AIA Teaching Architects To Lead Design-Build
As design-build project
delivery continues to become more popular, contractors are
plunging in to take the lead on the vast majority of the work
because they are used to taking on and managing risk. Architects,
who generally shun construction risk and are ethically opposed
to changing traditional roles, increasingly are being relegated
to subcontractor roles. Now some architects are saying it
is time for a change.
"At least 75% of design-build
projects are contractor-led," said architect and design-build
consultant Dorwin A.J. Thomas, chairman of the American Institute
of Architects Design-Build Knowledge Community Advisory Group.
He is leading a series of design-build seminars across the
country this year to educate and embolden architects to take
the helm on more design-build jobs. "The market is headed
to design-build and architects are being left out. If design-build
was a ship, contractors are steering it and soon they will
be in the engine room if architects dont get on board."
"There are many reasons why
contractors are taking the lead on design-build projects and
architects arent," said Thomas at one of the all-day
sessions, held March 18 at the Center for Architecture in
New York City. "One reason is that the subject of design-build
is something we try to avoid, we arent comfortable with
it. Architects think design-build is for dumb, repetitive
designs like parking garages, but thats not the case.
Design-build is here to stay and architects are now realizing
that," he told the 150 attendees.
Thomas said owners are choosing
design-build delivery because it streamlines the bidding process,
shortens job time, dissolves the adversarial relationship
between builders and designers inherent with design-bid-build
and gives owners a single point of accountability.
Mark Strauss, president-elect of
AIAs New York chapter, pointed out that owners "are
tired of designers and contractors duking it out and they
are tired of change orders. They want one contract, so they
only have to make one telephone call if the roof leaks."
(Photo by Tom Nicholson for
Over the past five years, the number
of design-build projects has increased five-fold, putting
it on pace to cover 50% of all public and private construction
in the nation within the next five years, said Harold Adams,
chairman of the Design-Build Institute of America and chairman
emeritus of RTKL Associates Inc., Baltimore. He estimates
design-build could stabilize at 60 to 70% of the U.S. construction
Spurring the surge in integrated
delivery is design-build-friendly legislation that all but
a handful of states have adopted in recent years, a change
that is reversing a perception held among U.S. architects
throughout much of the 20th century that design-build is unethical.
Martin Sell, COO of Verona, Wis.-based architectural firm
Horizon Group, traces the origins of that perception to laws
such as the 1935 Miller Act, which established an "absolute
separation of design professionals from construction trades."
AIA historically has supported
that separation, stating in its Canon of Ethics at the turn
of the last century that "package dealers" were
unethical. That perception subsequently contributed to many
bidding and contracting laws that made design-build cumbersome
or impossible in the U.S. "Europe, Canada and Mexico
have always used design-build," Adams said. "They
are way ahead of us on this."
States have been easing their opposition
over the past two decades. William Quatman, an architect and
attorney with Kansas City, Mo.-based Shugart, Thomson and
Kilroy, calls the states without updated design-build laws
as those "that havent seen the light." He
pointed out that all federal agencies have some design-build
contracts and encourage firms to seek them by offering stipends
to offset proposal costs.
Schools and highway projects benefit
from quick delivery, as do hospitals. Hospital projects "are
very tied to design-build because they need to get facilities
running immediately," said Quatman.
At the seminar, speakers hammered
home the message that architects need to buy into design-build.
But that is proving to be a hard sell to architects who typically
do not have experience managing construction jobs or taking
those kinds of project risks.
(Photo by Tom Nicholson for Design-Build)
"There is some risk with design-build
and architects generally are not risk takers," says Quatman.
He points to results of personality tests done on contractors
and designers that suggest the two tend to have opposite personalities.
While architects tend to be introverted, deep thinking and
theoretical and prefer to work alone, contractors are inclined
to prefer fact to theory and favor hands-on work in groups.
When it comes to leading a team of builders on a job site
"architects are not wired for it," Quatman says.
Sell believes there are more concrete
reasons why architects shun the lead on design-build jobs.
