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2015 Local Society Visits: Wrap Up

The 2015 visit to each of the local Societies of the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) began mid-August with the first visit by President Toon Dreessen and Executive Director Kristi Doyle to the Thunder Bay Society of Architects, our society farthest to the north. The tour was completed on October 27 with the Ottawa Regional Society of Architects, our most easterly society.
For over 12 years now all 14 local architectural societies are visited by the President and Executive Director annually.
These informal meetings are conducted in a wide variety of formats and venues and provide an excellent opportunity for the President of the OAA and senior management to engage the membership across the province in open discussion regarding the current activities of the Association as well as to receive comments, concerns, and information on issues facing the profession in their own local jurisdiction.
The President reported to members on the following key areas of activity however stressed that the focus of his visits for 2015 was to listen and understand the issues and concerns that the members was to raise.
Public Awareness
The OAA has continued to support and believe in the value of a public relations program to raise the awareness of architecture amongst the general public and in doing so, raise the profile of architects within culture and society. The President indicated that over the course of the last few years, there has been progress made in terms of the visibility and awareness of architects, architecture and the OAA. In 2015, the OAA committed to funding a Brand Architect initiative which is being further developed and expanded upon into 2016. The OAA has made great strides into the realm of social media and is becoming more proactive in responding to emerging issues. There continues to be work to do, of course, however the OAA and architects are being called upon on a much more frequent basis to comment on or respond to issues of social policy as well as technical matters that affect the society we live in and as it relates to the built environment.
The President took time to receive feedback from members who have experienced the results of the public awareness efforts directly. In addition, feedback was sought with respect to what the OAA could be doing to improve upon this initiative. In some areas outside of the GTA, it was evident that the effects of the public awareness program as not as visible or apparent.
Regulatory Enforcement
The President stressed that the OAA continues to focus on and support its regulatory mandate. Efforts related to enforcement against those who are illegally practising architecture or holding themselves out to be an architect are in full force. Members were reminded to send information in this regard directly to the Office of the Registrar. Some members expressed frustration that once the information is sent there is no direct follow up as to what action has been taken. The President noted that members who forward information can obtain an update on request, however due to the volume and timeline of the enforcement activities it would not be efficient to prepare a follow up to every individual that sent information regarding potential enforcement issues.
The President provided a brief update on the OAA’s work with the Ministry of Housing as well as the Ontario Building Officials to have the professional design requirements table included as an appendix to the Building Code. There is support to have it included with the exception of the engineering community which has resulted in the current stalemate.
Relationships with Allied Organizations
The OAA continues to maintain and strengthen relationships with other organizations, specifically through the Construction & Design Alliance Ontario (CDAO). The President reminded that the CDAO addresses the need for an enhanced consultative partnership between the development, design and construction industry, and the provincial government. The CDAO is a forum for discussion, development, and advocacy of the broader industry’s issues related to provincial government policy, legislation, and/or regulation. The CDAO helps facilitate consensus and clarity of the industry’s input to government and provides a focal point for the government to better coordinate initiatives that affect the industry.
To further those activities in particular the President highlighted that the CDAO has established Procurement Day as an annual event which provides an opportunity where common issues related to the procurement of design and construction services can be identified and solutions developed. Procurement Day has developed into an expression of the collective will of representatives from Ontario associations including general contractors, mechanical and electrical trade contractors, owners, buyers, architects, consulting engineers, interior designers, and members of the risk management community to communicate, understand and find solutions. This is a good example of how like-organizations can work together to create one voice around design, design quality, regulation, and professional standards. If not well coordinated, we are a discordant choir but with effort, we can all sing in the same key.
Fair Work Place and for Payment of Intern Architects
In response to issues raised amongst the profession as well as recent attention North American wide, the President noted that he had issued an open letter supporting the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s (RAIC’s) position on paid internships, underscoring the value of intern architects.
As the future and sustainability of the profession, it is critical that we ensure the success of interns and understand that it is part of a bigger picture reflecting how the profession values architecture as well as our desire that society values architects and architecture.
OAA Building Renovation
The President reported that a special Council meeting was held this spring to discuss and debate the pending renovation of the OAA Headquarters and specifically focus on what to do with our asset as a responsible building owner.
