The Rebirth of Common Sense

by John Stebbins, Assoc. AIA

As a member of several discussion groups on LinkedIn related to BIM and the Building Industry, we witness daily many great perspectives from around the nation and the world, helping us keep our “finger on the pulse” as our Industry goes through rapid transition. Not only is BIM technology transforming the way we all do business, but the relationship between owner, architect and contractor is changing and evolving as well. The following post (June 2010) and an immediate response, summarize why there is a change in the relationship and the opportunities that await those ready for the shift.

Phil Adams, VP of Architecture at J & S Construction, Nashville, TN observes:

“As an Architect, I had the chance to join a Design-Build firm several years ago. Unlike many Design-Build firms, we actually have Architects on staff, however our main job is to interface between the Owner, my firm and an outside Architectural Firm that is selected based on the particular project and client. As an Architect, I can bring all of the parties together understanding all sides of the design and build process.

We have a good amount of work which is almost all negotiated. We sell VALUE, not price. We find the typical client wants his money to go into the project not into plans. However, we believe we still sell a high quality design as well as a high quality building and we are able to reduce the design fees substantially.

How? The Architect is assured of payment and ease of working through the design documents as we buffer him from the client regarding those items, but he still has full design control and client access. We also work with him to ensure the design works within a predetermined budget window. Clients are very cost motivated in this current economy more than ever. We don’t ‘value-engineer’ drawings AFTER they are mostly done, we ‘design-engineer’ drawings AS they are being prepared. A huge difference and one that is only possible with a Team Approach.

My firm Guarantees to the owner that we take full responsibility of all aspects of the project – as we are on a team with the Architect, there is no finger pointing – again, we assume all responsibility. Clients want that. As an Architect, I never guaranteed price; in fact, the AIA document releases us of that. The worst case is that I would have to redesign their building and often I could charge again – not a win-win case for the owner.

My current firm also Guarantees that the price will not increase after schematics are presented unless the owner changes something as plans are being finalized. If I forget to get something on that plan, that is my fault, not the clients fault.

Also, as an Architect, I know that most Architects and Engineers only have a vague idea of costs – Means and Dodge books just don’t cut it in real life. Clients want to know cost before they have fully paid for plans and then have to use them as scrap paper.

Conclusion? Architects need to form relationships with Contractors and build alliances to help their clients in all areas of their project.

In my experience, the client either hires an Architect first to design and then hires them during construction to protect them from the G.C.; OR, they hire a Contractor first who doesn’t understand design and wants to just build something cheap and he doesn’t understand why an Architect is needed and the same fight ensues.

Clients want a project, not a fight. And they will pay for value. My last client, a local government city manager, said he was done with ‘Design-Bid-Build-Sue’ and would only use ‘Design-Build’ from now on.”

Gary Radzat, President of Shell Building Systems in northern CA, chimes in:

“This has to be one of the most coherent and objective comments about the Design/Build process, as it should be managed. We find that the idea of working together as a collaborative, dedicated team provides everything that you mention in your comments. The adversarial situation that is created when an Architect, Owner and Builder are all coming on board at different times with different intentions is the formula for disaster and cost over-runs. You support our belief that no one knows the costs better than the party doing the construction and what a great time to discover those costs DURING construction vs. AFTER…this is WAY TOO MUCH COMMON SENSE FOR ONE DAY!

The bidding process is fraught with mistakes, both intentional and unintentional and the result of bidding is often decided by the lowest and not necessarily the most complete and efficient construction method(s). My hat is off to you!”

Our hats off to both of you. May common sense prevail as we invent the future with BIM.

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