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Green Architects' Lounge

From Designed to Built, Part 2: Three Questions

The Green Architects’ Lounge plays ‘Three Questions’ with three prominent builders to find out their preferred method of participating with the design team and the owner

Contributing Builders: Michael Chandler, Paul Eldrenkamp, and Dan Kolbert

So now it’s time to get the builder involved in your green project. In Part One of this episode, we shared the views of the design team; but what do the builders think? How would they like to get involved? To find out, Phil and I asked three prominent builders to join us in a a round of “Three Questions.” Let’s meet our contestants.

Michael Chandler is a contributor here on GBA and is the president of Chandler Design-Build. He has been designing and building high-performance homes since 1978.

Paul Eldrenkamp is the owner of Byggmeister Design Build in Boston. Established in 1983, his company places a high value on the customer relationship and sustainable design / build methods.

Dan Kolbert is the owner of Kolbert Building in Portland, Maine, where, for over twenty years, he has been moving his company and the market toward sustainable construction.

Phil and I both really appreciate their participation and want to convey our thanks. Are you ready to play? Come on down!

The transcript below includes the answers provided by Chandler, Eldrenkamp, and Kolbert. To hear our reactions to their answers, be sure to listen to the Podcast.

Three Questions

1) In a perfect world, how and when, should the builder/owner/architect relationship start, and is it any different for a “green” project than a “typical” project?

Chandler: Preferably the builder and architect would have a preexisting relationship from having built several homes together in a collaborative relationship.

The builder should be brought in to run a preliminary estimate as soon as the preliminary space planning and concept drawings are done and before the working drawings have been started. With a green project, the main difference is the documentation of the collaboration and input from all team partners as part of the green certification process.

It’s also helpful to identify green best practices that are already standard for the builder so that unfamiliar green practices can be elaborated on the plans, specs, and tear sheets.

Kolbert: I think either the architect gets to the concept, or the contractor gets to some rough parameters (size, budget, basic design), and then it’s time to bring in the other party. This is especially important in green projects because:

  • If “green” means energy efficient, critical details have to be thought out carefully, and there can be design or construction details that the builder or architect needs to think through from the start.
  • Also, the builder needs to be on board for these details, and the best way to do that is to have the builder be part of the team that develops them.
  • If “green” means products, they have to be products (everything from doors and windows to paints and caulks) that the contractor is comfortable using and the architect is comfortable with the look of.
  • In general, this is a much better way to make sure the design and construction align and come in on budget.

Eldrenkamp: I think the relationship should start as early in the project planning process as can be arranged; if it’s a green project, I think it’s all the more important to do so.

I think it’s very difficult to achieve the key green characteristics of long-term durability and resource efficiency by trying to specify them in the construction documents. Regardless of what’s in the specs, the construction team needs to understand and buy into those goals from the very beginning, and it’s going to be easier to get that understanding and buy-in if the builder is involved in the process from very early on. I also think it’s a mistake not to take advantage of the builder’s experience and expertise from the very beginning.

In my 30 years in construction, I have learned from a lot of mistakes — many of which the architect at the table has yet to make (I am proud to say). I can help the team avoid those mistakes if I have opportunity to provide input from the beginning, before too many design ideas have become entrenched in the plans.

2) As the project continues, how should this relationship evolve or be maintained? And is it any different for a “green” project than a “typical” project?

Chandler: As the project continues there will inevitably be minor changes in the plans and specs. It is critical to have updated plans on site and online that reflect these changes.

It is also helpful for the designer and builder to share information on what elements of the project went smoothly — or not (reliability of internet suppliers, new product assessment) — and where more information on the plans might be helpful (reverse lapping stucco lath, mid-set window details, etc.).

Kolbert: This needs to be thought about carefully. The continued involvement of the designer should be largely devoted to making sure that green goals are being met or improved.

Just as a contractor is mostly serving a support role during the design, the architect needs to be in a support role during construction: helping to think through construction details, helping to resolve contradictions or conflicts that may be discovered, etc.

