Q&A: Partner Profile - Collaboration through Alternative Project Delivery

Named California office director in 2010, William Diefenbach previously led the research, learning and courts studio for 22 of his 37-year career at SmithGroupJJR. (Photo courtesy of SmithGroupJJR)
DPR and SmithGroupJJR’s design-build UCSF Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building won 2013’s Center for the Built Environment’s Livable Building Award. (Photo by Bruce Damonte)

SmithGroupJJR and DPR have collaborated on close to 50 projects, including DPR’s Phoenix net-zero energy regional office. DPR caught up with SmithGroupJJR’s Senior Vice President William L. Diefenbach, FAIA, and discussed collaborative projects. The following are his insights:

What are the benefits of the design-build delivery method?
Design-build focuses heavily on collaboration. Traditionally, contractors implement the designs but through design-build, contractors are moving toward greater involvement and impact on design. Partners are equal in the decision-making. The contractor and the owner are all educated to the same level about design decisions. They are then armed with the knowledge of the cost and schedule impacts. The logic is that it’ll be a better design decision due to all this knowledge.

What about an integrated approach?
All parties involved in integrated projects—whether full integrated project delivery (IPD) or an integrated form of agreement (IFOA) contract—have the same goals of equality and profitability. In an integrated approach, all entities push for the same goals and the best direction.

Making decisions becomes consensus-oriented. While it sounds like getting consensus can be a slow process, being consensus-oriented works very well. Each team member focuses on the schedule. The more cost-effective everything is, the better it is for everyone.

Whether it’s design, image, functionality, cost, delivery or schedule—each entity is truly communally responsible for everything on the project. Everyone survives or thrives based on the success of the entire team together.

Are you seeing more of these types of projects lately?
Yes. Particularly, in the last year and half, I’ve seen an increase in projects coming out for selection in design-build. In the design-build process, the architect is contracted to the contractor.

It’s been a collaborative approach with DPR on projects like the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). That was a true design-build project, starting from bridging documents.

How important is it to clarify the goals going into a project?
Everyone has different goals going in. So, putting those goals together, clarifying deliverables and getting a common agreement are essential in any project, whether design-build, IPD or other.

How have profit-sharing incentives affected projects?
It motivates everyone to get things done on time. Whether provided by the owner or the contractor, the shared incentive for everyone to be successful only helps matters.

How does the use of building information modeling (BIM) as a tool factor into projects with alternative project delivery methods?
I think BIM is essential today in every project, no matter what contracting method of agreement one has. However, BIM is probably even more essential in design-build projects and integrated projects. Through BIM, we’re communicating with each other more and the goal is to eliminate wasted work. If we can use models that we started with initially and continue with them through the entire construction phase, there will be savings for everyone: architects, clients and subcontractors.

What about co-location?
Co-location is the practice of the architect, engineer, contractor, subcontractors and owner all sitting together side-by-side. I know DPR has done this often. It speeds up consensus-oriented decision-making because you’re talking to someone right next to you who has a totally different take on the information. It speeds the process along and builds trust amongst the team. When you’re in separate offices, it’s not as easy.

How does collaboration play into innovative solutions?
The best ideas may come from anywhere. It’s a philosophy that many firms use, but probably some take more to heart than others. Our responsibility is to keep an open mind, accept the best ideas wherever they may come and then make the best building out of them.