Industry Experts Weigh In: Designing and Building Integration
By taking an integrated approach to team building and project delivery, designers and builders can better deliver on client goals, project outcomes and higher performing buildings.
During the panel, the U.S. General Services Administration announced an expanded collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy to invest $30 million in novel green building technologies through the Green Proving Ground, along with plans to meet a net-zero energy goal for its building portfolio by 2045.
Whether formalized in contract type or not, taking an integrated approach to project delivery can do more than promote a harmonious team. It can also provide a framework for all stakeholders to meet their specific project goals and more predictable outcomes.
At AIA’s annual conference in San Francisco, leaders from across the AEC industry discussed how improved integration can foster greater collaboration and support better project outcomes. Experts included Robin Carnahan, Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Jennifer Devlin-Herbert, CEO of EHDD, and Eric Lamb from DPR’s Board of Directors.
In opening the discussion, Carnahan noted the myriad of considerations that go into designing and constructing buildings:
“What’s very interesting for us is that the built environment, as you know, has become very complex,” said Carnahan. “Now, we have to think about so many other things: we have to think about sustainability. We’re thinking a lot about security. We’re thinking a lot about technology and integration and adaptive use. We’ve got to understand the operations and maintenance of these buildings for [a longer period of time].”
Reflecting on the conversation, Devlin-Herbert and Lamb broke down some of the benefits, perceived risks, and opportunities of the future for a highly collaborative approach to project delivery:
Q: What can teams accomplish with improved integration across the entire design and build process?
Jennifer: As designers, we love to incorporate all the aspirations and constraints of a problem into a solution that sings. Historically, cost and value engineering were seen by the architectural profession as requiring unfortunate design compromises. Offering the contractor and trade partners our full respect as active collaborators in bringing forward other opportunities and constraints into the design process, and allowing the trade partner with decades of experience to shape the solution can bring so much more richness to the final design. When done right, improved integration brings us much closer to a design that feels effortlessly right.
Eric: Although there’s been a general lack of adoption of pure Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) or multi-party agreements over the last 10 years, there has been increasing recognition of how integrating design and construction can result in more predictable outcomes and higher performing buildings. This is especially true in cases with early trade partner participation, shared team incentives, component-based design integrating prefab elements, and design-build trades. We are also starting to see benefits of improved integration for asset management when facility management stakeholders are also involved in the planning phases and digital turnover.
"When done right, improved integration brings us much closer to a design that feels effortlessly right."
- Jennifer Devlin-Herbert, CEO of EHDD
Q: Can you share an example of a project that resulted in lessons learned when it comes to promoting collaboration and communication among stakeholders?
Eric: One nearby example is the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay. It was a public project that had state legislative approval for a large hospital project using integrated delivery. We brought in major trade partners early on with a points selection system, and thus had partner input on all details, MEP routing and prefabricated elements.
We had an agreement to co-locate during final design modelling. There was a shared incentive risk pool in place for schedule, quality and design performance, which was successful. The BIM model was 99% clash free with an 8% increase in field productivity, and the building was delivered two weeks early. We were also able to integrate facility management data and equipment attributes into a digital twin to support the client-managed operations post construction.
Jennifer: On a major campus for a large technology client, architects on the client and contractor teams were instrumental in creating a shared language around the process of integration. Their understanding of the design process led to efficiencies in decision making. We gained alignment around design process, values and cost. When we started the project, not only did we create project goals, we also intentionally defined and aligned each partner’s values and priorities into a project charter with the owner, architect and contractor. We made it a point to reinforce those values throughout the project.
Another key lesson was the importance of shared platforms, so everyone had access to the same information to work efficiently. This has to be carefully managed and requires effort to organize across a large team. Doing so helped build trust and supported good decision-making, whether it was related to cost, schedule or documentation. We also learned that having visibility into how complex decisions align with a wide cross-section of participant preferences results in decisions that are more durable and better for the long-term success of the project.
Q: How can improved integration help address budget concerns on projects?
Eric: Integration between designer and builder provides diversity of thought that helps avoid the “optimism bias” that is so common in the construction process. Collaboration with designers and builders during the budgeting process helps provide a more complete and accurate forecast on cost. It becomes the team budget, versus a contractor estimate. We believe that people build buildings. So it’s important to focus on having integrated teams get to know one another, caring about each other, and being committed to each other’s success.
