It's like constructing a building backward.
Architects, construction companies and their clients normally exist in silos, waiting for the other to finish their work. Yet there's a design process that allows the three to work together, but it requires them in a sense to work in reverse.
Called integrated project delivery (IPD), it has a growing number of converts, at least judging from the palpable enthusiasm at one design meeting for a new 360-room student residence and academic building at St. Jerome's University. The Roman Catholic university is located on the campus of the University of Waterloo in Ontario. Students from one school regularly take classes in the other.
The new St. Jerome's buildings are being designed by committee. The university's administration has had a hand in the plans from the start, from the size and configuration of the raked lecture halls in the academic building to the smallest furniture details.
No detail seems too small. At one of the preconstruction IPD meetings, all three parties discussed whether indoor trees in the academic building should be grown from the floor or from heavy, movable pots. They didn't strike an accord on that one. Time was pressing at the meeting.
Another issue was the problem of placing emergency fire hydrants in the stairwells of the student residence. As representatives of St. Jerome's noted, stairwell hydrants had been vandalized at another university by students wanting to see what a staircase waterfall would look like.
All of these design choices have to be mapped out, so that all parties are part of the decision-making process. Designing by committee may sound time-consuming, but typically it means that all choices, put into three-dimensional computer renderings, can be agreed upon by the main parties and by other building specialists involved at the beginning with fewer changes later.
At the meeting in a warehouse-sized room at the Mississauga branch office of construction company Graham Group Ltd., a computerized flowchart of tasks was projected for everyone to see.
Graham is leading construction for the St. Jerome build. Diamond Schmitt Architects is the designer. And administrators from St. Jerome are involved at every stage. Each design detail is charted, from plans for a particular mechanical space in one of the buildings to architectural revision work for the college's chapel. Each task is given a completion time and inserted into the flowchart. Some of the smaller tasks may take just 30 minutes, but each needs to be checked off for all to see.
"We're working backward from outcomes. In other words, we have milestones, and then we have things we need to get done to deliver these milestones," said Art Winslow, project director at Graham.
"This says when we need to get something done, and let's work back to see how we get there. It's working almost exactly in reverse of the norm," added David Dow, a principal at Diamond Schmitt Architects.
On another wall of the meeting space, every significant construction cost is printed on spreadsheets and posted. This unorthodox transparency, as the IPD process has slowly gained ground in the building industry over the past decade and a half, has mirrored the movement toward lean construction and finding ways to streamline the design process, hopefully making it more efficient.
All forecasted costs are monitored by everyone. As another example, the projected overall cost of the campus development was due to come in at $47.5-million, more than the originally projected cost of $47-million. The goal, then, by all parties is to bring down that overall cost estimation, rather than have it be a nasty surprise for the client at the end, as it might have been with a traditional design project.
Another graph showed the estimated total fees for the construction engineers and architects. Originally projected to wind up being around $1,485,500, those were actually under budget a few weeks ago at a projected $1,077,000 in total costs. For this project, the design and preconstruction phase won't take longer than if it was done the traditional way. Construction is set to start in June and finish by early 2016.
Darren Becks, vice-president of administration at St. Jerome's, said this collective approach depends on finding the right kind of architects to work with – a firm willing to work non-traditionally.
Mr. Becks did most of the original research on using the IPD approach for the university's redevelopment. He had been in touch with Howard Ashcraft at San Francisco law firm Hanson Bridgett, a key figure in formulating the legal framework for the IPD method in recent years and who helped St. Jerome write its request for proposals for its development.
"The architects are the ones who have normally held most or all of the process at the front end. And they've had to now [with the IPD method] share and embrace a whole bunch of other trades and professionals, and a group of owners, to essentially tweak and poke and peck and critique the process to arrive at the best value for the client," Mr. Becks said.
"We wanted to find an innovative way that would allow us to be more collaborative, but also to manage the risks of undertaking a build of this size for an institution our size," he added.
Said to be the first postsecondary educational building project in North America using the IPD approach, the method does seem best suited to institutional buildings where costs are key. And while agreeing that the IPD approach may be less suited to a building in which an architect is given free rein, Mr. Dow of Diamond Schmitt said that IPD could still be possible with an architectural gem, so long as those costs were understood from the get-go.
IPD is best seen as a relationship contract (a working relationship between all parties), rather than a traditional, transactional contract (where the architects and construction company works for the client.) In the latter, the architects and the contractor don't have a legal tie. In IPD they do.
"In this arrangement, the three of us – the contractor, the architect and the client – are all signing one mutual contract. All three of us are legally bound together. So that's a very strong distinction," Mr. Dow said.
"And within that agreement there are various clauses that limit quite significantly the times where we can apportion blame or sue each other effectively. For lots of things on a typical project, I might end up suing, or he might end up suing me. Those are taken off the table," Mr. Dow said. "So therefore, it's better for us to work together. It's a legal framework to help enforce the collaboration."
Indeed, the drive to make this succeed adds to the proselytizing conviction in the room, despite the long hours that the meetings entail. Each party said that the process should bring out the best in everyone.
"And it does that because it mitigates the risk," said Katherine Bergman, president and vice-chancellor of St. Jerome's. "I know what this whole thing is going to look like from beginning to end before we ever put a shovel in the ground."
St. Jerome's renewal project
– Building gross floor area: 2,087 square metres – two storeys plus mechanical penthouse.
– Six classrooms, including some theatre-sized, and student study spaces.
– Placed north of the chapel, the academic building redefines the entry to campus by providing a student-focused facility, largely transparent and welcoming.
– Redesign includes the relocation of all garbage/recycling and service access to the east side of the existing servery.
– Building gross floor area: 9,765 square metres – seven storeys plus mechanical penthouse.
– Ground floor – pantry, rooms for TV, games, music, study, gym-multipurpose and fitness – 1,873 square metres ground floor area only.
– A total of 360 beds on six floors.
– Residence building shaped to create two new courtyards similar in scale to the existing central courtyard that defines the heart of the campus.
– Reconfigured roads to create new parking areas and drop-off areas linked to a new system of walkways that connect to the existing campus infrastructure.
– 110 parking stalls.
Source: Diamond Schmitt Architects