Volume 46, Issue 3 :: By Phillip G. Bernstein, FAIA
“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”
In the summer of 1418 the Opera del Duomo, (Office of the Works of the Cathedral) announced a competition to design and build the final component of Santa Maria del Fiori, the central cathedral in Florence. The project, which had begun in 1296, was still under construction, and, like many building projects to this day, was in trouble. Here’s the situation as described by author Ross King in his Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Invented Architecture1:
The way forward should have been clear enough. For the past fifty years, the south aisle of the unfinished cathedral had housed a thirty-foot-long scale model of the structure, in effect an artist’s impression of what the cathedral should look like when finished. The problem was that the model included an enormous dome—a dome that, if built, would be the highest and widest vault ever raised. And for fifty years it had been obvious that no one in Florence—or anywhere in Italy for that matter—had any clear idea how to construct it. The unbuilt dome of Santa Maria del Fiore had therefore become the greatest architectural puzzle of the age. Many experts considered its erection an impossible feat. Even the original planners of the dome had been unable to advise how their project might be completed; they merely expressed a touching faith that at some point in the future God might provide a solution, and architects with a more advanced knowledge would be found.
Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith and mechanical genius who grew up, according to King, a short walk from the project site, would win the competition for the dome project by proposing a “double-dome” solution that required no scaffolding and would otherwise allow the cathedral to operate during construction. “Pippo” Brunelleschi became the epitome of what was to be known as a “Master Builder,” someone who combined deep knowledge of design and construction and who controlled every aspect of the making of a building. Pippo was said to have made every critical decision related to the dome project: designing the boats that carried stone from the quarries, directing every manner of stone carver and laborer, and fiercely protecting the information that was the basis of his approach. According to legend, Pippo would carve a quick study model of an idea from a radish, and after showing the model to the workers, eat the radish to leave no trace for further reference2. A subsequent clarification would have to come from the mouth of the master builder himself.
Six hundred years of building later, projects are, in many ways, no less complex than the challenge so artfully solved by Brunelleschi. If he was responsible, as King asserts, for the emergence of “architecture” from “building” he was as a master builder both architect and contractor. In the modern age these roles have diverged widely as the background, training, and responsibilities of the architect and the builder have become distinct, separate, and in many ways incompatible. A modern construction insurance carrier, for example, would be mortified by Pippo’s design approach predicated on a construction strategy—to build the dome without scaffolding—and would admonish him that such an idea was considered “the means and methods of construction” and was strictly the responsibility of the contractor. And rather than radishes, Pippo would today produce hundreds if not thousands of drawings that would instruct the builder how the dome was to be when complete, its “design intent,” leaving the details of material selection, construction sequence, even the creation of very detailed assembly instructions (shop drawings) to the building team. Even with that pile of drawings, Pippo’s contractor would issue many, many questions and carefully track each one as a measure of the incompleteness of his documentation.
The construction market itself is hardly served well by the isolated roles of designers and builders. More than a third of all projects miss either budget or schedule targets3 and the productivity of modern construction efforts is considered, at best, to be about 65 percent. So in addition to highly unpredictable outcomes, as much as 35 cents on a dollar spent on construction is wasted in inefficient construction methods, badly created or coordinated drawings, material waste on a job site, errors and omissions during design and construction, and time spent creating exculpatory documentation in case the project ends up in court. A 2004 Construction Users’ Roundtable (CURT) report on the state of the industry concluded: “… the difficulties experienced in typical construction projects… are artifacts of a construction process fraught by lack of cooperation and poor information integration. The goal of everyone in the industry should be better, faster, more capable project delivery created by fully integrated, collaborative teams.”4
So any institution that chooses to build today faces the resulting challenges of largely uncooperative, unproductive processes making the risks great and the rewards doubtful. And an organization without an established Opera del Duomo—in-house building expertise—may be especially buffeted by these winds.
Modern construction is too complex to return to the days of the Master Builder, and the specific roles of designer and constructor are likely here to stay. But since the 1970s a variety of delivery configurations has evolved in an attempt to address the challenges of building, ranging from what was once called “traditional” or “design-bid-build” through assorted construction management modes, to design-build. Each of these approaches relies on, to varying degrees, a foundational principle of construction: lowest first cost, or “award to the lowest bidder.” In fact, much of the construction industry relies on lowest first cost decision-making—the rule by which design contracts are selected, and contractors and sub-contractors chosen—despite the evidence described above that indicates far less than optimal results. Design and construction are thus heavily commoditized, resulting in fierce competition for limited work, very low profit margins, unstable business conditions, and imbedded attitudes that prioritize individual self-interest over the good of the project. Hardly the cooperative, integrated nirvana called for by CURT.
In concert with the development and adoption of advanced computer modeling techniques known as building information modeling (BIM), a new generation of delivery approaches is emerging that at least reaches for better days. Known generally as integrated project delivery (IPD), these models challenge the traditional structures and the roles of owners, designers, and builders by asserting that deep alignment of all the participants with the overall goals of the project itself yields the best result. Abandoning lowest bidder selection, IPD projects are based on the following principles:
Early substantive involvement of key participants: The project team is selected in concert, with client, designers and builders joined together as a collaborative unit. Designers, builders, and client work together from the outset of the project to set its objectives, agree on measurable outcomes, and determine a plan to accomplish the work before the design itself is begun. This is in direct contrast to more typical arrangements where the builder’s first exposure to a project is when he/she sees the final design drawings during the bidding process. Having formulated the project’s most important goals together, a team can work more closely to accomplish them.