As a result of that meeting and subsequent spring meetings, Council decided to take some time to study a specific set of renovation options that would meet the overall objectives of the project in varying degrees. Option one is to proceed with a baseline project which is essentially the minimum scope we should do as a responsible building owner and includes replacing aging cooling and heating plants and associated control systems with current energy efficient technology without a reconfiguration of the basic HVAC system design. Option two would be a phased 2030 Challenge approach which represents an incremental approach that meets the 2030 Challenge over time in accordance with the 2030 schedule. Option 3 would be to pursue and meet the full 2030 Challenge today and stop just short of Net-Zero on-site immediately. Finally, option 4 would be to proceed with the project as currently defined but with some elements potentially phased. This option would achieve the full 2030 Challenge plus net-zero energy on-site.
The final results of that study of varying options is pending and will be delivered to Council shortly. There has been a focus placed on finding a way to balance the responsible needs of the Association and as building leaders of Ontario, setting an example towards meeting the 2030 Challenge.
The President added that work over the summer months also included an Interiors Study to look at work flow optimization and future space needs in order to provide an updated, flexible work space for delivery of member services as well as our subsidiary, Pro-Demnity Insurance Company. An expanded need and desire for more member services in the area of policy/government relations, RFP support, communications and advocacy will require additional staff resources. In order to serve the members, the number of staff needs to increase marginally, and in order to deliver those services, we need space to do so. What we are looking at is ways to make our space efficient and deliver services that members need.
Public Clients/Infrastructure Ontario and Procurement
The President acknowledged that one of the most common areas of concern for members is around Requests for Proposal (RFPs). Conditions and submission requirements are often onerous; insurance requirements exceed reasonable limits; risk transfer and contract conditions that make it clear the party issuing the RFP has no idea what architects do and/or is unwilling to assume any risk whatsoever for the project.
Questions were specifically raised with respect to Infrastructure Ontario’s (IO’s) refreshed Vendor of Record (VOR) system. There were varying comments around the new VOR – many indicated that the system seemed to be working such that they were being invited on a rotational basis to bid on projects along with a limited number of other firms. Some however noted that they had been invited to respond for jobs that were outside their ‘region’, which was not sensible as the cost to pursue the job for those who are ‘out-of-town’ vs. local are prohibitive, particularly since some noted that reimbursement for expenses is being offered on a lump sum basis stated upfront, and not at the actual cost. All members who are on the existing VOR cited issues with the current consultant contract which is being characterized by IO as ‘OAA Document 600’. However the extent of supplementary conditions (SCs) changes the document considerably not to mention the one-sided nature of many clauses. The President noted that the OAA is currently engaged in discussions with IO to update the consultant contract based on the newest version of Document 600, however added that the extent of SCs being put forward by IO is still unnecessary and unreasonable.
During some society visits, there was discussion around how members obtain work, and what proportion is through competition and RFP. Many firms suggested that due to the current procurement climate they no longer respond to RFPs, particularly public ones. Further discussion is noted below as to members’ thoughts and suggests as to how these can be improved through advocacy, education and OAA intervention.
The President stressed that the OAA is an available resource to help municipalities and other public client organization with RFPs and contract language in order to create fair and balanced documents. Members were encouraged to send in questions and concerns regarding RFPs to the OAA Practice Advisory Service (PAS). PAS will actively review these documents and make contact directly with the client group in an effort to point out regulatory issues, or simply poor choice of requirements and language. The President cited a number of recent wins in terms of the positive impact on RFPs noting the Cities of Belleville and Kingston where the OAA was able to effect a positive change.
Some members indicated that they would like to see the OAA issue more ‘alerts’ to members about RFPs and contract language that they should be aware of. There was some discussion around the individual members’ role in also affecting change noting we are often ‘our own worst enemy’ when we don’t force change, by either asking for assistance or simply accepting these conditions.
Pro-Demnity Insurance Company (ProDem)
The President took a few minutes to remind members as to the history of ProDem, its role in the profession of architecture and discuss how it serves the profession and the public. There was some discussion regarding the claims process as well as the effect of the investment and legal climate on the plan credit.
The President highlighted a number of key items that make ProDem unique as a professional insurer in Ontario and in fact across Canada, including the sliding scale deductible, retirement from practice coverage and ‘no fault’ ability to access coverage. Some members shared their experiences in dealing with ProDem noting specifically assistance they obtain when assessing specific liability and insurance requirements in RFPs and contract language. It was noted that the OAA and ProDem continue to look for opportunities to improve in communication and education.