"Architects are trained to focus on the design,"
he says. "They arent used to dealing with schedules,
costs and the things that a contractor typically deals with."
Sell has led several design-build projects, including schools,
retirement housing and resort hotels in the Midwest. He says
the risks are manageable. "In 17 years of doing design-build,
I have seen no lawsuits," he says. "But I have seen
many in design-bid-build."
Quatman believes there is more
risk in putting out a set of plans for competitive bids and
having a low bidder exploit every opportunity for a change
order or claim. He points to data from Chicago-based insurer
CNA showing that claims last year on traditional-delivery
jobs were 23.3 per 100 insured firms, while claims on design-build
jobs were 15.6 per 100 insured firms. "On design-build
jobs, problems were worked out in the field, which kept jobs
moving," Quatman said.
In their favor, designers more
often than contractors have the initial contact with, and
confidence of, owners. This is an advantage when venturing
into team leadership. Conversely, designers need to be aware
that their traditional role as the owners representative
on a design-bid-build job will shift as they assume the lead
on an integrated project. That is a role change architects
will have to grapple with, said Charles Linn, an architect
and deputy editor of Architectural Record magazine. "Design-build
really challenges us and makes us ask ourselves some very
tough questions," he said. "For example, can we
still be relied upon to protect the [owners interest]
once we start doing construction?"
According to Linn, "architects
have long abided by the tradition of AIA that someone has
to take charge in protecting the client. Can we change roles
now? Will we now compromise quality in order to maximize profits?"
Linn says architects have groomed a cultural perception that
"builders cant be trusted, so can we now do design-build
without becoming untrustworthy?" Linn says the answer
is "yes, because it doesnt matter whether you are
acting as an architect or contractor, you have the same ethical
obligation to protect the health and welfare of the public."
Thomas has led design-build projects
for 40 years, including a luxury resort in Stowe, Vt., a boat
house in Ontario, and a jail in Suffolk County, Mass. He used
those jobs to illustrate how designers can step into team
leading. "Start with a small project and the word will
spread," Thomas said. "Your clients will be your
best advertising. Stick to a project type you know. If youve
done hospitals, then stick to it. Dont venture into
something you havent done before."
Thomas advises gradually easing
into the lead role by offering bridging or consulting services
to an owner looking to use a design-build contract. Designers
also can move into design-build by partnering with a contractor,
buying a construction firm or selling their design firm to
a contractor. Architects need to be prepared to exercise skills
in cost estimating, project scheduling, construction sequencing,
site safety regulation and hiring construction workers, Thomas
by Tom Nicholson for Design-Build)
Common pitfalls that newcomers
to design-build encounter include poor contracts, incomplete
pricing documents, failure to check state licensing laws,
errors in estimating or design, or unrealistic schedules.
Quatman emphasized that designers need to select team members
carefully. "Choose someone youve worked well with
before" and then match staff who work well together and
discuss each others strengths, he said. There is a "foxhole
partner" dynamic that unfolds on good teams in which
each is "watching the others back," he explained.
"Experienced teams, especially those that have worked
together before, where there is a high degree of trust, have
the best results," Quatman said.
Adams added, "It is important
to hire the contractor early on, right from the get- go, and
Design-build often is touted for cutting
time and costs, such as 5-to-7% lower construction costs,
10-to-12% faster construction time and 33% faster overall
project delivery. But Adams emphasized that teaming should
not only be valued for what it can reduce, but for what it
can add to a job. "Design-build is not just about doing
work faster and cheaper, it is about adding quality,"
he said. "Design-build does not compromise the design.
Design must be promoted as an integral element of the project,
not an added-on commodity."
Architects at the seminar studied
several high-profile, designer-led design-build projects,
including the Pentagon reconstruction, a federal courthouse
in New York City, Tampa International Airport, Mile High Stadium
in Denver and the main public library building in Chicago.