Joint sharing of risk and reward: Project goals are established prior to the onset of design by the collaborative decision making of all the parties, and then the team is rewarded jointly for accomplishing those goals. Risks are assumed and managed collaboratively without assignment; a success by one party in the project is considered a success for all, and similarly, failures are jointly held. This “one for all and all for one” attitude means that all resources are applied to progress the project by all parties, rather than simply to advance a single project component (like design or construction). Each project goal established is assigned a profit payment, which is provided jointly to the designers and builders collectively after that goal is reached.
Joint project management: Decision making on the project is by consensus of the key players, owner, architect/engineers, and builders. No important decision can be made without that consensus. In the event of a non-decision, more senior leaders from the participating organizations are available as a “board of appeal.”
Litigation eliminated: The owner, designers, and builders agree that, save gross negligence on the part of any party, there will be no project-related litigation. Since approximately 85 percent of all claims against architects come from owners or builders, this is a powerful incentive toward performance. Owners who provide this indemnification do so from the belief that litigation is the least efficient and least useful enforcement mechanism toward project success. The resulting atmosphere of trust allows each participant the freedom to address and solve problems without the traditional strictures of canonical roles, and in the knowledge that the most important thing is to solve a problem, not assign blame for it.
IPD is designed to allow everyone on a project to find the best idea, and for the team to implement that idea, irrespective of the source of that idea. The project itself creates an internal logic and process that is not overwhelmed by the typical contentions of construction, and behaviors change accordingly. The differences are compared in the following table:
|Characteristic||Classic Models||IPD Models|
|Risk Allocation||Least able to avoid||Best able to manage, shared|
|Rewards Structure||Protect fixed price||Accomplish project goals|
|Outcome Focus||Protect self-interest||Maximize project outcome|
|Deliverable focus||Least effort||Best result|
|Team behavior||Self, then project||Project - self|
The contractual basis of an IPD project is equally radical consisting essentially of a single cooperation agreement signed jointly by the owner, architect, and builder. That contract sets out the objectives of the project, various procedural aspects of how it will progress, and the terms of incentive-aligned payments. There are several model agreements in use in the market today, including those by the American Institute of Architects, the Association of General Contractors, and bespoke documents by construction attorneys with expertise in IPD approaches. But contract models are not the essence of IPD in theory or in practice. IPD methods have been developed in the service of collaboration and integrative team-based work where project participants align their interests with those of the project itself rather than first protecting their (margin-starved) piece of the pie. The players operate, in essence, in a non-heroic mode, taking on traditional responsibilities in general but participating fully in all aspects of the execution of the project. There is no longer a need for Pippo’s radishes, as information is organized clearly through digital models and is shared across the enterprise. Design and construction data—including the total cost of all the work—are conducted open-book and in the spirit of absolute transparency. All aspects of the project are arrayed in the service of the project and not of its participants, but the interests of the participants are served nonetheless. The more successful the project, the more successful its contributors.
According to experienced IPD implementers5, more than 50 such IPD projects are under way in the US, and they are showing results. Early analysis of project data suggests that IPD projects have dramatically fewer change orders, schedules that often finish early, higher delivered project value when funds saved are reinvested in project enhancements, and higher sustainable performance from a full lifecycle view of the job. My own IPD project, a headquarters office for a division of our company, was completed in eight months within budget, achieved LEED Platinum, and has won numerous design awards.
There would seem to be a natural alignment between IPD methods and the appropriate collaborative tone and stance of the design of worship spaces, where collective will serves the interest of the larger good. But religious design projects are often undertaken by organizations with little or no building experience, and certainly without the services of the Opera del Duomo. This is probably the single greatest inhibitor to IPD on such projects, since collaborative decision making by the client, designers, and builders requires some sophistication on the part of all parties but particularly by the client itself. Congregations that include experienced building professionals could empower those folks to represent them on an IPD project, but they won’t be successful unless the designated representative has the ability to make decisions, real-time, on behalf of his or her constituents. Delegated, partial decision making is the old-school model and inhibits the flow of an IPD project.
And if this model seems too radical to attempt, there are other options that partially engage principles of IPD without full implementation. These IPD-like delivery models use traditional contract structures like design-bid-build or construction management with integrative overlays that establish shared goals and profit incentives, data exchange cooperation agreements, and other places where increased cooperation between the parties coupled with appropriate risk/reward provisions can smooth the way.
The challenges of construction and its typical un-pleasantries stand in stark contrast with the loftier goals of building places of worship. Organizing these projects with a view toward cooperation and in the belief that the best ideas are out there, waiting to be discovered, may pave a smoother path accordingly.
- From Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Invented Architecture by Ross King (Penguin Books, 2000), p. 3.
- As explained by architectural historian Mario Carpo during his lecture at Yale’s “Is Drawing Dead” Symposium, February, 2013.
- According to the Construction Management Association of America’s Owner’s Survey, 2005.
- See CURT (Construction Users Roundtable) Whitepaper 1202 “Collaboration, Integrated Information and the Project Lifecycle in Building Design, Construction and Operation,” Self-published, 2004.
- Attorney Howard Ashcraft has helped organize many of these projects, and reports these results from his clients.