A Smarter Way to Build Things

Posted by Brandon Copeland

Integrated Design.jpg

After several long months, we are approaching the finish line on the first major contract that Urban East engaged in, the Common Ground Expansion Feasibility Study. I have had the pleasure of working with a phenomenal team, and while my role has primarily been to assess the design and develop an appropriate business case, I had input on all aspects of the project. The level of collaboration was unlike anything I had ever worked on. Our project team made a conscious effort to solicit feedback from parties who specialized in other areas of the project to ensure that every decision and assumption correlated and aligned with each other's work. What's more, in many instances we found ways to improve upon our work based on feedback received from an expert in a totally different area. The process, which I eventually learned is referred to as Integrated Design, represents a new philosophy regarding how to keep projects on time and on budget.

As a side note, for those who don’t know, Common Ground is an amazing space in St. John’s filled with entrepreneurs and other innovators. I talked in a recent article about coworking, and Common Ground is a local example of just how attractive coworking can be.

Anyway, lets talk Integrated Design. Essentially, the concept is a response to the problems that come from the traditional “Design-Bid-Build-Manage” approach to construction. Any major project, ranging from public capital works to private development, has likely been approached in this way. However, time-and-time again we learn this approach to building is plagued by cost-overruns and missed deadlines. Essentially, the architects and engineers do their design work, a package is sent out for bid, the winning bidder (read: lowest price) builds the job, and then the property is managed or sold as was always planned.

Integrated Design looks to avoid the foolish mistakes that happen when work occurs in silos. The assumption is that the various parties involved in a real estate project have distinct and complementary knowledge bases, and when they work together they can simplify construction, decrease cost, and shorten the total time it takes to execute the project. Why wait until the construction stage to find out that something was designed in a way that can’t practically be built? Where is the logic in not engaging an agent until finished construction, when their expertise about what sells and what doesn’t can no longer result in construction cost reductions? The missed opportunities because of the silos that exist in construction are numerous and noteworthy.

Here is a great video on Integrated Design, and I believe anyone that works in the development industry can appreciate the message. It is well worth a watch:

If you’re considering a project, and want to pursue integrated design, it starts by pulling together your key people early, and collaborating often. A typical integrated design team will likely include:

  • Property owner or a representative
  • Construction manager
  • Architect
  • Civil Engineer
  • Construction, structural, electrical, and mechanical engineers
  • Landscape architect
  • Energy modeller
  • Any specialized consultants that will add value to the team

In addition, if your team is unfamiliar with integrated design, it can be of value to include a specialist who can coordinate the moving pieces and help to moderate and direct dialogue.

Once the team is assembled, three key expectations exist. First, the team will work together to ensure that they have a shared vision for the structure. This shared vision will include end-use intended by the property owner, but also goals related to things such as budget, design parameters, schedule, and urban impact. Second, they commit to viewing the project holistically. To put that a different way, the team understands and agrees that the whole of the project is more than the sum of its parts. This pertains specifically to working outside of traditional silos. Thirdly, they will work as subject matter experts during each phase of the project. The property manager MUST be involved during design stage. The architects MUST be involved during construction. For members of an integrated design team, there is no phase where your work ends. Project involvement ends when the building is occupied or sold, and operating as intended.

All this said, I’ve learned that I am a believer in integrated design. I think for most large-scale projects, there is incredible value in assembling your team and working towards a common goal. Integrated Design meshes well with my personal views of spaces designed for a specific end-user. The logic is sound, as I have witnessed many instances where problems could be avoided had better communication existed. Now, from personal experience, I can also express the sense of pride and ownership that you feel as a member of a project team when designing in this way.

I hope to see more projects focus on integrated design. I think it is a logical step forward in an industry that sometimes stutters when it comes to innovative methodologies. If you'd like to learn more about Integrated Design, check out this case study!