The seminar ended with a segment
called "Making Money," in which Sell explained that
architects can substantially increase their profits when leading
a job. "Designer-led design-build enables the architect
to participate in construction profits, which dwarf the profits
from the design phase," Sell said. Results of informal
research among design-build firms show construction profits
are four times higher than design profits on most jobs, he
Some attendees said the seminar
was enlightening. "I have done design-build jobs before.
The whole name of the game is control," said architect
J. Sergent May of East Setauket, N.Y. "For me it reinforced
the fact that you can do design-build on any scale,"
said Bruce Hultgren, of Domenech Hicks & Krockmalnick,
New York City. "A lot of projects Im involved with
are small scale and from what Ive seen here, you can
make this work."
AIA had planned to hold as many
as 14 seminars this year, but a lack of funding has caused
that schedule to be pared down to four. Thomas will be the
sole speaker at the remaining seminars. "There will be
a few more," Thomas says. "After that its
going to fade out." Thomas says he would like to see
the seminars continue. "There is hope that this can keep
going somehow next year, which would be good because its
a very informative presentation."
The next seminars are scheduled
to be held this fall and winter in Wisconsin, Florida and
Nevada. Locations and additional information can be found
at AIAs Website, www.aia.org/db.
Still Faces Problems in
New York State
architects attending the March 18 AIA Design-Build
seminar in New York City heard design-build proponents
zero-in on the states restrictive stance toward
integrated delivery. Some public design-build projects
are permitted in New York, but only with authorization
and within certain limitations. It is a process that
makes integrated delivery difficult, if not impossible.
Among the barriers to design-build
are laws preventing public agencies from using price
as the primary criteria in awarding a design contract
or awarding a single prime contract and laws that
mandate separate contracts on some jobs for plumbing,
heating and electrical work.
Recent legislation has
revised some of these restrictions and there are bills
pending in the state Senate and Assembly that would
open more doors for public design-build usage. One
bill would modify a state licensing law that says
an architectural firm cannot contract for a design
job if any of its employees are not licensed. Design-build
proponents say the law prevents designers from taking
the lead on a design-build job where its design work
would be integrated with the construction team. Another
bill would make it illegal for architects to work
for a design-builder because their dependent
status may not [allow them] to freely exercise their
professional judgement in the interest and protection
of the owner or the public. That bill, which
AIA New York State Executive Vice President Barbara
J. Rodriguez spoke out in favor of during the seminar,
sparked discussion among AIA members. Some said the
bill seems to contradict AIAs push to enable
designer-led design-build jobs.
The bill would amend the
states professional licensing law for architects
and would require an additional design firm to be
hired on any project where an architect engages in
work with a contractor. The bill also would require
that the architect have no financial interest with
the client. If there is going to be a contractor-led
design-build contract, we dont want it to diminish
architects traditional role as the owners
watchdog, Rodriguez said.
But attorney William Quatman
noted that an architect leading a design-build team
must assume some financial interest in the job. Some
say the amendment would preserve limitations on designer-led
design-build jobs. Quatman says the amendment has
been introduced in past legislative sessions and predicts
that it will not be adopted this year. I think
the AIA will rethink their stance on that amendment,
There seems to be a groundswell
of support to reform the states design-build
laws and some say changes are long overdue. The New
York City Bar Association in a 2003 report said that
the state is outside the mainstream. Its
time to lift constraints on New York public works
and bring the state into the 21st century.
Despite lobbying efforts
by the states Dept. of Transportation, which
has been trying to get design-build authorization
for its projects since 1992, NYDOT continues to operate
almost solely within the design-bid-build realm. In
2002, NYDOT delivered to state legislators a survey
of 14 public entities from around the nation, which
attributed faster delivery, cost savings, smaller
staffing requirements and innovative design and construction
techniques to design-build project delivery.
The state subsequently
created a five-year pilot program to study integrated
delivery in which it approved the use of design-build
for two highway jobs. The state also has opened the
doors to limited design-build usage on state university
projects, municipal jobs and on a few special projects,
such as the expansion of the Jacob J. Javits Convention
Center in Manhattan.
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