Design changes after construction starts often can come at the expense of efficiency goals (and that, by the way, is bad). I don’t think this is dramatically different in green or non-green projects; it’s a challenge on all projects.

Eldrenkamp: Regardless of whether the project is green (and just why are we making that optional? haven’t we all learned that “typical” doesn’t work?), I think there should be consensus on what the project goals, budget, and schedule are.

I think that if someone on the team sees a problem with achieving any of those objectives at any point, they should say something right away. The client should not be in charge of the project; if the client is in charge of the project, the project is almost certainly doomed.

If the architect wants to be in charge, then the architect should be organized, responsible, and realistic — should really be in charge, in other words. Sometimes the contractor should be in charge, though, and the architect should be able to let this happen if it serves the client better.

Whoever is in charge, there should be clear milestones tied to a calendar, and clear deliverables for each milestone. And someone on the team needs to have a self-deprecating sense of humor that can ease the tension at some meetings — for there will be tension. If no one has a sense of humor, the project is even more doomed than if the client is in charge.

3) In your opinion, what is the best way for the owner to be assured that he/she is getting the best price from you, the builder, particularly in a non-competitive pricing situation?

Chandler: Take the time to set a clear scope of work and establish a willingness to communicate and seek collaborative solutions.

Kolbert: Again, my JLC article goes into boring detail on my opinions on this matter. The short answer is they can’t, but the notion that competitive bidding provides more assurance is hooey in my opinion. I think the most important thing for a client to feel confident about is: Can the design/build team bring a project in on budget? And that’s a question that can presumably be answered by talking to prior clients.

Eldrenkamp: The best way for the owner to be assured that he/she is getting the best price is for him/her to hire six contractors to do the same identical project. After 20 years, he/she should be able to evaluate the up-front costs, the repair and maintenance costs over the 20 years, the warranty follow-up, the resource efficiency, and the overall durability delivered by each of the 6 contractors, and then he/she will know with great certainty which one provided him/her the best price.

Bonus question: On a scale of 9-10, how much more awesome is it to work on a project that has an architect than on one that doesn’t?

Chandler: I’m married to my architect, so clearly that’s a ten plus. (Love the scale, though).

Kolbert: If you guys don’t know why architects suck by now, I can’t help you out. 🙂

Eldrenkamp: I would say a 10. Because if there’s no official architect, then either I’m the de facto architect, which would be a real laugh riot, or the client is the de facto architect, which would not be a real laugh riot.

Usually Phil and I share a “Six Digit Idea” or a “Hot Zigg,” but for this episode we want to give special congratulations to our fellow Mainers at G.O. Logic for their Greenbuild Award.

And of course, no episode of the Green Architects’ Lounge would be complete with out a song selection from Phil. this time it’s “Utopia” from Yacht on their album Shangri-La.

Thanks for tuning in. Cheers.


  1. dankolbert | | #1

    Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I just want to state for the record that I never use emoticons.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Ah, a true cynic
    Glad to hear it!

    I was afraid that your cynicism and sarcasm had soft edges. I'm relieved to hear they don't.

    (It must have been Chris who inserted the smiley to soften your image. It wasn't me.)

  3. dankolbert | | #3

    Clearly Chris is at fault. And in my own defense, I was responding to a parenthetical remark in their instructions - "Feel free to add your own paragraph, we’ll post that as well. (unless it starts with, “architects suck because…” then we might hesitate to post it.)"

    But thanks to C&P for this good discussion - a very important topic and (I hope) valuable for homeowners to read.

    And all my soft edges are around my waist.

  4. Christopher Briley | | #4

    yes, it was me. I was worried people who didn't know you wouldn't know you were kidding. You were kidding right? Buddy?

  5. dankolbert | | #5

    Buddy :)

  6. Christopher Briley | | #6

    I almost...
    ...wrote in the "let's meet our contestants" part , "He enjoys swinging a hammer, and candle-lit bubble baths while drinking a nice zinfandel." But I went with an emoticon instead.

