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Peer Review: Why Four Eyes Are Better Than Two

Ethelind Coblin in Building Operations on June 18, 2018

New York City

Peer Review
June 18, 2018

When someone wants to renovate his or her apartment in a co-op or condo, an alteration agreement typically requires them to hire an architect or interior designer to prepare and submit plans to the board for review. The board can then hire its own architect or engineer – a peer of the resident’s architect – to review those drawings as a way to protect the board, the building systems, and the shareholders. You don’t want water and noise to penetrate apartments. Peer review is an important safeguard. 

In the peer-review process, what we look for are structural, mechanical (including air conditioning), plumbing, electrical, and envelope and architectural issues. We find that soundproofing is probably the most stressful issue between shareholders.

After we get a submission, we have 10 working days to perform our peer review. We try to set up an onsite meeting with the unit-owner or shareholder and the architect or interior designer working on the job. These reviews are meant to protect adjacent neighbors as well as the person who’s renovating and to move everything along as quickly as possible. Because the last thing a building wants is to have a shareholder who is renovating for two or three years. That spells disaster.

Following the initial meeting, the shareholder or unit-owner goes back to her architect, who revises the drawings as necessary and sends a “letter of response.” The best folks respond correctly and get approved quickly. 

Once they complete the drawings and specifications, they hire a contractor. The contractor provides copies of his insurance and licenses to the managing agent, notifies neighbors, and the work begins. 

We will next return to the site after demolition. This is the most critical point in a project because we will probably find unexpected issues now that the walls are opened. We might find pipes that no one knew existed, or fire-stopping breaches, or a steel beam with all or a portion of the concrete casing ripped off. 

Peer reviews are crucially important to the building because they protect and improve safety and structural stability. The benefits of peer reviews go beyond that – to the person doing the renovating, the immediate neighbors, and the board. 

Ethelind Coblin is a principal at Ethelind Coblin Architect.

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