Integrated Project Delivery: What Do Architects Gain? More Importantly, What Do Architects GIVE UP?

Many architects are excited about the concept of Integrated Project Delivery.  The AIA defines Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) as “a method of project delivery distinguished by a contractual arrangement among a minimum of owner, constructor and design professional that aligns business interests of all parties.”  It describes IPD as “a collaborative project delivery approach that utilizes the talents and insights of all project participants through all phases of design and construction.”  It sounds great.  We architects love to collaborate, and we understand that good buildings depend on collaboration with other team members, such as owners and contractors. 

The AIA’s “Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide” indicates that IPD’s benefits to designers are the following:

“The integrated delivery process allows the designer to benefit from the early contribution of constructors’ expertise during the design phase, such as accurate budget estimates to inform design decisions and the pre-construction resolution of design-related issues resulting in improved project quality and financial performance. The IPD process increases the level of effort during early design phases, resulting in reduced documentation time, and improved cost control and budget management, all of which increase the likelihood that project goals, including schedule, life cycle costs, quality and sustainability, will be achieved”.   

These are good benefits; this is important information for architects and engineers to have, so that they can do their best in providing their design services to the owner.  But design professionals can get these benefits through other means, such as by hiring a construction cost estimator, and by doing a better job of coordinating all the design disciplines. 

Architects who engage in IPD need to understand that their role is different under this project delivery method than it is under other project delivery methods.  Under IPD, architects are less autonomous than they are in traditional project delivery methods, architects are less influential over design decisions than they are in traditional delivery methods, and the architect’s relationship with the owner is watered down compared to the relationships in traditional delivery methods.  This isn’t merely how IPD happens, this is actually how it is contractually conceived.  

IPD is one solution to some of the problems in the construction industry today (such as poorly coordinated construction documents, constructability issues with designs, projects coming in over budget, and poor project management by architects during construction contract administration), but IPD is not the only solution

Architecture firms should not wade into these IPD waters without fully understanding what they’re getting into, and what they’re giving up.  They need to understand that they are giving up the chance to work by themselves on the early phases of the design of buildings.  They need to understand that they will never have a one-on-one relationship with the owner on an IPD project.  They need to understand that they won’t be the party passing communications between the owner and the contractor.  They need to understand that although the contractor will have heavy input on the design, the design professional will still have professional liability for the design.

Architecture needs to improve itself as a profession if it is to thrive under IPD, just as architecture needs to improve itself as a profession if it is to thrive at all.  IPD isn’t the savior of the architecture profession.  IPD cannot make up for architects’ deficiencies in building technology knowledge, deficiencies in understanding of, and administration of, construction contracts, and deficiencies in understanding and implementing building codes.  If architecture can improve itself in these areas, maybe architects will find IPD less attractive.  If architecture cannot improve itself in these areas, architects are likely to find our profession in just as unhealthy a position when IPD becomes prevalent.

Some comments from others on the subject of IPD:

Thoughts from Barbara Golter Heller, FAIA, in a 2008 article:

“Architects usually assume that their design will be the controlling factor in integrated project delivery; owners want technology to facilitate their control over the project and its process. Owners who focus on cost-saving efficiencies and expedited schedules may not be managing a project in a way that is congruent with the expectations of designers and engineers. If large owners focus as aggressively on economics through technological capabilities as they are currently doing with project delivery methods such as design-build, architects are threatened with lost autonomy. If architecture is to thrive in the new world of technology aided integrated project delivery, architects must clearly communicate the human value of design in the context of cost-driven business incentives.”  –  Barbara Golter Heller, FAIA

From Antony McPhee, an Australian architect, in a recent blog post:

“Current proposed IPD models marginalise architects… They push the architect out of their role at the beginning of projects, when traditionally architects have had the most influence.” – Antony McPhee

 “It explicitly reduces the traditional influence of architects at early stages of a project, and therefore the main driver of design excellence.”- Antony McPhee

 “In theory BIM and IPD will provide improved quality of outcomes. But that improvement doesn’t necessarily include better architectural outcomes. It does include reduced time, reduced co-ordination mistakes, the ability to model alternative scenarios. But those scenarios are not necessarily ones involving improving architectural design. As only one member of a collaborative team, it is unlikely the team will appreciate the advantage of letting the architects work through design alternatives. Contrast that with current practice where the architect spends most of the early stages of a project doing just that.”- Antony McPhee

For more thoughts on why architects should become more TECHNICALLY competent, for the sake of DESIGN, see the following:

Ron Geren’s blog post “Towards a More Irrelevant Architect”

Walter Scarborough’s “Specifying Mediocrity? Without a Technical Foundation, Design is on Shaky Ground”

My blog post “Architects, Take Back the Reins!”