  7. Robert Swinburne | | #7

    Real men don't use emoticons

  8. dankolbert | | #8

    virtual men do.

  9. user-964538 | | #9

    Marriage and Communication
    This is just a quick un-structured ramble in passing.

    Maybe you fellows are aware of this, but I wasn't until recently. How the construction industry has changed a lot down through the years, coming from the older trades-oriented system, to the modern procurement relationships - what I think Phil refers to as 'team' - in the post-master builder architectural era. One of my teachers at Limerick Institute of Technology, spoke about the old 'trades' which were involved in doing a roof. The carpenter was responsible for the roof structure. The plumber was responsible for lead flashings. The roof covering, slate or tile, actually fell into the plasterer's trade believe it or not. That has been all squashed down into one sub-contractor nowadays, known as the roofing sub-contractor.

    It is difficult for us to comprehend in the modern era, how the older system might have worked. Bear in mind also, that 'trades' persons were employed directly by the 'main contractors', which were an evolution out of the industrial revolution in Britain. I assume that the main contractor businesses were involved in building the many large factories, infrastructure, transport systems, workers housing, cities and so forth. Many things in construction, have a lot to do with historical legacy.

    There was a historical book published recently about the city of Dublin between the two world wars. Dublin was what is known as a garrison town. That is, a bit like Washington DC would have been, under British rule. There was no industrial revolution in Ireland, and the trades thing was very important in terms of social status. The author of the book about Dublin city between the wars, related an old expression: A brickie's labourer could become Lord Mayor of Dublin, but he could never become a bricklayer. The trades that were in Dublin were strictly passed down between father and son, and entry to trades was jealously guarded.

    I knew an old man years ago, who had a number of different trades, which he acquired in Dublin. His mother was a native of south Africa originally, and her father (the old man's grandfather), had been a surgeon in Capetown. He was also a member of the 'free masons', which had a branch in Dublin city. The old man, was not permitted to enter into training to the trades, until the pressure was applied through the free mason connection, via south Africa, back to Dublin, in Ireland! Incidentally, his mother would have gone back to south Africa probably, except her nine sons who had fought for Britain in WWI, did not survive the battles of the Somme. We tend to forget today the messy, turmoil ridden times the early 20th century was. It was an early kind of globalism, of free movement of people, but always bound according to strict rules of social status and guilds, crafts, trades etc. Your 'trade' was your passport effectively. Be it a soldier, a shipwright or an architect.

    If you ever read, Three American Architects: Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright, 1865-1915, by James F. O'Gorman, you will learn how Richardson was the only one who received proper European training, and the second two grew up with sort of inferiority complexes about that, because they were too poor to afford the trip to mainland Europe. All they could do, was to work under the supervision of Richardson. Of course, in the 21st century, we see a similar kind of thing with the Chinese continent and its absence of home grown architects.

    During the credit fuelled boom in Ireland, where much, too much building went on, we had a huge contingent of a workforce from the eastern European countries. It was interesting that. The eastern European guys had a different sort of training system, whereby each person had learned not one, but several wet or dry trades. The idea being, that resource management is much more straight forward, when one job was completed, the same person could take up another task, and progress along with that. In other words, you didn't have guys who just had individual trades standing around idle, waiting for other parts of the work to get done. It is this fine-grained specialisation in Ireland, it appears which seems to work against us. Sub-contractors here are fearful that they may be 'held up' on jobs, having to do re-work, and generally not getting into a productive 'flow'.

    Henchion Reuter architects, are one of the Dublin based architectural consultants who also operate in Germany. This trend has increased a lot in recent times, as the work has become so scarce in Ireland for designers. The people at Henchion Reuter would comment though, on the experience of building projects in Ireland versus Germany. It was such in Ireland, by the 2000's, that 'project management' had crept into the construction industry - they said, that many layers of project management were needed to glue the different trades together on projects.