Jennifer: Architects and builders are optimists. We want to solve problems, understand our clients’ ambitions, and meet them. But we also know that cost predictability is paramount, and we don’t get there by pricing for shades of grey. As an industry, we can get better at collaborating to better address contingencies and unknowns. But when we start from a place of alignment, such as a detailed cost model, we can reach greater certainty for the things within the project team’s control. Alignment takes commitment to understanding levels of detail not documented and understanding that the design and construction processes are different. Aligning is a different language.
"Integration between designer and builder provides diversity of thought that helps avoid the optimism bias that is so common in the construction process."
- Eric Lamb, DPR Board of Directors
Q: What might be some of the perceived risks involved with greater integration? How can those risks be managed effectively?
Jennifer: There’s a perception out there that design-build or IPD solves all problems, but the benefits of collaboration can only be realized with a clear understanding of client needs. As an owner, what are you valuing? How are you asking for it and reinforcing it throughout the entire process? It helps by having all the right people in the room, and it’s important that everyone listen and promote equal voices. Adopting a mindset of no rank in the room can help mitigate against the potential to undervalue some team members’ expertise.
From an architect’s perspective, sometimes when the process is so integrated it becomes harder to see just how iterative design is. It’s not well reflected in our industry standard today, nor is it reflected in our fees. Perhaps our contracts will evolve beyond IPD contracts or design-build agreements—right now, the basic expectations of the B101 don’t acknowledge the intensity of collaboration.
Eric: There have been some perceived risks with a more integrated delivery. The two most common we’ve seen are: 1) Bringing on trade partners early without engaging a bid process. In our experience, our trade partners benefit the team in arriving at a lower cost design versus a low price on a more expensive design. 2) There’s also a perception that integration introduces latency; deadlines pass because we’re too nice or overthinking decisions. We can counter that with a well-defined and transparent decision-making process.
Q: There’s been a lot of conversation in the media about AI. Any thoughts on the impact of AI on the industry, and by extension, the way teams can work together?
Eric: The age of AI is quickly upon us, and we are already seeing impacts to our industry, though mostly still in pilot or exploratory phases. If we position this in a design/build/operate context, there are examples emerging. For designers, there will be opportunities to leverage the knowledge and creativity yet have documentation of options and design choices for virtually no cost. For builders, we are already leveraging generative AI to provide optimized stud lengths and sheetrock sizing directly out of BIM models to reduce waste, improve productivity and safety by eliminating need for blades at the jobsite. Facility operations will be enhanced by providing clients all of the building data, manuals and models —and furthermore, allowing them to easily access the information with natural language prompts to obtain the information they need such as “what filters need to be replaced” or “where is the water shutoff valve?” Those are a few initial examples, but the bigger thing is that we think there will be new methods to increase efficiency and reduce risk across project delivery in the coming years.
Jennifer: The integration of AI into our process has taken our world by storm in the last few months. We are both thrilled potential and terrified by the unknown. The creative parts of design, of course, are what we want to hang on to, the rote tasks are what we are looking forward to streamlining. The role of the architect—client interface, building the team, knowing how a building embodies the intangibles—this is what we can and will continue to bring to our processes.
Q: In summary, what are a couple of things that people can do to foster greater integration?
Eric: First, given the increasing labor shortages, teams must leverage Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) with building partners. Doing so can inform the design, particularly when it comes to integrating prefabrication building elements early into a component-based design process. Secondly, I encourage everyone to integrate facility managers earlier into the design process and move towards a more digital turnover to our clients. For more information, I suggest the book Integrating Project Delivery by Martin Fischer from Stanford University.
Jennifer: Integration is about behaviors, commitments and bringing an open mind to a process that might be different than what we know today. Think about how you are integrating the voice of your clients, not just those paying the bills but also those who will live, work and engage in the building you create. Welcome the emerging, younger generations of designers and architects to the table—they bring the creativity, motivation and the responsibility to that we need to help solve the significant issues of this time.
Photos on this page courtesy of Chole Jackman Photography and Trevor Satterwhite.
Board of Directors
Eric Lamb is a natural problem-solver. A numbers man at heart, he studied civil engineering with the goal of creating integrated transportation systems. His love for building, however, steered him towards a master’s degree in construction management and…
Posted on June 15, 2023
Last Updated June 14, 2023