News
11.18.2009
Comment> It's A Matter of Trust
Engineer Joseph Mizzi believes the key to architecture's continued technological advancement is IPD

Sciame recently completed the new Cooper Union Academic Building designed by Mophosis Architects and Gruzen Samton Architects. The project received two 2009 AIA Technology in Architectural Practice Building Information Modeling Awards.
Albert Cheung

Today building is not just about adding one material to another in accordance to a blueprint, it is an exponentially more complicated three-dimensional chess game played by a team of sibling experts across related fields. And things can get complicated. Sciame Construction Company has constructed buildings with the world’s leading architects, but Sciame president Joe Mizzi believes the collaboration could be even closer and better with the help of IPD.

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a topic that seems to be buzzing in the design community. Even seasoned architects who have built worldwide using numerous project delivery methods seem anxious to discuss the IPD option and its potential in today’s marketplace. While there is a lot to recommend about IPD, much about it remains scary for many architects and construction managers because it will require us to engage in levels of trust and codependence associated more often with long term marriages than the building of buildings. That said we should take the leap.

Basically, IPD is a project delivery approach in which the owner, architect, construction manager collaborate extensively from early design through project turnover using Building Information Modeling (BIM) as a tool to support the process. IPD was introduced formally in the US several years ago by the American Institute of Architects and represents a radical departure from the more traditional project delivery methods currently being utilized by architects and construction managers today.

The AIA’s Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide outlines the principles of Integrated Project Delivery as mutual respect and trust, mutual benefit and reward, collaborative innovation and decision making, early involvement of key participants, early goal definition, intensified planning, open communication, appropriate technology and organization and leadership.

Some see this approach as wonderful in concept, but in reality very complicated. Even if it works, however, the question remains: Can IPD significantly improve the way architects and construction managers now build buildings? We think it can.

More specifically, having discussed this approach with many of the architects we work with—but having utilized only certain aspects of IPD in practice—we are cautiously optimistic here at Sciame that under the right circumstances, IPD offers a real opportunity to deliver high quality buildings faster and more cost efficiently by maintaining and expanding on the collaborative approach that a proper construction management process affords.

There are two primary factors that make IPD possible and that can (and will) radically change the design and construction process. First, IPD puts forward an entirely new contractual framework that has the project team (owner, architect, consultants, construction manager and subcontractors) working under one contract. In principle, all parties are willing to waive certain rights and accept certain risks, and therefore absent the threat of litigation, the team can operate more effectively and efficiently to eliminate redundancies and deliver higher quality buildings in a shorter amount of time.

By agreeing to share and manage risk together as opposed to transferring risk to other areas of the project (such as large contingencies), we can potentially generate significant cost savings. Using risk-reward models, such savings can be shared among the team that assumed the risk. But the concept of risk-sharing and mutual trust among owners, architects and construction managers does not necessarily come easy and barriers still exist. As such, developing mutual trust and aligned interest among firms and individuals alike is perhaps one of the biggest challenges we will face in trying to fully implement a successful IPD project.

Secondly, Building Information Modeling (BIM), if used to its full potential, can allow for a more efficient and collaborative design and construction process. With the construction manager, architect, consultants, subcontractors, and owner sharing a data-rich 3-D model—a real-time exchange of ideas and data can occur, bringing deep and meaningful progress on the design in faster time.

Through the use of IPD, architects and construction managers can work more closely together utilizing their respective strengths and skills, while shedding certain costs through more efficient staffing and a shared assignment of responsibilities across the team. However, in this arrangement it will be critical for construction managers to be productive early on during the planning phases (right now, for many construction managers, the pre-construction phase serves as a lost leader), while architects will be able to reduce costs on the tail end instead of seeing significant portions of their fee being used to perform construction administration services. Once architects and construction managers make significant progress in these areas, a compression of the design and building process will follow making for real cost savings for all.

IDP can help avoid repetitive value engineering, one of the nagging realities architects, owners and construction managers experience on projects today causing lengthy and costly re-design and re-coordination work that can delay projects and increase costs in other areas, for instance, through escalation. And everyone would like to see an end to “defensive detailing,” the practice of adding details on drawings simply to avoid change orders and claims. Defensive detailing is counterproductive, inefficient, and takes away from innovative solutions. IPD seeks to eliminate this.

Like any new approach, concerns exist. Should architects be worried that certain elements of their traditional approach to the design process will be hampered? Does IPD make sense on all projects or are there limiting factors? On the legal front, can acceptable business terms be developed to satisfy all parties within the framework of IPD’s underlying principles? Will certain firms be at a disadvantage in the marketplace if they cannot fully adapt to the changes imposed by this process? We believe these concerns are worth exploring and are not insurmountable. Clearly, a first step is establishing relationships with those you can trust and with whom a full collaboration feels comfortable. We are ready to go that distance and look forward to successfully completing a project using IPD.

A version of this article appeared in AN 19_11.18.2009.

Joseph Mizzi

Joseph Mizzi is president of the Sciame Construction Company.