    The attitude in Ireland appears to have been, that one trade forces their way onto a site, gets all their work done, in a tunnel vision type of way. To heck, with how their part of the work may or may not 'join' up with other trades. The trades in Ireland, it seemed only thought of themselves in isolation. Hence, the need for an intervention by some very confrontational project managers, to force the different sub-contractors into behaving properly. But as the architects who worked in Germany commented - it was still not possible in Ireland to achieve the same levels of coordination and quality.

    The communication effort just wasn't there.

    I talked to project managers in Ireland a few years back - and they always used to tell me - that where quality work was needed, they found it much, much easier to work with the eastern European tradesmen. For the reasons that I described above. I suppose, it is a bit like the Japanese car manufacturing company, versus the Ford-type Detroit approach. One other interesting, intersection of construction cultures occurred during the credit bubble era in the British Isles, where pre-fabricated, high performance heavy timber buildings from Austria started to arrive into the market.

    One of the problems that Gaia architect consultants in Scotland found when using Austrian pre-fabricators on their projects, was that the Austrians wanted perfect coordination between all of the services trades and the main contractor, and designers. Traditionally, in the British Isles, the 'services' engineers had washed their hands of the details, and farmed that out to the electrical and mechanical sub-contractors to decide how and where to wire or pipe the various services. The Austrian timber pre-fabricators had given guarantees on target air-tightness, to the Scottish designers, and would not sign-off, until they knew exactly where every light switch, puncture and service in the finished building was - before the timber arrived to site.

    In other words, the Austrians had developed their construction model, to the extent where it was no longer like traditional building - but more like manufacture in the modern era. But you had this huge clash of cultures, and ideas about where lines of responsibility were drawn etc. All the best, B.

  10. user-964538 | | #10

    The above, also has some relevance in the context of a debate about a European versus a north American passive house tradition in the 21st century. I highly recommend that novel by O'Gorman on the three American architects. It seems like history echoes itself again, and again.

    Also, I recommend MIT's Nicholas Negroponte's (an architect by training originally, and Italian nationality who moved to the United States), book, Being Digital. Because Negroponte's book, in some sections I recall reading, discussed the great difficulty in developing standards for physical measurement, and virtual.

  11. user-964538 | | #11

    Bim, Bam, Boom
    Whatever about the attempts of our Green Architect fellows to articulate the virtues of good design and construction planning - I don't think, it would be possible - to sell the idea as well as HOK Chief Executive Officer Patrick MacLeamy, in his YouTube broadcast. Enjoy.

  12. user-964538 | | #12

    Guild Masters
    Phil and Chris may like this also - Mr. MacLeamy also summarises in his other piece, about Brunelleschi, Sir Christopher Wren etc, and the idea of the 'Guild Master', or master builder.

  13. Christopher Briley | | #13

    Great Brian
    Thanks. I so agree with Mr. MacLeamy. What he deals with at a macro level is where I'm trying to head in at a micro level. Should it be done with a single contract that binds all three parties? I don't know about that one, I'll have to meditate on this. By the way, seeing part 3 and 5 of that series really drove home the need to discuss BIM on here. It is our most requested topic. Phil and I plan to do a podcast on it soon once we feel more experienced at it ourselves. Speaking for myself, I don't think I'm at a "teacher" level with it, but at a "student" level.


  14. user-964538 | | #14

    Legal Underpinnings of BIM

    I'm in the same boat - a total student in this thing. I had worked up to a level with 2 point 5 'D' computer aided design - and suddenly it all changed to BIM - and I had invested so many years using 2D tools, that I just hadn't the heart to switch over to 3D, 4D, 5D etc. Especially given the fact, that architects and draftsmen receive precious little training in supply chain management and procurement systems. You just start with a 6B pencil, and try to figure out the rest. So I forced myself into a situation, where I am to do a dissertation on Building Information Modelling, and learn some of the theory behind this Bim, Bam, Boom carry-on.