The President also provided a quick reminder of the following events and things to be aware of:
Continuing Education sessions are being held across the province during the fall months through local societies – specifically New Accessibility Changes to the OBC and OBC: New 5 and 6 Storey Wood Construction.
Pro-Demnity Insurance Company has also been travelling the province visiting members via local societies this fall to present the following sessions: Back to the Basics: A Review of the Pro-Demnity Insurance Program & Elliot Lake Mall Inquiry, Designing a Durable Building...What does that mean?; and, Back to the Basics…A Review of the Pro-Demnity Insurance Policy.
The Council Election process for fall 2016 began with Nominations which closed on October 26. Voting was held on November 9 and closed November 23. The President noted that seats open for election included: Province of Ontario, City of Toronto, Eastern Ontario, as well as Western and Northern Ontario.
The Call for entries for the 2016 OAA Awards began mid-November. The President reminded that the OAA Awards showcases the best in architectural design and innovation by Ontario Architects and winners include both emerging new talent and some of the provinces’ most established architecture firms. The President stressed the need however for more Landmark submissions as well as nomination for the service awards. He urged local societies to consider a collective nomination from their area.
The OAA’s Conference 2016 Architecture Matters - Shaping the environment will be held in Toronto, May 11 - 13, 2016 at the Allstream Centre and Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. Conference 2017 will be hosted jointly with the RAIC’s Festival of Architecture in Ottawa and will coincide with the 150th anniversary of confederation.
Best Emerging Practice lecture – Featuring Partisans, the 2015 winner of the Best Emerging Practice Award held on September 24 at OAA Headquarters was a first and is being planned as an annual event to feature the awards winner each year. The event was recorded and is available for viewing on the OAA’s website.
The OAA is also a sponsor of the Moriyama RAIC Illumination Lecture – featuring the inaugural prize winner, Li Xiaodong held at the OAA headquarters on October 29.
Open Discussion around Local Issues
The President had noted at the outset of each visit that the focus was truly to hear and understand local issues. The level and extent of open discussion varied from society to society however, not surprisingly this component of most visits focused on a few key issues and included detailed and often very passionate discussion. Those key items included: ongoing issues with site plan approval, ongoing concerns relative to procurement of architectural services, particularly by public clients, that includes unreasonable RFPs and contract language, and finally the low professional fees.
Site Plan Approval
Site plan approval continues to be problematic across the province. There has been little if any improvement in the site plan process over the last two years, and more specifically since the release of the OAA’s Site Plan Study. There was detailed discussion regarding the status of that report and questions from the membership as to ‘what is being done’ by the OAA to advance the Study and recommendations contained therein. The President recalled the symposium that was hosted in the fall of 2013 to highlight the completion and release of the Study, as well as media coverage around it. Subsequent to that, the Report was advanced to specific government officials including the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing as well as his ADM. The President noted that the OAA has been sharing the report regularly with municipalities in response to issues raised by members with respect to their site plan process. Some societies in particular noted that they are presenting the OAA’s Site Plan Study to their
local municipalities. Notwithstanding efforts to disseminate the Study further and raise awareness, the President indicated that it has been difficult to get traction. The OAA is now considering a strategy to reinvigorate discussion around the Study and site plan issues in hopes of affecting change in the future.
During a particular visit, the suggestion was made that the OAA develop a guideline for design review panels to follow as they are being put into use with greater frequency by local jurisdictions, each with their own guidelines, rules, and process. There is considerable concern among some members with respect to the level of control and input that the panels have over design.
Procurement Issues
Some areas in the province expressed concern with much less work being available due to the completion of infrastructure projects that had been funded by the government stimulus funding program, however, other areas are noting that there is a considerable amount of work, but that the competition is fierce.
A few societies highlighted that they are becoming much more engaged as a group with their local municipality, council, building and planning departments. This has been useful in creating a better level of understanding and communication between the profession and the municipal officials. Contentious issues around planning and siting of some public buildings is of considerable concern in some areas and particularly poor planning which is being done without the involvement of the architectural community.