And, finally, a paper by Dr. Kevin Burr that explains why a future full of IPD is likely inevitable: “Moving Toward Synergistic Building Delivery and Integration”  (scroll down the page to find the paper).

I have not experienced an IPD project, so, even more than usual, I welcome your comments on this post.

Why Does My Spec Writer Ask So Many Annoying Questions?

Many full-time specifiers were project architects at some point. We’ve been in your shoes. We are thinking about ourselves in your future shoes, a few months from now, during construction. That’s why we ask you all these questions during the Construction Documents phase.

How do spec writers keep all these questions in their heads?

Well, they’re not always bouncing around in our heads. When we use our master spec sections to prepare project specification sections, we get prompted to think about many little details of construction, spanning a range from bidding to layout, rough construction, finished construction, to warranties and life cycle maintenance. We also think about sequencing, and how things will all get put together, a little more than some other members of the design team do.

But I still have design work, and other stuff to do right now, during CDs. Why do I have to think about these questions now? Why can’t we just address these things in the field?

The process of writing a spec section, much like the process of drawing a construction detail, is part of the process of design. Your spec writer is a design professional, just as your consulting engineers are.

Sometimes spec writers think a little bit like estimators – when we look at product data and specification masters, we consider different product options and selections that need to be made. That’s one reason we ask the project architect questions. We don’t want you to have to make these selections during the submittals part of construction. We want to specify it now. Why? It’s not because we’re control freaks, and it’s not that we’re so concerned about your work load during construction contract administration (although some of us might be control freaks, and I personally am concerned about my architect-clients’ work load during construction). We want to spec these things now because now, during CDs, is the right time.

Some product options are standard and others cost more. We’d rather specify the color you want, now, before the contract is signed, so that there won’t be extra costs in the form of change orders for silly things like colors that are more expensive than the color group the contractor was expecting (and priced).

Sometimes we think like installers or subcontractors. We might ask questions about whether the owner wants vinyl tiles to be under the casework, or to butt to the casework. This is something that might be in spec sections for casework and for vinyl tile. Someone needs to make the owner’s expectations explicitly clear to the contractor. The owner might not care. But the owner might care – the project architect should ask the owner.

Things that ought to be addressed during CDs, and aren’t, often end up costing the owner more money, end up costing the architect more time (and therefore burning through more fee and therefore reducing the firm’s profit) and end up causing the general contractor more stress, because of having to obtain a price on documents that aren’t really complete, and having to then address (argue about) discrepancies between what was actually desired (but not specified clearly) and what was priced (based on fair assumptions).

SOMEBODY HAS TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES. The most qualified person, and the person who might actually be legally obligated, to address these issues, is the architect. The contractor often ends up making these decisions, and it’s not always the way the owner or the architect would have liked it – it’s better to explain how you’d like it, so the contractor knows, instead of letting him do it however he decides, and then asking for it to be redone later. Redoing things costs the owner extra money.

THE ISSUES HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED AT SOME POINT. They will not just go away. The time to address these things is during construction documents phase, when everything can be considered together before it’s too late. (Before it’s too late to make necessary changes to other things in order to get everything to turn out the way you envision. Nothing in design and construction can be considered in a vacuum. Everything affects, and is affected by, other things.) Try to address everything now, and you’ll have fewer surprises during construction.

Your spec writer is thinking about these relationships between building elements right now, and has taken the time to ask you the questions, and wants to write the specs in such a way that your intent can be achieved during construction.

Take the time now, read your spec writer’s provoking emails now, think through everything now, ask your spec writer questions now, and get all those design decisions made now, so that you’re not scrambling later, under the gun, in the field, during construction.

This is what the sophisticated owner expects.