    The scariest thing about BIM, is that the 'designers' or architects are not the ones driving this at all. It is public bodies and politicians, who seem to demand it. It is like what you said about 'walls'. Where the client decides to walk into an architecture firm, and request an R40 wall - without even knowing what that might be. They have heard somewhere that it is good, and they want to make sure to get it, as part of the project. Public procurement agencies feel they can no longer screw down the 'prime cost' of construction project, without leaving the supply chain in a loss making situation. So the drive is to reduce costs in other ways.

    It was some US politician who announced it in 2004 I think, that BIM was to get wrapped into all public projects going forward. Then another politician over here in the United Kingdom, made the same announcement shortly after, and the train had left the station. Well and truly. But I don't believe that designers on their own, ever really forced this to happen. That is the context of it all. It wasn't the contractors that forced it either. It literally was the 'employer' organisations - who announced one day - we want this.

    So BIM is about the enter the world of the architect, and other design professionals - and you will probably be forced to deal with it, whether you like it or not. Even if you don't use 3D, or BIM software, you will still have to deal with it.

    What do I mean by that? That basically, because of your position as an architect, you are tasked with decisions and choices, regarding the ownership of 'the model'. As design models begin to be used further up - and down - the pipeline, a whole lot of information will start to fly around between fabricators, contractors, designers, you name it. In the middle of that, you will be tasked with the duty to be an 'information manager', in addition to all your other duties. You will have to contend with the issues of ownership, in regards to something called 'the design', which is something ephemeral and hard to define, which lives somewhere inside, in between, all of the 1 and 0's that start to fly about through the 'cloud' and various client workstations, viewing applications and what not, on projects.

    All of that is going to fall on your lap, whether, you use BIM technology or not yourself - by virtue of the fact - that as the designer you have to retain 'ownership' over something known as 'a design'. I mean, a 'design' as something defined in a legal framework of agreements.

    An excellent way to spend a half hour, would be to listen to Damien Keogh, Matheson Ormsby Prentice, 'BIM: Legal Considerations'. Damien goes through the various 'protocols' which get attached to standard legal contracts - as per the scene today in the US. Damien suggests that in Ireland, we will probably go with some blend of the US protocols. The AIA E202-2008, and the ConsensusDOCS 301 BIM Addendum, by Richard H. Lowe and Jason M. Muncey.

    My best guess, is that many experienced architects will not need to learn how to use a BIM software. That work will probably be done, as it always was, by more talented dedicated technical gurus - like myself - but that architects will have to learn how to understand what a BIM model is, in a legal context of construction projects going into the future. That is the key item for architects I feel, rather than toolbars and buttons.


  15. user-964538 | | #15

    Design of Design
    What would be uber-cool, is if Michael Chandler could get Frederick P. Brooks (based in north Carolina), to give us some of his input on design theory and technology, in a future podcast.

    Mr. Brooks has been involved with advanced technology, design and project management since the IBM 360 operating system in the 1960s - and Brooks has seen every single advance in procurement and technology along the way.

    He is one of these large figures in the technology world, something like Mr. Feist or Amory Lovins, is in eco-tecture. He has developed a very advanced theory about architectural design, and its strengths, which he is used to articulating in his lectures and talks, to software engineers, to help them to manage projects better. We are at one of these junctures, where software engineering and designers are meeting head on. That is why Mr. Brooks's input would be exceptionally valuable.

    All the best, B.

    Note: For those readers who may want a little bit more than the HOK three minute clips I linked above, featuring CEO Patrick MacLeamy - and for those who may have an appetite to learn something about the history of BIM (in the quite large firms), I picked out this AutoDesk University presentation from 2010. Vandezande is co-author with Eddy Krygiel of 'Mastering Revit Architecture' by Wiley press.

    Class ID: AB427-4
    BIM and IPD for Project Leaders
    James Vandezande and Lee Miller, of HOK

    What I find a little bit hard to understand, is in documents such as, the United States, National Building Information Modelling Standard, published by the National Institute of Building Sciences and 'Building Smart Alliance', what all of these bodies stand for and what their missions are. At least, Vandezande in his talk explains a little bit about that.

