Several years ago, I ran across an advertisement for an unbelievably cheap CAD program in the back of a mass-mailing software brochure, which thrust forth the rhetorical challenge, "Why hire an architect when you can produce your own drawings for only $19.95?!" This hilariously inane ad reflected the all-too-common confusion about the difference between the need for a tool and the need for the expertise which makes use of that tool. It also aptly demonstrated public misperception about the distinction between design and drafting.
The confusion isn't entirely unexpected, though, given the fuss we often make about our drawings. Although drawings are instruments of a designer's services, rather than products in themselves, good construction documents cost a lot to produce, and they reveal our designs to anyone who knows how to read them. Thus drawing ownership has always been a crucial issue in the relationships amongst owners, architects, and other members of the design team. Contracts usually spell out in what form the contract documents get delivered to the owner, and what are each party's rights to and liabilities from the documents in the future. Although disagreements and transgressions still occur, these contract provisions at least represent some general consensus about who owns what.
Now with more and more projects being produced on CAD, this uneasy peace threatens to be shattered. Clients, and especially the federal government, often are demanding that contract documents be delivered in electronic form. Owners are looking to reap some of the long-promised advantages of CAD like drawing re-use for facilities management or renovation, while design professionals are worried about loss of control over their documents and a corresponding increase in liability. Also, delivery of contract documents in electronic form is only part of the larger issue of electronic document exchange. Consider these other scenarios:
- The architect mandates periodic exchange of DWG files amongst the various design offices on a project for coordination purposes.
- A materials fabricator who uses CAD asks for your DWG files so that he can prepare shop and fabrication drawings more economically.
- Your relationship with an owner turns sour, and you mutually agree to terminate your involvement in a project. The owner wants your working drawings in order to give them to your replacement. Or conversely, you take over for another design firm, and are offered their unfinished DWG files.
- Your firm is hired for a major renovation, and receives a pile of floppy diskettes containing alleged "as-builts" of the original project. You are urged by this forward-thinking owner to lower your fee in consideration of all the drafting time she saved you.