It was noted on a number of occasions that an increasing number of municipalities and public clients are moving towards the design build model of project delivery and lack of, or insufficient honorarium is an issue.
In addition to the discussion around working with IO as noted above, additional concern was raised in some areas that IO PMSPs are not following the regional VOR such that firms are being invited to respond to small projects that are a considerable distance away and outside of the region that they are ‘signed on to’.
Poorly crafted RFPs were raised as an issue across the province. Specific issues raised included:
  • too many unrelated, boilerplate documents attached to the RFP i.e. 600 pages that don’t apply to that particular project;
  • expenses are expected to be part of the fees without an understanding of what those costs might be;
  • requirements for the architect to hire the specialist consultants and contractors or perform other duties that are outside of the practice of architecture;
  • the amount of professional liability insurance being requested under some RFPs is unreasonable and prohibiting some from bidding - scale of the insurance is not appropriate for the project;
  • requirement that the architect will provide an ultimate guarantee the project come in on budget; and
  • selection model is based on the awarding to the lowest fees as opposed to the best team.
It was noted that, unfortunately, public clients build upon one another’s documents such that members are seeing the above issues repeated in areas across the province.
In response to the above discussion regarding RFPs, members provided their thoughts as to how this growing issue of RFPs could be addressed which included:
provincial standards for RFPs,
  • OAA staff person dedicated full time to the review of RFPs and procurement,
  • visits to all municipalities to review their standard RFP,
  • establish a directive that all RFPs must be vetted by OAA,
  • prohibit or discipline members for responding to poor RFPs.
There was also discussion as to whether the OAA could create a databank of unreasonable RFP requirements and contract language that could be referred to by members when dealing with an issue, or that could be accessed by public clients as part of their process in developing their documents so as to avoid those issues outright. This could also include a roster of good RFP examples and exemplary clients.
One society enquired as to whether ProDem could do a case study in terms of demonstrating what level of professional liability insurance is acceptable and/or adequate.
Professional Fees
Low fees continue to be a concern and the role of the OAA in helping to solve this issue as well as that of individual members was discussed at length in most locations.
Some members continued to stress the importance of the OAA in assisting small firms in dealing with business matters including more bulletins and resources. Some members also spoke about the need for establishment of clear performance standards for the profession – specifically relative to fees and responding to RFPs.
A general item of discussion that was raised is whether there is a correlation between fees and claims. The President noted that this has been looked at and there is no correlation.
Other issues raised
Given the issues that members are continuing to experience with respect to procurement, it was suggested that the OAA should do more promotion of OAA standard documents and templates. It is evident that many, including OAA members are not fully aware of the resources on the OAA’s Website, specifically standard documents.
One society raised the need for a guideline for firms in understanding better their roles and responsibilities as the employer in the relationship with their intern architects.
One society in particular raised concern with respect to the gap in understanding that exists around heritage buildings and the public’s understanding of their importance and role in society. It was suggested that more education is needed.
In the North, there were concerns raised regarding contractors and site supervisors and the level of training available to them.
It was noted that there are lots of opportunities for architects to be involved locally, however time and resources are limited. In addressing this there was some discussion as to whether it would be possible to create a bank of architects who would be willing to help in local areas. Travel costs however were raised as a concern in this regard.
There seemed to be general consensus that members outside of the GTA would like to see the OAA develop learning via distance education.
Discussion ensued during one particular visit regarding the OAA’s Building Code Data matrix and that it be altered to include horizontal separations.
Some frustration was voiced by members outside of the GTA regarding the fact that special events are being held at OAA Headquarters only and not in other city centres.
Some concerns were raised with respect to the OAA Awards program, suggesting that it still fails to recognize smaller projects and smaller firms. It was noted that there needs to be greater focus on architectural value as opposed to a project that has an ‘unlimited budget’. It was also suggested that the OAA give consideration to establishing an award for exemplary clients.
There was some general discussion regarding the elements of the final Report and Recommendations resulting from the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry. The President noted that the OAA is involved in ongoing work with respect to implementation of recommendations by the government and very specifically the establishing and defining the role of the ‘coordinating consultants’.

This above summarizes the content of the 2015 annual visits to the OAA’s local societies and highlights the key areas of discussion. OAA Council will consider this information further as it moves into the New Year and begins its priorities and planning exercise for 2016.