  16. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #16

    Response to Brian
    If you have access to the Internet, it's not that hard. You Google the name of the organization, and look for a tab that explains what they do. For example, there's a tab on the Building Smart Alliance web page called "About BSA."

  17. user-964538 | | #17

    Response to Martin
    The point I am trying to make Martin is as follows. There are a raft of client-produced documents, protocols and standards out there at the moment to do with BIM and how it ought to be used. For instance, the University of Indiana has produced a 'protocol', as has the State of Ohio. These documents in turn, must build most likely upon the two legal 'protocols', which I referenced above earlier. The AIA E202_2008, and the ConsensusDOCS 301 BIM Addendum. There also seems to be a strong tie up to other documents such as:

    US Army Corp of Engineers, Official BIM manual.
    U.S. General Services Administration, BIM guide.
    Dept of Veterans Affairs, VA BIM guide.

    Vandezande in his talk at AutoDesk university uses one slide to explain this. How, a lot of the rules pertaining to BIM and its use on projects - are coming from fairly sophisticated building clients - who are in the business of managing a lot of building stock for the longer term. When it comes back to the 'Building Smart Alliance', or Building Smart, or HOK protocols - my understanding at the present - seems to indicate, those are consultant driven initiatives.

    I.e. The Building Smart thing is all about the consultants responding to the other employer-produced protocols - and trying to come up with something - a document which can enhance consensus amongst the different professional consultants themselves. While at the same time, addressing everything needed by the types of large clients I refer to above.

    There is one other document, the 'BIM Project Execution Planning Guide' from the Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) research program, at Penn State Department of Architectural Engineering - which Vandezande goes into in the AutoDesk university talk. I just said, I would mention it. But it's shocking, the amount of technical guidance that is out there now to do with BIM.

    Now if all of that, gives one a headache, and a sudden wish to drink a lot - you are not alone. All I can surmise, is that it will require the creation of a new professional - a brand new consultant service - the information manager, who will navigate all of this, and advise the design 'team' on how to structure their digital information. Otherwise, the architectural professionals themselves, could never get any time to design anything. I am also assuming that the 'green rating' digital stuff, will all plug into the BIM formats, in some sort of fashion - and that will get heavily regulated also.

    So perhaps, the 'Green Building Advisor' needs to keep that on the radar over the coming few years.

    I would imagine at some stage, Chris and Phil, and many others will encounter the State of Maine, BIM protocol, and be obliged to work within that. It is my goal merely, to try and highlight, what is the original origin of all of these state-level documents and standards. It will play out the same here in Europe also - with the various EU member states - requiring their own individual interpretation of the rules.

    Best wishes, B.

  18. CbV2gegWsN | | #18

    Document your build
    I'm looking for Architects/Builders/clients who want to document their building process for a new TV series being brought to the US called "Grand Designs". I am determined to get some sustainab;e and green homes on the series and after reading your blog, I wanted to reach out to you. Below is a little more information and some links to the show. If you're interested, please feel free to email or call [email protected] or 818-748-2525

    FremantleMedia North America, the producers of American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and X Factor are teaming up with a major cable network to bring the hit show Grand Designs to the United States.

    We are looking to start documenting your client’s building process for there dream design from the ground up. This will be a great opportunity for your firm, as it will be featured throughout the episode.

    Do you have a unique design plan for your client? Do you have an ultra-modern or out of the ordinary floor plan? Are you building your client’s property somewhere people would never consider? Is your project design interesting, innovative or bizarre that it would WOW all of America?

    Here are some links to previous episodes that have already aired in the UK: construction Eco Arch Earth Shelter Palace of Pleasure Industrial Detail

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Best regards,

  19. user-964538 | | #19

    Grand D
    I can definitely recommend that broadcast series. Those in north America who haven't come across the UK version of the series would find it awesome I reckon.

    It's one of those DVD box sets, always worth having a copy of on the shelf, for those dreary winter days, when the world has you totally beat (which is not uncommon I would submit, in the case of those who build for their living).

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