remains with the constructor.

Deferred design having reliance on engineering or safety (delegated design) concerns must be performed by a supporting registered professional and submittals must contain the seal and signature of a professional engineer, architect, or other licensed professional for the design solution. These submittals cannot alter the fundamental design requirements presented by the RPR without a formal request for interpretation or substitution.

Keith Robinson, RSW, FCSC, FCSI, has worked as a specifier since 1981 and is currently an associate at Dialog in Edmonton, Alberta, responsible for research and development of technical specification content. His range of experience includes contract administration, building envelope detailing, and writing construction specifications. In addition to working on projects across Canada and in Egypt, Japan, and Costa Rica, Robinson also instructs courses for the University of Alberta, acts as an advisor to several construction associations and building trades committees, sits on several standards review committees for ASTM and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and is the Registrar for CSC’s Board of Directors. He can be reached at

Cameron Franchuk, PE, is a structural engineer at Dialog, where he creates impactful spaces that build communities, but in reality he wears many hats: engineer, educator, and mentor. Franchuk has a deep understanding of architectural concepts and building science. Integration of all disciplines is at the forefront of his thinking throughout a project, from conception to completion. His work on low-, medium-, and high-rise buildings, parkades, and pedways throughout Western Canada has helped shape communities. Franchuk can be reached at

Gerald Murnane is an associate, contract administration, with Dialog. He has been in the industry for 44 years in both Ireland and Canada. He joined Dialog in 1988. Murnane has an in-depth background in the design, specification, and management of complex construction projects. He is well respected in the industry for his senior construction administration expertise. Over the years, he has built strong owner/contractor/designer team-based relationships and has a passion for resolving complicated issues as they arise. Murnane can be reached at

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